This would have been a no-contest if Mahindra hadn't launched the NuvoSport. Prasad Patil would have walked into a Maruti showroom and booked the Vitara Brezza. After all, he read OVERDRIVE's comparison last month where the Vitara Brezza came out on top. As a Swift owner he is also down with the Maruti experience. However, the NuvoSport with its butch but unique looks proved too tempting to ignore. Off he goes to the Mahindra showroom to check out the NuvoSport. What's that? The TUV300 also tugs at Patil's heartstrings with its no-nonsense attitude and similar price positioning. A truly confused soul, I say. In case if you're wondering, Prasad is a close friend of mine and is on the lookout for a compact SUV to replace his ageing Swift. The perfect man to help me sort out this comparison test.
Prasad cannot deny the Vitara Brezza's premium look, especially in this company. In this blue-white dual tone colour it looks striking but also has a busy looking front end with chrome, blue and grey on the grille area alone. But there are some interesting design highlights like the unconventional placement of the turn indicators, small fog lamps, floating roof effect and the tidy tail.
Mahindra's NuvoSport meanwhile ditches the Xylo face for a fresher, aggressive stance. It is a head turner indeed and while people tend to stare at the Brezza they actually gave way for the NuvoSport. The NuvoSport's LED DRLs are quite bright even in broad daylight. Unlike some bigger SUVs including Mahindra's Scorpio, the air scoop on the bonnet is functional and flows air to the intercooler mounted on top of the engine.
The TUV300 with its slab sided body work, huge wheel arches and tall stance may not be to everyone's taste but there is one thing the TUV doesn't lack - presence. Put the Brezza between the NuvoSport and TUV and it looks like a hopped up hatchback. The Mahindras have massive road presence but the Brezza claws back ground with much more sophisticated looks. Both the Brezza and NuvoSport use 16-inch wheels, the Brezza filling its wheel arches well and the NuvoSport decently. The TUV300 meanwhile, on it's 15-inchers looks grossly undertired. But if you want imposing presence, it doesn't get much better than these two Mahindras in this segment. Prasad agrees with this.
The basic format for both the Mahindras is the same. Lots of space inside the cabin with a high seating arrangement. You basically climb into the cabin and all the passengers sit quite high with excellent visibility all around. Rear knee and headroom is good too. That being said, both the Mahindras also have a third row - side facing jump seats with individual cup holders. However, there aren't any seat belts and ventilation is minimal. Add two extra passengers and boot space goes for a toss. Both Mahindras have enough cubby holes to keep a smuggler happy while tech junkies will love the Nuvo's front and rear charging ports.
Quanto-based dash fails to inspire and the touchscreen unit is poorly positioned.
Good knee room and more headroom than you could ever need in the NuvoSport. Large windows make an airy cabin.
Boot is huge with jump seats folded up and cavernous with the split rear bench folded over.
On to the NuvoSport first then. The basic Quanto dash is carried over, however, the materials used are new. The steering wheel is also new and so is the grey upholstery. A new Kenwood touchscreen audio system debuts in the NuvoSport N8 and while the system is just about adequate, the screen could have been better executed with respect to its placement and crispness. There are audio controls on the steering wheel and while Prasad used it to increase or mute the volume, he missed the option to skip tracks. Also when you mute a track, it plays in the background and doesn't pause.
TUV dash lacks fancy touchscreen unit but looks and feels better than the NuvoSport.
TUV300 rear bench not quite as spacious as the NuvoSport. No split rear seats, central armrest and rear charging port here. Neither Mahindra offers seat belts for the rear jump seats.
The TUV300 on the other hand sticks to its tough and spartan image. The power window switches are on the front central tunnel unlike the Nuvo which gets it on the side along with an auto up-down driver side window. Both the Mahindras however don't get the option of a power folding mirror and in tight parking conditions, you've to stretch over to the passenger side and close it. Prasad who is nearly 6ft tall found the gear lever knocking on his left leg like a dutiful orthopaedic when he wasn't shifting gears. I couldn't agree more with him. Space at the back was as good as the Nuvo but the TUV also offers large bottle holders in the rear door pockets which the more premium NuvoSport strangely doesn't. Boot space though was more in the Nuvo at 412l compared to the TUV's 384l. Not really a deal breaker here since even the latter is fairly generous
Simple looking cabin feels high quality and well put together. The Brezza also offers the most features.
