Flag Bearer!

Abhay Verma
Driving Indian cars on foreign soil is a first, and an experience that has us beaming with pride

Photography: Abhay Verma

As someone who’s spent over a decade and a half testing automobiles, travelling to foreign countries to drive or ride new cars and motorcycles isn’t something new to me, rather, it’s just part of the job. But while all these years I’ve travelled abroad to review automobiles that have been engineered abroad and launched internationally before making it to our shores, my trip to South Africa this Independence Day was a lot more than just my maiden trip to the country. Unless you’ve been living under that proverbial rock, you’d be aware that Mahindra has ‘hijacked’ August 15 as its big day since 2020. Despite the pandemic, the year had Mahindra launch the second-generation Thar in grand fashion on Independence Day, which was followed by an even grander launch for one of its most ambitious offerings yet, the XUV700! 

Last year, the Indian marque flew a bunch of Indian journalists to London to showcase its upcoming Born Electric range of battery-electric vehicles, but August 15 this year has been its grandest celebration of India’s Independence Day yet. We flew to South Africa to witness the unveiling of two of the most aspirational concept cars from Mahindra till date, the Thar.e and the Scorpio N-based Global Pik Up. I’m certain you’ve read about both vehicles on the previous pages of this issue, besides which Mahindra even flew in music maestro AR Rahman to join us on the day, making a grand announcement that he will be creating over 75 different sounds for the upcoming Born Electric range! We also got a sneak peek at the near production-ready BE.05, which of course you won’t see any pics of anywhere on the internet because our phones were whisked away before we laid eyes on it. 

But you know what was even more special? The next day. Because the day after we witnessed all of the above, we drove the Mahindra XUV700 in and around Cape Town. Like I mentioned, I’ve driven dozens of cars abroad, but this was the first time I was driving a car manufactured in India on foreign soil! It was a special feeling and admittedly, I was beaming with pride as I got behind the wheel of the white XUV700 you see here. Mahindra’s strides as an SUV maker over the past two decades have seen it launch some excellent products. The Scorpio is a force to reckon with as a nameplate, while the ‘XUV’ series that started with the XUV500 over a decade ago has grown to include multiple models across segments.

The XUV700 though is one of Mahindra’s most ambitious products yet and besides being the current flagship, it is also one of the manufacturer’s best all-rounder yet. The XUV700 was also unanimously voted as the Indian Car of the Year last year, a feat every car launched in the country aspires to achieve. Its design, powertrains, comfort, dynamics and equipment levels all come together to make the XUV700 a brilliant product and driving it in South Africa made my heart swell with pride. I’ve had enough and more seat time in the XUV700 since its launch so there was nothing new about driving it, but more importantly, it felt perfectly at home even on the streets of Cape Town. Of course, a couple of days before we actually got down to driving in South Africa, we saw lots of pick-up versions of the Scorpio in Cape Town, including the fully-loaded and go-anywhere ‘Karoo’ 4×4 version that’s particularly popular there. 

Another interesting fact is that South Africa is home to the highest number of Indians abroad – it isn’t Canada or England as you’d probably assume! So it was only fitting to see so many Mahindras on the streets of the country, but on the day we were out driving ours was an unmistakable posse of Mahindras! Lying to the south of the Equator, South Africa experiences mild winters in August, making it very pleasant to be out driving. We drove through Cape Town and then to some of the popular places on its outskirts, including the Cape of Good Hope, the southwesternmost point of South Africa, besides the Cape Point that offers spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. 

South Africa is home to some of the best roads you can drive on and the XUV700 seemed to compliment them perfectly. As we’ve seen before, the ‘mStallion’ 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine under its hood is a class act with its refinement and 200PS output and added to the joy of driving on the smooth roads, while the SUV’s able handling rounded off the package well. I mean, it isn’t without reason that Mahindra has moved over 1 lakh units of the XUV700 in less than two years since its launch, of which 50,000 were delivered in just 8 months! Driving it in South Africa thus further affirmed the XUV700’s status of being a global product, engineered and developed in India, for the world. And to a petrolhead and enthusiast, seeing such an automobile on foreign soil and getting to drive it is a special feeling indeed!

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