Red is the colour of heightened emotion, strength, and power. It's invigorating, intimidating and it's never boring – perhaps explaining why Ferrari chose red as its primary colour.

However, this is not about a Ferrari, but rather the bright red Mahindra Scorpio N that has graced the CHANGECARS driveway for the past few days and, my first impression when it arrived was the colour quite dramatically increased the visual sense of the size of the vehicle.

This impression was heightened out on the road where it became immediately noticeable to other road users and quite intimidating to some of them, which did have the pleasurable effect of clearing a path and even keeping some taxis from trying sudden incursion from the emergency or right turn only lanes. 

That said, while it is a big vehicle and does need a little practice to squeeze into your favourite minuscule parking space at the shopping mall, it really does not feel its size on the drive – the styling of this latest version has come a long way from the bulky, slab-sided model that was first launched locally a good few years back and it now retains the signature Mahindra styling but evolved into a sleek and modern interpretation.

In the mid-size SUV pool, there are a large number of players and, while the total market size is growing at the expense of saloons and hatchbacks, the fight for a share of that is quite intense with buyers expecting more tech, more luxury and generally more of everything – all at a lower price.

In price terms, this flagship Scorpio variant butts heads with the likes of the Kia Sportage 1.6T-GDi LX, BAIC B40 Plus 2.0TDi City Hunter and Chery Tiggo 8 Pro 1.6TGDI– all of which hover around the R604 000 mark.

The ever-expanding spread of options and price levels in the SUV market means it is very much a buyer’s market where potential customers can shop to their heart’s content to find the exact set of specifications and configurations they want – and all of the competitive offerings come with high levels of spec and tech.

As the first body-on-frame SUV to garner a 5-star in the Global New Car Assessment Programme, the Scorpio-N has a comfortable feel of solidity about it out on the road, where it capably deals with the irritations of potholes and road ripples with nary a jar for the occupants.

This also translates on off-road excursions where the full-blown all-wheel drive with low range unleashes capability its luxury look and feel may hide.

The chrome finish around the daytime running lights and front fog lights could be viewed as a scorpion tail but the entire design elevates this vehicle as a player by being modern, elegant and allowing excellent all-round visibility thanks to a large glass area.

The luxury aspect on the inside comes from comfortable and supportive seating with a leatherette covering an integrated 20,32 cm infotainment screen with – on this flagship variant – a 3D sound system from Sony with 12 speakers.

The test unit came with a black and brown interior colour mix – not my personal taste and I would have preferred all-brown or all-black.

Navigation, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, front and second row USB ports, central locking, keyless entry, power windows all round, rain-sensing wipers, power adjustable driver’s seat, auto Xenon LED lights, and Park Distance Control all are included as standard fare.

There is a great balance here – the things any driver truly needs and nothing that will be set once in its life and never touched again but which adds a couple of grand to the price.

The 2,2-litre mHawk turbo-diesel engine upfront churns out 128,6 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque, sending this through a 6-speed automatic gearbox, making the morning traffic crawl just that little bit less tedious.

Running a mixture of traffic, urban and highway routes, the overall average fuel consumption came in at 7,1 l/100 km, a shade over the 6,9 l/100 km claimed by Mahindra but still not too shabby for a vehicle of its size and class.

On the road it is an easy drive with light steering for the slow speed stuff but taut enough and accurate as the speed increases and, leaving the city behind, will happily eat up the kilometres, quietly and efficiently with the seating more than up to the task of keeping driver and passengers comfortable and stress-free.

Handling is generally neutral with some body roll when there is a sudden change of direction and it will understeer if stuffed too vigorously into a corner – but then, it was never intended to be a point-and-squirt kind of car.

For offroad excursions, the Scorpio-N offers both 4H and 4L gearing with a rotary selector knob to switch between ‘Normal’, ‘Snow or Mud’, ‘Sand’ and ‘Rocky’ terrain, where the gearing and responses of the SUV adjust to suit the obstacles being encountered.

On the human safety front, it has six crash bags for the occupants, is equipped with disc brakes on all four wheels and hydraulic brake assist with electronic brake pre-fill.

For the environmentally conscious, the Scorpio-N has the lowest CO2 emissions in the class and perhaps falls only on luggage capacity. While the third row of seats has a fold-and-tumble function, the total volume is not quite as large as it could be and is quite small with all seats in place.

Colin Windell – proudly CHANGECARS