Why I would buy it?
- Ability to take on the rough
- Ride quality and second row space
- Torquey engine and good visibility
Why I would avoid it?
- Not a great SUV to drive
- Not as well equipped as the competition
- MLD should have been standard across the range
Engine and Performance
The New Mahindra Bolero Neo is based on the same platform as the new Mahindra Thar and the latest generation Scorpio. More importantly, it shares more than a just the platform with Mahindra’s sub-four metre SUV, the TUV300. In fact, the Bolero Neo is the TUV300 with some cosmetic updates. No surprise then that the Bolero Neo gets the same drivetrain option as the TUV. The engine in question is a three-cylinder, 1.5-litre diesel, and it comes mated to a five speed manual gearbox. There’s no other variation or option available on the Neo.
The engine itself is reasonably refined and tractable, and it makes easy work out of puttering around in the city or cruising on highways at around the 100kmph mark. However, quick overtakes at three digit speeds, or a full bore acceleration run off the lights isn’t the Bolero Neo or its engine’s thing. In that sense, it’s not as light footed as its front wheel drive monocoque competition.
The gearbox, meanwhile, has slightly long throws. And the gearshifts aren’t exactly precise or sporty. These don’t get sucked into the gate with a satisfying snick. Instead, one has to cajole the lever a bit to help it find its footing. It’s not vague or tiresome, mind; just not something we would term, good.
Ride Quality and Handling
The ride quality on the Bolero Neo though, is good. It’s absorbent. It’s quiet. And, totally agreeable. It never feels harsh, or fragile, or like Japan in an earthquake. But yes, being a body-on-ladder SUV, there’s some jiggle you will feel when going over anything but glass-smooth roads. However, it really comes into its own when the roads begin to disintegrate. It is a great companion over bad roads, no question. Handling isn’t anything to write home about, unless you want to tell the folks how un-car-like it is. For starters, it doesn’t like being chucked into a corner, especially at high speeds. If you do so, the Bolero Neo lets its displeasure known by first under-steering a bit, and then almost rolling onto its front outside tyre, while the tyres all around screech themselves hoarse. And that’s not the most pleasant experience.
The trick then is to cajole it (there, there’s that word again). And by doing that, you first let the Neo settle on its springs, and then keep adding steering lock till you are set to make the corner. But the best hack here would be to cut down your entry speed into corners dramatically. Surprisingly, the steering isn’t too bad. It might be a little slow, but it’s not really vague. As for the brakes, these do need an upgrade. There’s feel and progression, but the bite is seriously lacking.
Comfort, Convenience, and Features
As we mentioned earlier, the ride quality offered by the Bolero Neo is comfortable. Add to it the decent cushioning and support the front seats offer - not to mention way better ergos than the regular Bolero - and you wouldn’t mind driving it. And not just to the airport and back to drop your in-laws, but actually to your in-laws’ place a 1000km away.
The second row seats though are a little flat in comparison. There’s a lot of room for three, however. And that’s one of the strong reasons for one to buy the Neo over its monocoque competition. What’s more, with the large glass area and the relatively high roof, it feels roomy and nice to spend time in. And with the drop in ride height, it’s also easier to get in and out of; both compared to the regular Bolero and the TUV300 it is based on.
As far as equipment is concerned, Mahindra has kept things as simple as possible. There are no complicated acronyms or new-age tech to confuse you. It’s like a pencil sharpener, just that now it gets a plastic cover to prevent the shavings from falling on the floor. So, it’s easy to use, and more convenient. In this top spec N10 trim, you get air conditioning and a touchscreen system. There’s height adjustment for the driver’s seat, and fold function for the second row. You get some cup and bottle holders, and some storage as well. And on the safety end - dual airbags, reversing parking sensors, and ABS come as standard, which, of course, is mandated by law.
Now, the most significant changes to the new Bolero Neo have been made on the outside to help differentiate it from the TUV, and make it resemble the Boleros of yore. The ride height has been dropped by 20mm. The front fender height has been cut. And 20mm has been shaved off compared to the TUV’s bonnet’s thickness as well. A black plastic strip has been added which now connects the headlamps with the tail lights. And some black cladding makes its appearance under the doors to complete the ‘Bolero’ look. At the front, there’s a new grille, and a sportier, younger, and more edgy-looking bumper.
The overall look of the Bolero Neo, it must be said, is now closer to the Bolero, no question. It does have that ‘design evolution’ feel to it. And compared to the TUV, it’s softer, younger, and clearly more pleasing to the eye.
The Bolero Neo is priced at Rs 8.48 lakh for the base N4 version, and the top spec N10 retails at Rs 9.99 lakh, both prices are ex-showroom. And this makes it cheaper than the TUV and very close to the regular Bolero. When you factor in the fact that the Neo is more comfortable, better finished, more premium, and better equipped - not to mention more spacious and easier to drive than the regular Bolero - the new Bolero Neo is clearly the better buy. Yes, it hasn’t proved itself in the wild yet. But if Mahindra is even a slight bit serious about the Neo taking over the mantle of moving India from the regular Bolero, it would have done its homework and made the Neo near unbreakable.
So, is it also a better purchase option compared to the likes of the Hyundai Venue and the Kia Sonet? Yes and no. For city dwellers and highway users, the latter two make more sense. But, for those wanting to take on poor roads, exploring, camping, and going to their weekend house in the middle of nowhere, go for the Bolero Neo.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi