The moment of truth was when we stepped into the cabin. It was distinctly a couple of generations ahead of the Safari. Mahindra had clearly taken the game away.
BHPian charade recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
A short introduction:
This is my first thread on Team BHP and I initially meant this to be about my XUV7OO ownership experience. But as I started writing this thread, I began to think more deeply about my relationship with cars (and bikes) and the many reasons how I ended up with the XUV 7OO. As the wise Master Oogway (note the two Os, as in 7-O-O) said: there are no coincidences.
For many of us on this forum, our wheels are an extension of our personality, and we are deeply connected to them. Some of us christen our cars giving them names, some of us treat them as part of the family. Some of our most memorable experiences are on account of the cars we drive and the places these cars take us to.
Cars have always been special to me since I was a child. I attribute my love for cars and road-trips to my dad. Sadly, my dad passed away before he could see me drive the XUV7OO and this thread is an ode to my dad and all things automobile and otherwise, that he taught me.
How it started:
I was born in the 80s. Which basically means that I am a part of the last generation that remembers times of scarcity & limited choices: waiting times stretching into years for getting a scooter or a telephone line; watching TV at a neighbor’s house and a grand total of two channels; waiting one week to watch three songs on TV, listening to cricket matches on the radio.
But there is one thing which always made me feel special, even privileged. We had a car, an imported car at that. It was a silver Daihatsu Charade and it was just two months younger than me Being an only child, I always thought of the Charade like a brother, a partner in crime. And I was very proud of our Charade. It was a 3-cylinder diesel but way more silent than any other Indian diesel car. It had a small 1000 cc engine but left most other cars behind while climbing the ghats. I guess I am getting emotional about our Daihatsu and digressing a bit. Anyway, back to my story.
From the time I can recall, we were always a road trip family. My mum tells me that we did our first road trip in the Charade when I was 6 months old! We were based in Bombay and we drove all the way down to Kanyakumari and back. My dad was the only driver and as you can imagine, there weren’t any expressways back then in the 80s. It would have been one heck of an adventure and quite a daring one at that. In fact there was a particularly interesting instance of how my dad accidentally left the car key inside and locked the car. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except that I (6 month old me) was inside the car! Luckily my dad managed to jugaado a longish metal plate (like a ruler) and opened the car in a short time.
With a start like this in life, I guess road trips became the default mode for my vacations. We went to lots of places in our Charade – all the hill stations and beach towns around Bombay and Goa.
Go, Goa, Gone:
My earliest memory of a Goa road trip was one that we did in the early 90s. It was my summer vacation and my parents decided to do an impromptu drive to Goa. Yay!
There was no Mumbai-Pune expressway and the default way to get to Goa was via the two-lane NH17. We decided to leave really early to beat the traffic in Bombay and on the outskirts. We packed our bags the night before. I promised to get up at 4 AM and I was up and raring to go. My mum fixed sandwiches for the trip and we were off before sunrise.
My lasting memory from this trip is the conversations that I had with my dad. My job was to keep talking to my dad so that he doesn’t feel drowsy while driving. And we spoke about everything under the sun – how my dad learnt to drive, the road trips he had taken, geography, cars, science, politics et al.
Since this was an impromptu trip, we didn’t have any hotel bookings. But we landed up Calangute and found a small home – hotel which was a couple minutes’ walk from the beach. Calangute in those days was very different, there were hardly any tourists or shops – I wish I had some pictures! The next few days were spent chilling on the beach and, in general, having a gala time.
A couple of years later, we met with a horrible accident. One late night as we were driving back from a relative’s house, a truck which was exiting a fuel station rammed into our Charade from the left. The left door was shattered, glass shards all over us. Luckily, no one was hurt. No one except our Charade.
The major hit was taken by the front passenger door and the front tyres. An interesting aside: since the Charade had tubeless tyres which were a rarity in India in those days, most puncture shops couldn’t fix them. So my dad had his own puncture repair kit which he would get from abroad and fixed all punctures himself. Unfortunately, this time the tyres were beyond repair.
Since it was an imported car, parts were almost impossible to find. We had to depend on some local garages and jugaads to fix the door. The curved window glass was a big pain point and we had to go with a fiber-glass option. This was the beginning of the end of our beloved little car. My dad also had a company car by now, an M800 (which in my eyes could never be an upgrade from a Daihatsu, even a 12-year-old Daihatsu).
