We unearth the secrets behind Mahindra's upcoming compact SUV which will directly compete with the Ford EcoSport.
Mahindra may have repeatedly denied working on a small car, but a good picture, as the saying goes, is worth a thousand words. Caught out in the open with its camouflage partially removed, this is Mahindra’s new compact sub-four-metre car. Looking for all the world like a jacked-up version of a large hatchback, the new S101 (as it is known internally) will join Mahindra’s two other compact offerings, the Quanto and the compact Verito, in the company’s own sub-four-metre club. Who in the Indian government could have dreamt that a sop to encourage sales of hatchbacks would result in a slew of compact utility vehicles, compact saloons and compact crossovers or SUVs like this one? It’s all down to one thing, of course — Indian engineering ingenuity or juggad. Modifying things to fit our requirement is part of our DNA, after all.
Wide front-end masks compact dimensions of the new S101.
The difference between the Quanto and the compact Verito on the one hand and the S101 on the other, however, is that while the former were ‘chopped’ (as it were) as an afterthought, the S101 has been based on a new monocoque platform that from the outset has been designed to have at least some of its variants duck under the four-metre mark. Look at the profile, especially the length of the bonnet and the rake of the windscreens, and it’s clear that the S101 is very different from something like a Quanto. The ‘A’ pillar starts aft of the front wheel arch, the long wheelbase stretches along almost the entire length of the car and the window line tapers towards the rear. Only the high window line sets it apart. But while the profile is very hatchback-like, Mahindra designers have added bulk to the nose of the car. The front bumper is wide, the grille is mounted high and the designers seem to have gone out of their way to give the S101 plenty of visual bulk. Go around the back and you can see that, like in the EcoSport, a space has been marked out for what looks like a rear door/hatch-mounted spare wheel. The rear-mounted spare makes this hatchback look more SUV-like and since the wheel is not considered as part of the length of the car, it helps in packaging too.
The spare wheel is mounted on tailgate; considered to be outside the lenght of the car.
Mahindra’s unique positioning of the S101 is also clearly visible when you look inside the car. Unlike most conventional cars that have two bucket seats up front, the S101 has a single driver’s seat with a wide two-seat passenger bench sat alongside. Legroom for the middle passenger is created by moving the gearlever up to the dashboard and getting rid of the central console. Mahindra can fit six passengers into the S101 in this manner, we are sure, but we hear a seven- or even eight-seater option is also being worked on. This is because Mahindra has found that although the extra seats aren’t very comfortable and are often barely useable, having an extra set in our market is a huge selling point.
Dashboard-mounted gearlever, no center console allows for three-abreast seating up front.
Mahindra is likely to launch the S101 with the same three-cylinder 98bhp 1500cc engine that powers the Quanto. Power and torque are likely to be upped for the new car, and for this application the engine will be transversely mounted, like that of the XUV500. While there’s no four-wheel-drive version of the S101 on the cards, there will be a new modular engine family, with petrol and diesels built around the same basic mechanical architecture. Mahindra’s new engine family is, in fact, so flexible, it is said to span from 1.2 to 1.6 litres, and M&M is reputedly spending Rs 4,300 crore on development. The petrol engine seen in the spy shots is most likely the 1.2 turbo motor and, as can be seen from the pictures, comes mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. A new 1.5 diesel, built using the same basic mechanical bits, will form the mainstay of Mahindra in the future. In addition to the S101 compact crossover, there will be other variants built on the platform. These include a more luxurious version, known as the S102, among others. The S101 will be priced aggressively, possibly starting as low as Rs 5 lakh for the base models, and that, yet again, could mean a large order book and months of waiting for eager customers. The S101 could be in the market by late 2014.
S101 is better proportioned and easier on the eyes than the boxy Quanto.