At the end of this year, something significant will happen to the Philippine auto industry. No, we're not talking about the entry of a new player, the arrival of new models, or perhaps even the proposed automotive excise tax scheme. It's the conclusion of production of two very important and well-loved models in the market: the Mitsubishi Adventure and the Isuzu Crosswind.
These two have been in domestic production for a very long time. The Crosswind began production at Isuzu's Laguna factory in 2000, the Adventure started rolling out of Mitsubishi's plant in Cainta in 1997 (and migrated to Laguna in 2015). Some may scoff at their age, but these two models have comprised much of the logistics needs of businesses and, more recently, served as the backbone of UV Express fleets.
But their old engines cannot meet the newer emissions standards; Euro-2 was doable, but upgrading their non-CRDI engines or developing them to meet Euro-4 proved problematic, and very costly. And thus the decision to conclude their production by December 31, 2017 was all but inevitable, and will leave a very significant portion of the market open to new players.
And that's where this vehicle will come in: the 9-seater Mahindra Xylo E2.
Mahindra, as you may know, is one of India's largest automakers. Some will dismiss the idea of an Indian vehicle succeeding in the Philippines, but I'll get to those concerns towards the end.
The Xylo has been around in its home market since 2009, but was launched in the Philippines when Mahindra officially opened shop in the country in 2015. The model we've been getting since their launch was the facelifted version, and features many enhancements over the original look. The design isn't much to write home about; just a big and tall MPV. This facelifted Xylo has the new front end that looks much better than the 2009 original, but that's about it.
This being a basic, business-oriented model means there isn't much in the way of frills on the outside. The bumpers, front grill, side mirrors and the door handles are all unpainted black plastic pieces. The wheels are steel, though they do have hubcaps for some style. Mahindra did fit a pair of side step tubes to make ingress and egress easier, but that sums up all the exterior pieces.
The dimensions of the Xylo means there's plenty of space. It's not a long vehicle at 4520mm, but its 1850mm width and 1895mm height make for a spacious cabin. If anything, the Xylo looks like a van, but does not have the sliding doors you would normally associate with one.
The Xylo styles itself as an MPV, but many of its characteristics are more AUV than anything - and that's not a bad thing; actually, it's a very good thing. It's not a unibody/monocoque like other MPVs; instead, it's a body-on-frame model like an AUV. More importantly, the chassis is a derivative of the one that's found underneath the Scorpio SUV; that means the Xylo's ladder frame can take quite a bit of punisment from our gutted roads.
The Xylo's interior is rather basic. The dashboard looks like it came from the early part of the last decade; it's plasticky, but that's expected. There are some slight inconsistencies with the panel gaps you wouldn't expect in a high end MPV, but par for the course for an business-model AUV. The vinyl-covered seats are very utilitarian, but they're very well padded for comfort and, more importantly, easy to clean.
Perhaps the key thing about the Xylo E2 is its seating arrangement; 2 in front, 3 in the middle row, and another 4 on the side facing seats at the very back. The rear benches can also be folded up to make space for cargo. Yes, the Xylo can (legally) seat 9 people, but the width of the vehicle means it can probably do more in the middle row. By comparison, current AUVs are about 1.65 meters wide while the Xylo is at 1.85 meters; that should make it interesting for manong driver.
Twist the key and the Xylo judders to life. Powering it is a modern common rail turbo intercooler diesel under the hood. Mahindra calls it the mHawk, and it makes 120 PS at 4000 rpm and 280 Newton meters of torque from 1800 to 2800 rpm. The mHawk is mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox that send power to the rear wheels.
Driving the Xylo around, you really feel that this is a basic vehicle, and so many of the niceties that we've become accustomed to with modern cars are not present. The steering is power assisted, but that's about it. The locks are all manually operated, the mirrors are manually adjusted, and there is no remote control/alarm as standard. In this day and age, there's almost a slight tinge of nostalgia about the wind-up windows. Thankfully the A/C is exceptionally powerful and has vents on the ceiling for the passengers in the middle and for the rearmost rows.
The Xylo is very much a truck, and it drives like one. The seating position is very upright, and you do feel a bit exposed if you're driving because the windows are massive. The suspension is relatively soft and has quite a bit of absorption tuned into it; no doubt a result of the development to meet the needs of India's roads.
The Xylo's manners aren't particularly made for cornering, but let me tell you, that mHawk engine is good fun. The acceleration is quite strong, and definitely leagues ahead of the non-CRDI turbodiesels common in the AUV category. The torque comes in very early, and if you're not careful with the clutch, you can easily spin up the rear tires. Best of all, given the torque, you can drive the Xylo very efficiently; when driven casually in the city, the Xylo returns 12.3 km/l. On the highway, it goes up to 15.6 km/l. And I wasn't even trying to be economical.
The base Xylo has a lot going for it given its target market especially with its PhP 895,000 price tag. There's a higher version that has more bells and whistles, but for this price point, the Xylo does have what it takes to succeed here.
Yes, there are those who will dismiss it's production origins, but before you do, take note that South East Asia has a lot in common with the South Asian subcontinent.
Their roads -like ours- aren't stellar; they're pockmarked, bumpy and rough even when paved, and there are plenty of unpaved roads as well. And so their vehicles - like ours - have to be robust and able to take a beating. Average salaries aren't high either, so their vehicles have to be affordable to buy, to maintain, and very efficient on fuel. Their population densities -like ours- are very high, meaning traffic congestion and the need to move more people in one vehicle. Their climate -like ours- is hot and extremely humid too, and so their vehicles have to be able to stand up to the thermal abuse and have powerful A/C systems to boot.
A vehicle designed to take on the needs of a developing country is a good fit for us, and it won't be a surprise if you see a few of these plying commercial routes from the outskirts of the city into the fast growing CBDs.