My dad was keen to sell the Charade. There were many buyers given that it was a Japanese diesel car. But I was firm that we can’t sell the Charade. Then while returning from one of our Goa trips, the Charade suddenly stalled near Pen (a town in Raigad district). We were in the middle of a traffic jam and had to push the car to the edge of the road. We waited for some time and finally my dad managed to start the car. We reached home but as it turns out the timing belt had gone for a toss. What followed was a series of trips to multiple local garages until we gave up and the Charade fell into a state of disuse.
My dad moved abroad on an office assignment, and I had just learnt to drive. So, it was up to me to start the car and drive it around a bit. It would heat up a lot within 15 mins and my joyride would come to an end. But my love affair with the Charade continues to this day.
Those 90s cars:
As 90s rolled into the noughties, my dad was moving up the corporate ladder. His first office car was a navy blue M800 and within a few years we got a white Maruti Zen. This was a gem of a vehicle. Nicely styled with interiors that were best in class (although one may argue that it was a very small class) at the time. Since I was too young to drive my favourite thing used to sit in the car and pretend that I am driving. For the first few weeks after we got the Zen, I did this every evening after my dad came home from work! And on that note, allow me to digress a little:
I was very good at this pretend-driving since my dad had taught me all the basics about driving – gears, clutch – brake – accelerator, handbrake, torque vs speed, how to change tyres, fix punctures, check the radiator water, engine oil etc. My dad lived abroad for some years in the 70s and 80s. He had driven cars in these countries and made it a point to pass on many of those good habits to me. This ranged from simple things like knowing the basics of your car, rotating tyres, using the handbrake every time you stop and not just on slopes to more evolved stuff like being able to fix punctures, etc. Other useful things which I practice even today and will hopefully pass onto my kids:
Peripheral vision – be observant, look around you and not just at the car immediately in front. Is the bus which is three vehicles ahead of you slowing down? Is it going through a pothole? Is some jay walker running in from a side street?
Listening – to the sounds of the engine and the car. According to my dad, you should be able to tell which gear you are by just listening to the sound of the engine. You should be able to tell if anything is amiss if you listen well. An added advantage is that this gets you really involved in the whole driving experience, you feel one with the vehicle & the road.
Sense of direction – my dad had an amazing sense of direction. He could retrace routes he had been even after many years had gone by. I think lots of people in his generation could do that given that the only maps were paper based, and India hardly had any decent road maps. I am glad he passed some of that onto me.
Safe distance – always keep safe distance with the vehicle in front of you. As a rule of thumb: mentally note a spot on the road and as the vehicle in front cross it, start counting – 1001, 1002 and 1003. If your vehicle crosses that same spot around 1003 or later, it is relatively safe distance.
The journey is the fun part – most times it wasn’t about the destination but the path that got us there. Our most memorable drives happened because my dad randomly saw a lake / hill / viewpoint / dam etc. on the map and said, “let’s take this route”. Life is what happens enroute to the final destination.
Now, back to where we were.
We drove the Zen a lot but as time passed and newer car models were coming into India, we became aware of some of its shortcomings. It now felt a little underpowered, a little too cosy, especially as I was no longer a kid and three at the back was a squeeze.
The Zen was followed by the Indigo (Petrol) and that was a definite move-up. It was our first sedan and what a chiller the AC was! The suspension was amazing and could take on any bad roads. The Indigo was very comfortable and everyone in the family loved it. And sometimes when the Indigo went into the service station, we got a diesel Indica as a loaner car. Although based on the same platform, the two cars were very different. I just loved the torquey diesel mill on the Indica, it felt a lot more fun to drive. In fact I used wait for the Indigo to go in for a longer stay at the service station. I guess it was fate’s way of reminding me of my first love – our diesel Charade.
Anyhow, fast forward a few years, I was off at college and the bug to buy a motorcycle bit me. I didn’t want to spend too much money since I wasn’t earning. The obvious way was to buy a second hand motorcycle. To give you guys some more context, we are in the middle of the noughties. The rich kids in college are buying fancy Pulsars with alloy wheels and I definitely don’t want to buy a pre-owned Hero Honda Splendour or Passion. Solution: I bought an old RX135 for Rs. 16,000. Seemed like a good buy till I realized that the tank is rusted and it’s leaking petrol. This was just the start and there were a lot of minor issues. Lessons learnt! Eventually, I found a good mechanic near college and spent another 3 or 4 thousand to fix it all up. To conclude, it wasn’t the most reliable of purchases but was definitely the fastest 0 – 60 on campus and never failed to put a smile on my face.
