We get out testing the Mahindra Bolero Neo for an entire day, and here’s what it was like…
Words: Neeraj Padmakumar | Photography: Sarath S
Mahindra has launched the Bolero Neo as a ‘road-going’ version of its best-selling nameplate- the Bolero. We have all known the Bolero as a rugged, go-anywhere utility vehicle, that feels almost tailor-made for the Indian subcontinent and its topography. While this has been (and continues to be) a thing to be lauded, it is no secret that the butch SUV lacks the comfort and convenience one would desire to have on daily tarmac commutes. The TUV300, which had originally been launched in 2015, was indeed a modern-day reinterpretation of the Bolero. It was almost as capable as the big ‘B’ while offering period-relevant levels of ride quality and cabin comforts. Somehow, TUV 300 could not create the expected commotion in sales. Mahindra has now rebranded the facelifted TUV as Bolero Neo.
The Bolero is the most sold SUV in India. Since its market debut in 2000, Mahindra has sold over 1.3 million units of the Bolero here. The nameplate has a strong market footprint in the suburban and rural areas. With the new name in place, the TUV facelift is expected to garner the attention it deserves.
The overall dimensions and pricing would put the Bolero Neo into the fast-growing sub 4 meter SUV space, currently dominated by feature-packed urban crossovers like the Hyundai Venue, Kia Sonet, and the Suzuki Brezza. However, the vehicle does not quite belong there! Here are a few things which would give the Bolero Neo an upper hand over its present-day sub-4-meter rivals.
- It is the only vehicle in the segment to have a 5+2 seating configuration.
- Bolero Neo is your only true SUV in the segment, should you be a purist! It has a ladder-on-frame chassis while all of its competitors are mere crossovers underpinned by monocoque shells.
- It is the most capable sub 4 meter SUV on terrains. It can go with ease on multiple terrains where the competition would have a tough time surviving on.
- While the entire competition gets FWD layouts, Bolero Neo comes with RWD.
Unrivaled in the true sense, Bolero Neo is not just a TUV 300 with a different name. The transition has brought about multiple changes in the design and persona of the vehicle.
The overall shape resembles that of the TUV 300. However, several design tweaks have been implemented to draw visual resemblances to the original Bolero. The front fascia has the most number of changes. The headlamps have been revamped and now look more like those of a grown-up Bolero, the bonnet gets a Clamshell design, the signature grille design is borrowed from the XUV 500 and Scorpio, bumper and fog lamp units have been refreshed and there is a new faux skid plate as well.
The profile remains more or less true to the predecessor. It has almost the same lines as the TUV, but now gets an additional Black applique that runs along the length of the vehicle, a styling element we have grown up seeing on the OG Bolero. (Bolero users have often called this the ‘Cattle Pusher’!) As a matter of fact, this allays the visual height of the vehicle and improves its overall stance. The next big thing to notice on the sides would be the new design of the 15-inch alloy wheels. Save for these, almost everything about the design remains the same as the TUV. There are, still a few design elements that could trigger your OCD.
At the rear, the X-shaped cover for the spare wheel (which gets a steel rim ) now gets prominent ‘BOLERO’ lettering on it. The clear lens tail lamps of the 2019 facelift have been replaced with red-tinted units. The car ditches the rearview camera that was available on the TUV and comes just with rear parking sensors. However, you can buy the rear camera unit as an accessory from the Mahindra dealerships, for around Rs 5000, in which case it can be configured to use the infotainment screen as its display.
Bolero Neo is underpinned by the same third-generation platform as the Scorpio and Thar. It is thus quite off-road-capable and equally comfortable. The SUV however, doesn’t look as tall or intimidating as these cars. This is because it rides 20mm lower. This interestingly has not come at the cost of ground clearance. Mahindra says that the Bolero Neo’s ground clearance remains unchanged, and the body shell sits 20 mm lower on the chassis. The lower ride height has indeed brought about changes in the road manners, and has also made the Neo more ‘approachable’ to the common man. You don’t need to ‘climb in’ as tediously as you had to do in the TUV. The bonnet too is 40mm lower than before.
Even while being an RWD offering, the Bolero can take mild terrains with ease. It has cleverly designed bumpers and ground clearance, providing terrain-friendly approach, departure, and ramp angles. The SUV would easily handle mild off-road trails.
The Cabin Experience
Thankfully, the Bolero Neo doesn’t get any influence of the original Bolero inside its cabin. The latter if you might remember, is no place to be in for a comfortable and hassle-free ride. The Neo retains the TUV’s cabin design (which happens to be a work of Pininfarina) almost unaltered. The cabin gets a Black/ Beige color scheme and is quite roomy and pleasant. The only changes on the inside are the new comfortable Fabric upholstery (the leatherette of the 2019 TUV is gone) and a good-looking analog/digital combination cluster for instrumentation. The digital MID screen would remind you of the Thar’s, with comparable levels of graphic quality.
There is a decent-sized 7-inch infotainment unit, which offers decent responses and outdated graphics (I can recollect seeing these graphics and UI on the Scorpio!) It also falls back for not offering modern smartphone connectivities like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It does get Bluetooth connectivity, which is not the smartest by today’s standards. Another major missing is the automatic AC/ Climate Control. The Neo gets just a manual air conditioner, which is quite powerful, but has no rear vents.
Other major equipment onboard the Neo include cruise control, steering mounted media and telephony controls, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, etc.
Seats And Space
The seats are quite comfortable with long squabs and individual armrests at the front and a central armrest at the rear. The legroom and headroom are generous in the front row. You sit quite high and enjoy a commanding position. In the second row, the headroom is great, leg and knee rooms are adequate. Mahindra must have chosen to not be generous with these, in order to plunge in the third-row jump seats. The second-row’s single-piece bench seat, as a matter of fact, has the same recline/angle as the standard Bolero but comes with stiffer cushioning. The overall seating here is quite confidence-inspiring and pleasant.
The side-facing jump seats in the third row are no comfortable places by any means. Two average-sized adults can get themselves seated here if the need be, but will have limited shoulder rooms and their knees in contact with each other. The cooling here can be a concern for many, but the butterfly-opening mechanism of the rear quarter glass provides slight relief. Even more serious is the fact that these seats do not get seatbelts. Thus, these are highly unsafe for longer commutes. We suggest you use these seats only if necessary and in every other case, fold them up and enjoy the 384 liters of boot space!
How Does It Drive?
The Bolero Neo is powered by a 1.5L, 3 cylinder diesel engine (mHawk100) producing 100 hp and 260Nm. While this is more or less the same unit from the TUV 300, it now meets BS6 emission norms and has an extra 20Nm of torque (TUV 300 had 240 Nm). The bump in torque figures has been brought about by using a Variable Geometry Turbocharger. The engine now offers more low-end grunt, which can get you mused during low-speed runs in the traffic and while climbing up steep slopes. It also allows you to perform low-speed maneuvers on terrains with ease.
The mid-range is quite ‘punchy’, but short-lived. You get to enjoy the real grunt between 1,750 and 2,250 rpms. The delivery is quite linear. Post the 2,250 rpm mark, decent torque-drops can be experienced. Rev it past 3,000 rpm, and you will feel the engine lose its breath, and become louder.
Yes, all these essentially mean that you would need to play more with the gears while trying to overtake on highways or in situations demanding sudden surges of torque. But the precise gearbox (which is not anything ‘sporty’ by any standards) and the light clutch will make you feel at home in such scenarios. The narrow rev band thus has minimal impacts on the actual drivability.
The overall performance is quite good in most scenarios. However, you might end up wanting more punch from the engine, if you are to drive with seven onboard, on serious altitude gradients. A quick complaint as a driver would be that the Bolero Neo lacks a dead pedal, and many a time you end up feeling awkward resting your left foot on the floor.
The overall refinement levels of the Bolero Neo are quite good for a car of its class. The engine is not as noisy as what it used to be on the TUV 300 or the regular Bolero for that matter. It is pretty silent for a 3 cylinder diesel. The overall NVH levels are decent at most times. You don’t get as many vibrations as the TUV. You would only get to feel slight vibes on the gear lever. The Neo does make some noise at higher rpms. However, these are nowhere near the expected levels of the mHawk100. Also, Neo’s engine does not sound annoyingly crude even if you rev past 4000 rpms.
However, when pitted against its ‘urban SUV’ rivals, the Bolero does fall behind in terms of the overall NVH. It is not as smooth or silent as something like a Hyundai Venue.
The handling offered by Neo is quite decent for a body-on-frame SUV of this size. The car remains composed at minimum three-digit speeds. It takes corners slightly better than the TUV 300, probably due to the lower center of gravity and the reworked suspension. There is some amount of body roll felt, but the overall corner manners are quite good for a ladder-on-frame offering. The steering is somewhat light but doesn’t feel disconnected. The least surprisingly though, the Bolero Neo shines better on terrains than highways! The Scorpio’s chassis gets its suspension ( Dual Wishbone at the front and rear solid axle) slightly softened when it finds place under the Neo. The result is unmatched abuse tolerance and superior ride quality on terrains.
Bolero Neo takes rough roads and mild terrains like a pro. The top-spec N10 (O) gets a Mechanically Locking Differential from Eaton, which further ups its capabilities. (This was earlier available as an add-on on the TUV 300) Even though the RWD limits the capabilities of the MLD to some extent, it does a decent job in most off-road scenarios. Each time a (rear) wheel is air-borne, the MLD kicks in and redirects the torque to the wheel with maximum traction, facilitating an efficient crawl. The Neo can thus be taken to tricky terrains like slight slush, sands, and light articulation, where the other sub 4 meter SUVs will fail to go.
The overall ride quality remains quite reassuring for an SUV of this class. The suspension performs exceptionally well on rough patches. If we are to talk based on the names, the Bolero Neo is a far cry from the OG Bolero in terms of ride quality and comfort. While the Bolero used to fall back in ride comfort, the Neo has it neatly covered, even while offering comparable levels of terrain-friendliness.
Variants And Prices
The top-spec N10 (O) variant is yet to go on sale here. Considering the overall prices, the Neo might not be the most affordable sub-4 meter SUV available but is definitely a more Value For Money offering over the original Bolero that it is priced on par with, or even undercuts in some cities.
Pros And Cons
|The Good||The Bad|
|Excellent terrain-handling ability||No Climate Control/ Automatic AC|
|Exceptional Abuse Tolerance||Outdated infotainment unit without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto|
|Improved handling||No rear AC vents|
|Feels decently refined for a 3 cylinder diesel||A reverse parking camera is not offered as standard.|
Who Should Buy One?
As mentioned before, Bolero Neo is a proper SUV and a ‘compact SUV’ by no means, if going by the conventional definition of the term. We have been used to calling crossover hatchbacks by this name. The crowd opting for these vehicles are mostly urban dwellers with strong affinities for technology, features, and the SUV stance. These people are less probable to put their money on the Neo. However, those living in the sub-urban and rural areas (or literally anywhere where the roads are not great) and looking for a comfortable sub 4 meter SUV, will surely find Neo their perfect pick. After all, it is in the suburbs that the ‘Bolero’ nameplate has the strongest presence…