Ever since the Mahindra Scorpio range was introduced here in the nineties, the brand has won over a surprising number of ex mainstream-brand owners. However, refinement was never high on the Scorpio’s bucket list. This has now changed with the introduction of the new m-Hawk engine – and considerably so
“It costs nearly R100 000 less than established brand names and is pretty capable to boot, so it definitely represents great value. But it has a couple of significant flaws which would knock it off my list if I needed a dual-purpose vehicle.” – Adrian Burford.
“The refinement of the Scorpio’s new engine surprised me – it is really refined! Yes, a few more horses would have been nice, especially considering the Mahindra’s kerb weight, but the power is ample for just about any application. Small quality issues in the cabin are a pity. But the driving experience in this Scorpio reminds me very much of driving a Landy Defender – it ain’t perfect, but it has a certain charm to it.” – Danie Botha
The Mahindra Scorpio has been on the local market since the middle of the last decade, from the outset providing an affordable option for consumers requiring either an SUV or a bakkie. Over time, the offering grew to include wagons in both two- and four-wheel drive guises with up to eight seats and the choice of manual or automatic transmission. There has also been a choice of single or double cabs (the eponymously-named Pik-Up) with two- and four-wheeldrive and originally powered by an old-technology 2,5-litre oilburner.
Well, that’s changed. The Pik-Up is now fitted with the 2,2-litre common rail turbodiesel which has been available in its SUV stablemate since the end of 2009, giving LCV versions a substantial boost in terms of power, torque and – especially – refinement.
It also necessitated a visual makeover. The latest version of the Scorpio can be distinguished by its bonnet scoop, feeding high-pressure air to a horizontally-mounted intercooler. There are also new bumpers, a grille with a prominent chrome centrepiece, and new headlights. Making the double cab more appealing is decent safety kit, with ABS and dual airbags part of the package since that end-2009 update.
Features and equipment
Considering its price, the Scorpio is well equipped. In addition to the aforementioned safety items, you’ll get electric windows (both left and right front with auto up and down), electric mirrors, air con, a sound system with an Aux input, height adjustable steering and cruise control which, like the sound system, can be activated from the steering wheel.
But the important part of the package is the engine. This is the third engine offered since 2005 (the 2,5-litre turbodiesel was succeeded by a 2.6 litre version).
But this powerplant – developed in conjunction with diesel specialists AVL Austria – is a big step forward. The 2,2-litre capacity is fairly modest in size, and headline numbers of 88 kW and 280 Nm aren’t of the “wow” variety, but intercooling and common rail injection are key to its rounded persona.
Mahindra recommends a diet of 50 ppm diesel (as do other bakkie brands), though it isn’t mandatory and there’s no reference to the clean fuel on the fuel filler.
A rotary dial on the centre console allows shifting to Four Hi and Lo, the latter setting also activating a rear differential lock. Shifts from two to four-wheel drive and vice versa can be accomplished on the move.
The Scorpio is built on a 3040mm wheelbase, so it is a substantial machine. Yet its bak is quite short, and only the KB and Triton can manage less length. But width is on par, and at 540mm from the bottom of the tailgate to the top, it is the deepest in class by some margin. And it is a genuine one-tonner. However, it would be nice to have some method of securing the load.
Space within the four doors is pretty good, and a generous centre console separates driver and passenger. This has the effect of positioning the driver close up against the door, and not all were enamoured with the relationship with the large steering wheel, or the seat’s overall comfort. Long trips revealed a lack of support around the shoulders, and some drivers felt there was too much support under thigh, forcing them to sit closer to the pedals to compensate. Seatbelts are not height-adjustable.
The driving environment is vaguely reminiscent of a Landy Defender, what with the vertical glass and sheet metal, and upright driving position.
Space in the back is impressive, with plenty of leg and foot space for three adults. Rear occupants also have access to a 12V outlet, and a pair of generous vents feeds air into the compartment. This is a good thing, as the heated rear window doesn’t have a slide facility.
An armrest can be folded down when travelling four-up (if a fifth person is added they’ll have to make do with a lap belt) and rear occupants don’t get much in the way of oddment space, though there are map pockets in the back of both front seats.
There are a number of nooks and crannies for those in front, a particularly useful one being the vertical pocket in the faux carbon fibre hangdown section, which is perfect for cellphone storage. But other aspects of the cabin’s ergonomics are a bit of a mixed bag: the steering wheel doesn’t have enough vertical movement, and the positioning of the window switches between the seats is bothersome as they are difficult to access for front and rear occupants. And then there’s that peculiarly shaped gearknob…what were they thinking?
It isn’t often that you need to wait the best part of seven or eight seconds for a glowplug light to go out, but in mid-winter that’s how long it took to extinguish on the Scorpio’s dash. The good news is that otherwise the powerplant makes a very good initial impression and there’s negligible diesel clatter. It gets to operating temperature quickly.
The gearbox is somewhat recalcitrant when cold though, and does not have a particularly satisfying or precise action to it.
The engine measures 2180cc, and has an especially long stroke, at 95mm. It performs willingly in a wide variety of conditions, revving nicely at the top end and lugging well down the bottom, too.
There is no lag to speak of. Peak torque, says Mahindra, arrives at just 1 600r/min and remains at 270Nm until 2800r/min. Overtaking acceleration in fourth and fifth is thus adequately brisk, and, more importantly, pretty linear – you never feel as though you have bitten off more than the engine can chew.
Against the speedometer, the Scorpio is particularly impressive in a straight line. But things aren’t quite as they appear: the error is more than 10% and when driving at an indicated 120km/h you’re clocking only 106 km/h, so getting a speeding fine is unlikely unless you adjust indicated speed accordingly!
Unfortunately, a similar error is apparent in the odometer, which means owners will be heading off for services every 9000 rather than 10000 km…
We tested the Pik-Up at Gerotek, and it certainly coped well on the off-road course, climbing and descending manfully, the broad power band and strong engine braking contributing to driver confidence.
We also took the opportunity to put it through the exact same steady speed fuel consumption test as we used in our famous Hilux/Amarok unladen/laden/towing shootout some months back. It returned fuel consumption of exactly 10 litres per 100 km… more or less halfway between its more illustrious peers.
Finally, braking performance was impressive. We couldn’t really fault its stability in emergency stops and the results were consistent. A best 100 km/h to standstill result of just over three seconds – in a distance of 42,8m – is not too shabby in this segment.
Leaf springs remain the medium of choice for suspending double cabs (with a couple of exceptions), because they’re cheap, rugged and can handle a whack in the back in terms of load.
They’re not very progressive, but nowadays manufacturers seem to be able to combine diverse requirements and balance ride comfort, handling and load-lugging duties pretty well.
On smooth roads the Scorpio copes well (and has surprisingly neutral handling) but it does deteriorate somewhat when the going gets rough. That’s partly due to the beefy rear anti-roll bar, so while it corners without too much body roll, there’s very little axle articulation when one of the back wheels encounters an obstacle. The first axle twister on the Gerotek dirt track had a back wheel half a metre off the ground.
Fortunately, a mechanical diff lock arms automatically when low range is selected, enabling the wheel still in contact with terra firma to provide forward momentum.
Despite its lack of finesse, then, the Scorpio was able to make its way through our standard course, aided by a reasonable approach angle and a better-than-average departure angle.
The rugged-looking side bars are tucked up high and close in, and in fact are just a few millimetres lower than the chassis rails, so not much scrapes between the axles.
The Defender déjà vu continues with the slow steering and large turning circle, neither of which are a problem in the dirt, but they make the Scorpio feel slightly cumbersome on tarmac.
There are quite a few cheapies out there if you want a workhorse double cab, invariably copied from a previous-generation Japanese ABC or XYZ. The Scorpio is a slightly different proposition and is essentially a bespoke design. While it isn’t a paragon of style or sophistication, it has a solidity to it (a 2030kg kerb mass) which is encouraging.
Sure, it has some rough edges, literally and figuratively, but it ticks the boxes for those after a real 4×4-ing double cab that doesn’t cost an arm and a few legs.
Scorpio – the Project sequel
Regular readers will be familiar with our Project Navara bakkie, custom-built by LA Sport and with a host of industry suppliers as partners. With its massive 38-inch wheels, custom wheelarches, custom paint job and a host of other accessories, the Nissan Navara has certainly proved popular among 4×4 enthusiasts and Joe Soaps alike.
That said, Project Navara is not exactly practical, nor is it the ideal overland vehicle. It has also cost a pretty penny to turn the standard Nissan into a 38-inch monster.
And this is exactly where our next project vehicle fits into the picture. The Mahindra Scorpio Pik-Up 2.2 4×4 sells for R230 000 – almost half the price of mainstream competitors such as the Hilux, Navara and Amarok.
So here’s our mission: To create a practical, self-sufficient overland vehicle that can also go the off-road mile. Keeping in line with the “budget” ethos, we will keep the cost of the modifications as realistic and budget-friendly as we can. We also aim to keep the weight down, while it will also have to sustain its charges in the grammadoelas (water, tent, stove, and so on). Lastly, it has to be a really good 4×4.
For this purpose we’ve again roped in the help of Lionel Lewis from LA Sport, and over the next few months Project Scorpio will take shape. We’ll run monthly updates on the progress. Once all the modifications are complete we’ll take it on a proper overland safari to a really tough environment to see how the Mahindra shapes up.
If you have any ideas for Project Scorpio, or if you’ve done some work on your own Scorpio that you reckon we should incorporate, please send an e-mail to [email protected]