My dad retired and we now had to think of what car to buy. We narrowed down to the Honda City, Ford Fiesta & Renault Logan. The City was a little more expensive than the other two. Between the Fiesta and the Logan, the latter was way, way more spacious with a suspension that could just gobble up bad roads. We ended up going with the Logan Petrol 1.4. In hindsight, we should’ve probably spent the extra money and gone for the City – it would have been well worth it. The Logan was a nice car, not exciting, not fast but definitely very comfortable. Like an old dog who could hug you and make you feel better.
History repeats itself:
We went to Goa during the rains and decided to drive to Jog Falls in the Logan. This was the time when the mining industry in the state was in the news for the wrong reasons and I think the courts had stopped or severely curtailed mining in the state. We saw hundreds of large trucks parked one after another on both sides of the road. While returning from Jog Falls, we were driving on a narrow stretch of the road with these heavy trucks on both sides. Suddenly one truck turned and rammed into us from the side. It was Daihatsu déjà vu. Again the front passenger door was smashed.
Anyway, long story short, we got back to Bombay and claimed insurance. If I recall correctly, the insurance was with ICICI Lombard. They directed us to one of the garages where they had a cashless tie-up but this was not a Renault / Mahindra authorized service station. The car got fixed but the door didn’t have the original thud anymore. Instead, it would close with a hollow ‘thang’ and it just didn’t feel like the original door. We had the Logan for a few years thereafter and the replaced door even began rusting. Lesson learnt!
I was working now, and it was time to marry my college sweetheart. We were getting married after dating for 10 years (almost all of which were long distance) and didn’t want to drive her back in the Logan which was already 5 years old and had the scratches to show for it. Since our wedding was planned a year in advance it gave me some time to think.
Since my college days, I always wanted to get a motorcycle and a new one. I thought – why not combine the two ideas? It would be brilliant to take the newly wed wife home on a motorcycle. I was already working for a few years and had saved some money but I was past the age where sports bikes were interesting. I wanted a bigger bike, preferably a cruiser.
Back in those days, Royal Enfield had just launched the Classic and second gen Thunderbird, and the waiting period was between 10 – 12 months. Went to check out the Thunderbird with my dad. We both loved it but RE was still sorting out multiple niggles and I was in two minds whether to take a punt on RE. And that is when I started reading TBHP forums and became a member!
After a long test ride on the Classic and Thunderbird, it was clear that for my height and requirements, the Thunderbird was perfect. We booked it roughly 11 months before the wedding with the hope that RE will deliver it before D Day. Luckily, they managed to set up a new plant and deliver the bike in 9 months, giving me enough time to run it in and get used it before the wedding.
After the wedding we rode out in style on our Royal steed. It was quite an experience. Sharing some pictures:
We were still in a long-distance relationship after marriage which meant frequent trips between Mumbai and Pune. My wife was driving an old, battered Zen and we decided it was time for an upgrade. We visited almost all major brand showrooms and test drove the Swift, i10, Brio, Eon, Indica Vista, Etios Liva and the Nano. The shortlist was down to Swift, Brio and Nano. Finally went with the Brio as it was the right mix of decent looks (except the rear which I must admit has grown on us over the years), good driving dynamics, small footprint and reliability.
One of our first and best road trips in the Brio was a South India road trip: Pune – Hampi – Bangalore – Pondicherry – Coimbatore – Kumarakom – Guruvayur – Manipal – Goa – Pune. We have since done many memorable road trips including Shirdi, Udaipur, Alibaug and so many times to Pune & Goa that I have lost count.
As my dad grew older, he was asked to stop driving for medical reasons. But he was always happy to be on a road trip. I guess it was like the old days, just that we had interchanged our positions. But then I had an opportunity to work in Singapore and that meant no more road trips for some time. A couple of years passed. I became a father. And then COVID hit. Eight months into the pandemic, tragedy struck: my dad passed away in Mumbai almost overnight. My mum was critical and in hospital.