The Vitara Brezza offers generous knee and head room but not quite as much as the Mahindras.
Boot is decently sized but again, smaller than the Mahindras.
Getting into the Brezza, Prasad was quite at home. The thin steering wheel, the layout of the buttons and seats, all feel familiar. However, there are some differences from the other Marutis he has used so far. He fumbled to find the ORVM adjuster because the knob isn't illuminated like the NuvoSport's. The familiar SmartPlay infotainment system though was much appreciated by him given that it had navigation, CarPlay and was generally very intuitive to use. He could also pair his phone quite easily unlike the system in the Nuvo which didn't detect either of our phones. He also said that he would have preferred softer plastics for the door pad contact patch where he would ideally rest his right elbow while driving. The Brezza is not as spacious as the Mahindras but is not cramped in any way and Prasad felt it was generous enough for his family of four.
The Vitara Brezza has firm seats unlike the Mahindras which have generous padding but are flatter in shape. This however works for longer journeys where the contoured Brezza seats hold you down much better than the Mahindra units. The Brezza also has better underthigh support for the second row. Boot space at 328 litres is a bit smaller than the other two though.
All three have an door auto lock function that activates at 20kmph, however, when the ignition is turned off, both the Mahindras unlock the door, while the Brezza doesn't. Each passenger has to unlock his door individually - irritating.
Our test NuvoSport came with a niggle- every time we shifted to second gear, the doors would automatically unlock and then lock back into place. By the second day of the test, they would no longer lock after this exercise. All three cars require a firm hand to shut the doors but the NuvoSport needs undue effort of varying intensity from door to door. Quality is not a strong point.
Engines and transmission
Prasad has driven the TUV300 before and he liked the engine. It is indeed a likeable unit with as much as 120Nm of its total 230Nm available from as low as 1,500rpm. This means pottering around in town in third gear at speeds of 30kmph with no grumble or complaints from the 1.5l 3-cylinder engine. The long throw gearbox, he complained, felt like he was driving a tractor or a tempo. This was also the case with the 5-speed manual unit in the NuvoSport. The NuvoSport's engine immediately felt more powerful (100PS compared to the 84 in the TUV) and thankfully it lost none of the low end performance, feeling stronger if anything! The Eco and Power modes along with the micro hybrid function were also talking points. There's a noticeable drop in power when Eco mode was used and a boost when switching to Power. Most taxi operators, however, will continue to use their vehicles in the former mode. Does it actually make a difference to the economy? Well you can read our story on page 84. Prasad isn't very bothered with performance numbers as he felt that both the Mahindra SUVs were quite driveable in town and cruised comfortably at 120kmph. Still, there's no denying that the Vitara is the fastest car here, both from 0-100kmph and in terms of top speed. By far the most fun if you're willing to work the gearbox.
A mention must be made of another irritant we found with the NuvoSport. A speed-warning system in the central console starts beeping once the speedo needle crosses 100kmph. It keeps beeping till 108kmph, after which the noise stops. It's annoying and feels like you're driving a rented car. Also, no matter which setting you select to be displayed on the central dashboard mounted display- average fuel efficiency, distance to empty and outside temperature, it reverts to the digital speedo once you cross 100kmph.
The Vitara Brezza's engine meanwhile is a familiar unit. After all, this Multijet engine has been the workhorse in so many Marutis, Tatas, Fiats and Chevrolets in India. The Brezza engine is in the same state of tune as the Ciaz and Ertiga but without the SHVS mild hybrid tech. After the Mahindras, Prasad said that he found the Maruti's gearbox great fun. Maruti has been known to make many a good gearbox and this stick shift isn't any different. However what was irritating and well known to him was the lack of pulling power in low revs. Especially if you slow down for speed breakers in second, you either have to be patient for the turbo to spool up or shift to first. However the engine is much more free revving than the Mahindras. Interestingly, the NuvoSport's engine is the most refined, closely followed by the TUV with the energetic but loud Brezza coming in last.
Efficiency is also high on Prasad's shopping list - one of the reasons he was leaning towards the Maruti. After all, his 2010 Swift diesel is still giving him close to 18kmpl and the Vitara comes close with 16.75kmpl. The Mahindras are further back and interestingly, the more powerful NuvoSport is more efficient, returning 15.17kmpl vs the TUV300's 14.65kmpl, probably thanks to the stronger bottom end.
Ride and handling
That the TUV and NuvoSport are rear-wheeldrive based on a ladder on frame chassis while the Vitara Brezza is a front wheel drive monocoque is lost on Prasad. All he wants is good ground clearance, comfortable seating for five and an absorptive ride quality.
The Vitara Brezza is a firmly set-up vehicle, considerably more so than the Mahindras. The Vitara is not offensively stiff but it definitely doesn't swallow up low speed potholes the same way as the two Mahindras. However, as the speeds rise, the tables turn. The Vitara has very good highway manners and high speed ride quality leaves nothing to complain about. At speed, the Mahindras start to get jittery on our concrete roads and they also pitch and roll quite a bit. As our editor found out on his long daily commute, both the Mahindras have the potential to make the driver feel car sick! That having been said, the NuvoSport has slightly better ride quality than the TUV and it feels less affected by small bumps at high speeds.
When the corners arrived the Vitara Brezza drew a mile wide smile from Prasad. It feels planted with well controlled body roll and offers the best steering feel. It was just the opposite for the Mahindra duo though. While they are okay at low speeds around bends, carrying high speeds into corners results in excessive body roll that feels amplified thanks to the tall seating position. Prasad in fact needed to take a breather after a few fast bends in the NuvoSport, experiencing similar symptoms as our dear editor. The TUV300, which shares its platform with the NuvoSport feels very similar in nature.
In the same vein, down broken roads that frequent the outskirts of Mumbai, the Mahindras have a more rugged feel and you don't necessarily have to back off over broken stretches. The Brezzza though needs more care over broken roads thanks to its firmer suspension. In real world conditions, the two Mahindras seem indefatigable and even with only rear-wheel drive, can traverse any obstacles you might come across in everyday conditions. This ability is also partly due to the on-off road biased Ceat Czars and the MRF Wanderers for the TUV300 and NuvoSport respectively while the Brezza wears more road biased Apollo Alnac tyres.
Prasad also took a strong liking to the Maruti's sharp and progressive brakes. He wasn't so impressed with the NuvoSport that needed a really strong press of the pedal to stop in a hurry. Even the TUV300 is better in this department. Nonetheless, being a safety conscious customer, Prasad wanted to know if he gets ABS and airbags should he decide to choose a lower variant. While the Maruti offers a driver airbag as standard, the Mahindras don't. However, dual airbags as well as ABS are available right from the next trim for all three cars. He rued that when he got his VDi Swift few years ago, he didn't even have the option for these features. There's also the added feature of cruise control on both the Brezza and NuvoSport while the top end TUV300 gets cornering lamps. The Brezza takes the game further with auto-wipers, auto-headlamps and a reverse camera. In the features department, the Brezza is unrivaled.
Prasad is quite taken with the NuvoSport, primarily due to its rugged feel and imposing looks. However, like us, he doesn't feel that it justifies the 'sport' tag. Instead Mahindra should have just named it the Nuvo, retaining an 'O' at the end that they so love. The same goes for the TUV but in Prasad's mind it loses out because of a few missing features like the split folding rear seats and he didn't like the central placement of the power window buttons. Simply put, it didn't feel as premium as the Rs 9.58 lakh (all prices ex-showroom Mumbai) NuvoSport to him and the Rs 43,000 price saving the TUV300 brings to the table is not enough.
The Vitara Brezza meanwhile scores over both Mahindras as it comes across as a far more refined package. The Brezza is definitely smaller and not as spacious within the cabin but the materials used and build quality outshines the Mahindras but a generous margin. It is the fastest of the three, the most efficient and also the most pleasurable to drive. Prasad only wishes the engine had a stronger bottom end. Still, he recognizes that the Maruti is a much more sorted offering and has loads of features which tip the scales in its favour. Also, the missus and kids were very taken with this handsome dual-tone Cerulean Blue. So despite the fact that the Rs 10.12 lakh Brezza is Rs 54,000 more than the NuvoSport, Prasad seems to have his mind made up. After all, a man can't turn a deaf ear to what the better half has to say, can he?