A couple of years ago I had the misfortune to be sentenced to driving a Mahindra Pikup for a week for one of the NRMA's magazines.
It was rough, noisy and slow. It asphyxiated following drivers in clouds of smoke and it had a safety rating somewhere south of Tasmania. That was apart from being so ugly that I only wanted to drive it at night, and when my social worker wife first saw it she felt sorry for it.
"Oh dear, how sad," she said.
Well, Mahindra in Australia is in the process of a much-needed rebirth and I got the chance to road test the latest offering from the giant Indian conglomerate, the XUV500 seven-seater SUV.
The phrase that comes to mind in describing the difference is "poles apart."
Rather than taking an Indian market success story and exporting it to unsuspecting victims abroad, Mahindra conceived the XUV from scratch as a global product that could then be sold in India.
The result is - cue the cymbals and sitars - a seven-seat front or all-wheel-drive that steers with precision, pulls strongly from low revs, is comfortable and is loaded with a level of equipment that would put a front-ranking Japanese 4x4 wagon to shame.
Starting at the business end, a sharp, modern front end now clothes a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine with a variable geometry turbo. It produces a modest 103kW but the torque figure of 330Nm combined with a six-speed manual gearbox serves up maximum urge from walking pace right up to the speed limit.
And the gearbox is one of the best. The movement is short and slick, and gentle spring-loading takes the lever to the next slot easily. Blokes will like the speed and girls the precision.
McPherson strut independent suspension and a wide track combine stability with a supple ride, although a couple of giant potholes transmitted a huge bang to the cabin, indicating the bushes between the body and suspension attachment points needed work.
Inside it's packed like a jumbo show bag. Leather seats, coolbox, climate control, tyre-pressure monitoring, rain and light sensors and park assist. There's voice activation for audio and cruise controls, mobile charging points in all three seat rows and auto engine-stop for the traffic jams.
The car has a four-star crash rating, front, side and curtain airbags, ESP with rollover mitigation, ABS and EBD. Hill-hold and hill-descent features are built into the transaxle.The XUV500 hides the wide track under flared wheel arches and sits on attractive five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels with chunky 235/65 tyres.
With a 70-litre fuel tank, an average fuel rating of 6.7L/100km for the front-wheel-drive model (7.2L/100km for the all-wheel- drive version) and a lazy 1950rpm at 110kmh, the new Mahindra could be very popular as a city get-around and country cruiser combo for growing, budget-conscious families who want the frills of luxury motoring without having to wait for freeloading teens to leave home.
Mahindra's flag-bearer in Australia has gone from being about as attractive as a cane toad to a still-quirky but Euro-looking crossover that will doubtless impress the target market.
When you consider that it starts at $29,900 drive away, with an extra $3000 buying the all-wheel-drive version (with low-ratio transfer box), it's likely we'll see a new leader in the budget-priced SUV market fairly rapidly.
The car is about a month away, with the Perth dealer to be announced soon.