When utility vehicle maker Mahindra and Mahindra ventured into the passenger car space in tow with Renault back in 2007, it was saddled with high expectations. The entry-level sedan segment was dormant at the time, and the company thought it had the right product in the Logan to pull off a success.
That was not to be. Despite the car's high value proposition, it was perceived as a dated design with a few add-ons. Later, Mahindra bought over the project and relaunched the car as the Verito - with not much change in fortune. That may change now with the Vibe, in which Mahindra has cut the length to below 4 metres, allowing for aggressive pricing to take on the likes of Maruti's Dzire and Honda's Amaze.
Is it finally ready to taste some success?
Exterior and interior
Compulsions of cost and restrictive clauses from Renault meant Mahindra had little scope to play around with overall design. So the Vibe inherits the looks of the Verito: boxy from the front with sharp edges rarely seen in these curvy times. But Mahindra has tried to use it to its benefit. The carbon shade grille and smoked headlamps endow the car with the macho-Mahindra look. The major change has been at the rear, where the boot has given way to a slanted hatch-like door that leaves the windscreen in place when it opens.
The tail lamps sit high at the back of the C pillar merging with the roof rails, much like the Ford Figo. The engineering does not look bad, though they could have made it a notchback for better looks and a more practical application. The high loading position and the small loading area in the boot were found cumbersome in the trial.
Little has changed with the interiors, the USP of which remains the generous space. With the wheelbase of a sedan, rear passengers are pampered. The plastics and the fit and finish have been upgraded, though they are still no match for the Dzire. The downside is the lack of features: no steering-mounted control (even in the top variant), no passenger side airbags, no Bluetooth connectivity and no height adjustability with the steering wheel and driver's seat.
Performance, ride and handling
The Vibe gets the same 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel engine as the Verito sedan, with no petrol engine on offer as Mahindra does not have one smaller than 1.2 litres that would qualify for lower excise duties. Various iterations of this engine are seen on a variety of cars from the Micra to the Sunny and the Duster.
The one in Vibe is meant for economy more than outright power and performance, on which it delivers. There is ample low- and mid-range torque available and very little lag, which makes it a very capable city car. On the highway, it does feel strained in three-digit speeds, especially when compared to the Amaze. The suspension is also the same as the sedan, that gives it a comfortable, settled ride quality. A sporty drive it is not, and when pushed hard, a perceptible body-roll filters into the cabin.
It also feels under-tyred with the lack of 15" wheels manifesting on the highway. With no pretensions of being a race car, though, the Vibe does its job well of slipping in and out of city traffic at ease.
Trust Mahindra to give you a bang for your buck in this. We found the Vibe's fuel economy very true to the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) figures. In city and with air-conditioning on, it will easily give you 16 kmpl, and over 18kmpl on the highway --- a range of over 800 kilometres on a full tank.
With so many diverse options, it is not easy for anybody to create their own space in the entry-level sedan segment. For Mahindra, which is a rank outsider in making cars, it is even more challenging. Yet, thanks to a capable drive train from Renault, the Vibe holds its own quite well. What it lacks in terms of looks and finesse, it makes up by way of space, utility and economy. There would be some, who would even like its rugged looks as well. At R5.7 lakh it is not exactly cheap, especially when you take into account a few unticked boxes, such as dual airbags, steering mounted controls etc. It is a compromise over the Dzire and the Amaze, but on its own, the no-nonsense value proposition is quite compelling.