I rushed back home but all that awaited me were my demons. I guess nothing can prepare you for losing a parent and one is never too old to lose a parent. Things got worse before they got better. It took a lot of hope and support from friends and folks through those dark hours. But little by little, we rebuilt our life. It’s been almost two years now. Baby number two is on the way. As is the new XUV700 – because we are a road tripping family.
Here’s to you, dad. I know you’re watching, and you’ll be happy.
XUV700 & other options:
After I got back from Singapore and decided not to go back, I started seriously evaluating a new car in April 2021. The family had grown and travelling with our toddler was equivalent to packing half our house into the Brio. It also meant we couldn’t do road trips that were too long, or we had to split up and there was no fun in that.
My requirements were as follows:
- Capacity: Should be able to carry 6 people with luggage.
- Safety: NCAP rated with at least 4 stars.
- Fuel: This will likely be our last ICE car, and I really wanted a diesel for that torquey feeling which I remember from the Charade. Moreover, I wanted us to start doing a lot of road trips now that we were back in India. Also, I am the kind who looks at the mileage a lot.
- Creature comforts: I am not at all an after-market gizmo guy. I have neither the time nor the network for after-market fixes. I wanted as much as possible to be factory-fitted.
- New: Pre-owned doesn’t work for me, it has to be a new car.
- Reliable: Should be reasonably reliable. Can’t afford to get stuck in the middle of nowhere when travelling with kids.
- Automatic: This would be my wife’s 45 KM daily commute to work, a mix of highway and bumper to bumper traffic. My wife would thank me till the end of time. Or at least I believed so.
My ideal budget was INR 15 lakhs, give or take. Before I left for Singapore, I remember I could get a well-spec’ed (if not the top end) Hexa for under INR 20 lacs. And the Hexa was huge! But I was in for a bad surprise. With the stupendous amount of price inflation, a top-end hot hatch or CSUV would just about fit into my budget.
I decided to keep the budget aside for some time and started evaluating options in the market. In hindsight, the evaluation phase is probably the most exciting part of the car buying journey! Here is what the options looked like:
- Safari – It had just launched in Feb 2021. I had goosebumps looking at their ads. Like most 80s kids, I have some very fond memories of the original “Reclaim your life” ads. In fact, I was even a fan of the Storme. Quick aside: While evaluating cars in the Tata Motors showroom in 2014, I test drove the Storme (clearly told the SA that we are here for the Vista & Nano but I want to drive the Storme). I will never forget the king-of-the-world feeling on that test drive with high up seating position and auto rickshaws scrambling out of the way! So, the Safari was really pulling at the heart strings in 2021.
- Ertiga / XL6 – Fit into the budget & extremely reliable but safety was a compromise. Also, lacked road presence.
- Marazzo – Ticked almost all the boxes: reliable, safe, comfortable, in-budget. If buying a car was a financial decision, then this was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, we don’t buy cars because they make any financial sense. The wife just couldn’t digest the looks and also the rumours about Mahindra canning the product did not help.
- Triber – Another one that ticked all the boxes, and I could probably buy two of those in my budget! Absolutely good car and very well packaged by Renault. I read through the complete TBHP review thread but I just couldn’t fall in love with this baby.
- Hector – Ticked many boxes although I had reservations about its looks and Chinese origins. And no diesel automatic.
- Alcazar – This was launched in mid-2021 and I thought this might fit many of my asks.
So, those were my options. Since my heart was doing a lot of the thinking, it was obvious that the Safari finished at the top of the list! And my budget was getting stretched. A lot.
I devoured all the videos and read all the TBHP forums. But the more I read, the more scared I was. Maybe I could deal with the many niggles but what if I get a lemon? This was a very real possibility and Tata Motors Customer Service wasn’t really doing themselves any favours.
Nevertheless, I decided to go test drive the Safari. I dragged my wife on a weekend to Puneet Motors in Prabhadevi. We checked out the Safari on display and it was a little underwhelming. As sexy as it is on the outside, the interiors were just dull & drab. The space inside was really well-managed but it just didn’t feel worth INR 25 lacs. We had been at the showroom for close to 45 mins but we were nowhere close to getting a test drive of our preferred model – diesel automatic. Anyway, the SA took down my details and promised to set up a test drive.
Days turned to weeks, and I started the chasing the SA who essentially ghosted me! I went to the showroom again only to realize that the SA has quit. Obviously, being a Tata Motors dealership, they have no clue which customers were talking to the SA and there has been no handover. Anyway, I got connected with another SA but there was test drive vehicle. He promised to call me in a couple of days once a test drive vehicle was available.
And you can imagine how crazy I was about the Safari that I again went to the showroom for the third time to try and get a test drive. But sadly, no test drive vehicle again. In frustration, I walked across to the MG dealership across the street. I was simply blown away by the difference in the way the SA’s over here handled customer walk-ins, the look-and-feel of the dealership. I was almost immediately given a test drive of the diesel manual Hector. It was a boat on four wheels, trying very hard to be a car. It was a decent enough 5-seater but the last two seats were a joke.
After the Hector test-drive, I told the SA that this doesn’t work for me and how I landed up at the MG showroom. The SA from MG, to my surprise, said he can understand and spoke to a friend of his who works at the Tata Motors showroom and helped arrange a test drive for me at home! That is how I got my Safari test drive.
Now that I came through a reference, I got a long test drive. The Safari checked almost all the boxes except safety, which remains a question mark to this day. Other than safety, there were three major issues – dated looking interiors, buggy infotainment system and the ever-present threat of running into major niggles.
We were already in July 2021 and the XUV launch was around the corner. I was never a fan of the original XUV500 – I didn’t care for the over-the-top looks but I must admit that it was quite the package. I was in two minds, whether to wait for the new XUV or go ahead and book the Safari. As more information was leaked and M&M followed up with teasers I must say that it piqued my interest. Finally, I decided to hold off on the Safari and wait for the XUV launch. And the rest is history.
XUV700 booking & waiting:
The day the XUV was unveiled, I was at the nearest showroom to check it out. The only person who I managed to drag along with me to the showroom was my mother-in-law.
Anyway, the car looked handsome in the flesh. It didn’t have the sex appeal of the Safari but it was no pushover. Like it or not, you couldn’t ignore it. It seemed a lot better proportioned and maturely styled compared to some other Mahindra’s over the years. Yes, I could definitely live with it.
The moment of truth was when we stepped into the cabin. It was distinctly a couple of generations ahead of the Safari. Mahindra had clearly taken the game away. This felt like a car worth a couple of million bucks. The large, double 10″ screens add a lot of oomph value. The quality of fit and finish wasn’t perfect but these were pre-production vehicles so some leeway there.
We went for a short test drive and it was easy to maneuver in Mumbai traffic. The 360 degree camera was a godsend for someone used to a hatchback. I got used to the auto-hold and EPB in no time – in fact, this was the feature I missed the most as I was driving back home through peak traffic at Saki Naka in my manual Brio! As we left the showroom, I could see a look of satisfaction on my mother-in-law’s face. Decision made, XUV it is. AX7L diesel automatic.
Not writing too much about the booking process as my story is not too different from others. Had the vehicle in my cart and obviously couldn’t book it on Day 1. I was quite disheartened that prices had increased for Day 2. Luckily, news trickled in that I could still book with Day 1 prices since I had it in the cart. Kudos to Mahindra for playing fair. I wasn’t taking any chances on Day 2. Rushed to the nearest Mahindra dealer at 830 AM and paid the booking amount. Went for another test drive, this time with my mum. Even she felt this was much better than the Safari.
Now with all that done, came the long wait for delivery. I was not in a hurry. In fact, I was quite happy to wait for a few months as Mahindra ironed out the niggles. On that note, I must add that the feedback on TBHP was overwhelmingly in support of Mahindra – that they better manage niggles and proactively try resolving them; it was quite the opposite for Tata Motors (and I say this with a heavy heart – I have always rooted for Tata Motors and I am even a shareholder) who had a reputation of not doing enough to fix niggles.
After a long 10 month wait, we finally got delivery in Aug 2022. Since May 2022, I was in touch with the dealer. Largely uneventful, most times the SA / dealer weren’t really interested. I guess I can’t blame them. Given the order backlog that they’re sitting on, they have probably met their targets for the next year as well. Once the vehicle reached the stockyard, I decided to change to a corporate lease instead of buying it outright in my name. My SA changed and the new SA was far more communicative and accommodating. For example, the insurance was quoted at INR 75K and they were OK to add all the riders I wanted. This was not too different from what other folks were getting it from outside. No pressure for buying accessories, no handling charges etc. I believe they have different rules of engagement for corporate customers. But it worked out well for me.
Cut to D-Day on 16th Aug and we brought the big guy home: