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Bolero Neo: Matrix Reloaded

S. Muralidhar | Updated on July 22, 2021

Mahindra’s TUV 300 morphs into a more mature, modern iteration with a ‘neo’ name tag

The Mahindra Bolero has been a trusty workhorse for both the company and its customers. Few vehicles have enjoyed this level of loyalty and managed to retain customers both in the hinterland and in the cities. But Mahindra hasn’t been able to replicate this success with many of its other SUVs, including the TUV 300 and the Korean clones. The original Bolero hasn’t obviously been dropped in favour of a radically new vehicle. Instead, the TUV300 has been given a makeover and has been rechristened the ‘Bolero Neo’. Both the vehicles will coexist now and the Neo now sports a few Bolero design signatures.

Design

The TUV300 was meant to appeal to urban audiences. But, its people-mover focus, over upright and raised stance, and it’s positioning being a bit of a mismatch compared to the others in the segment didn’t help it win more buyers. Now it makes a comeback in its BS 6 (Bharat Stage 6 emission) form and with the new name. The Bolero Neo is still nearly the TUV300 in its boxy, yet strong SUV design character. Many of the body panels remain unchanged, though the ones that have been replaced make it a bit more metrosexual in outlook. First, the body has been lowered by 20mm without the ground clearance being affected. The bonnet line has also been lowered in an attempt at making the design more aerodynamic to look at. Borrowing some design lines from the original Bolero, the Neo gets black side cladding that runs parallel to the shoulder crease. The headlamps and the front grille are new with a fresh combination of elements. The front fender is entirely new sporting a large airdam and a mix of diagonal, sharply creased sections for a more rugged look. The clamshell style bonnet slab, chrome grille and the round fog lamps (TUV300 had square ones) refer back to the original Bolero.

The new Bolero Neo is still built on the third generation Mahindra body-on-frame chassis that formed the internals of the TUV300 too. Lowering the top-hat makes for a more pleasing side profile, with the small 15-inch rims being the only element that weakens the image. The rear design of the Bolero Neo is nearly identical to the TUV 300 with the exception of the new X-shaped cover for the spare-wheel mounted outside the side-hinged hatch door. Open the hatch and what you get is a narrow space for luggage if the foldable side-facing jump seats are deployed, or a wider and taller storage area of about 380-litres when the jump seats are tied back.

An eco mode and micro-hybrid style engine start-stop are also offered in the Bolero Neo

Cabin

The big changes in the Bolero Neo compared to the TUV300 are in the cabin. Mahindra has been highlighting the fact that the dashboard and other cabin elements have been designed by Italian design house Pininfarina. It does seem more pleasant to look at and symmetrical in layout. Dual tone colour theme for the dash and the wrap over style layering remove any doubts about whether there are hangovers from an utilitarian-focused past. The fit seems to be good, though there are some rough corners and joints. But, it is the finish that is still lacking the finesse that many of the other sub-compact SUVs have. The reason is probably the choice of hard plastics for the dashboard panels. The door panels and its elements are similarly much better to look at, and even touch and feel is improved.

The fabric upholstery in my test mule felt good and offered a firm cushioning and support. And even though the squabs themselves were not very generous in size, it felt comfortable even after about five hours behind the wheel. The rear bench seat offers decent thigh support, again even though the construction seems simplistic. The driver’s seat is now height adjustable, enabling me to tick off one box in my list of complaints.

What continues to be one of my gripes is Mahindra’s persistence with side-facing jump seats. A car maker of its stature cannot be seen offering these as a factory fitment. It should also not be calling the Bolero Neo a 7-seater (which it is in its brochure) when there are no safety restraints for the passengers on those seats.

Overall, the Bolero Neo’s cabin is cleaner and sports a combination of trim elements that give it a more modern outlook. The 17.8cm infotainment touchscreen and the instrument cluster offer a combo of controls and driving information. There is cruise control now with steering mounted controls. Voice messaging and Blue Sense mobile app based connectivity is also new. But, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is still missing. The Bolero Neo’s air conditioning is excellent; it kept me comfortably cool throughout my day-long test drive. It is a sub-4-metre SUV with jump seats at the rear, so space in the middle is narrower than in some of the competitor models.

Performance

The Bolero Neo gets the 3-cylinder, mHawk100 Diesel engine paired with a 5-speed manual transmission. This unit has been used in the TUV300 and the original Bolero. In the Bolero Neo, the 1,493cc engine uses a variable geometry turbo to generate 100bhp of peak power and a good 260Nm of peak torque; all of which gets fed to the rear wheels; through a mechanical locking differential (MLD available only in the top-trim N10(O) variant).

For a 3-cylinder, this power unit is quite refined. It's on-road performance seems to have an urban bias, with much of the torque loaded in the lower end of the rev-band. Peak power tops out at 3,750rpm and with the idling rpm set at about 1,000rpm, you will need to shift up much before the engine can hit its redline at 5,000rpm. Short ratios and a fairly sumptuous torque level helps the Bolero Neo make quick progress. Short acceleration spurts are easy, though it runs out of breath once the needle crosses over into 3-digit speeds. The clutch is light and the narrow rpm range meant fewer shifts even on crowded roads. The gearbox still needs some improvement. Shift quality is rubbery and the gear stick is tad too tall. The suspension set up in the Bolero Neo still gives the vehicle a strong off-road focused ride character. Like the new Thar, the Bolero Neo too offers good ride quality on a stretch of clean blacktop. On broken tarmac, it plops through some of the worst sections, and even though there is no sense of frailty, the lower passenger isolation and body roll combine to make for a poorer ride compared to some of the competitors in the segment.

Bottomline

In its attempt at rationalising the features for the Bolero Neo, Mahindra has dropped a few and added others to keep the prices competitive. One interesting feature will be the MLD which is part of the multi-terrain tech that Mahindra has introduced in the Bolero Neo. In the absence of an expensive, full-blown all-wheel drive system, the MLD is an affordable, yet effective alternative. The differential detects rear wheel slippage and sends torque to the other. It may not be the most often used feature, but some of the missing ones would be. For example, the door mirrors can’t be electrically folded, though adjustments are possible. Reverse parking sensors are available, though a camera is missing.

But, it is good to see some of the focus on safety ensuring that it gets two airbags for driver and passenger, ABS with EBD and cornering brake control etc. The Bolero Neo is a much better alternative to the TUV300. It brings Bolero design and traits into a more modern urban package. Prices start at ₹8.48 lakh, ex-showroom.

Published on July 22, 2021

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