Why would I buy it?
- Phenomenal ride quality over bad roads
- Attractive pricing
Why would I avoid it?
- Mediocre interior finish
- Rear seat comfort lacking
Mahindra’s new Bolero Neo bridges the gap we didn’t know needed bridging between the now defunct TUV300 and the Bolero. In essence the Neo is clearly more TUV than Bolero, but it’s also way more upmarket than the latter and with prices ranging between Rs 8.48 lakh and Rs 9.99 lakh, a heavy hitter on the value for money front. Let’s see whether the iconic Bolero prefix and the extra features help this robust SUV strike a chord with the loyalists and the masses.
Interior Space and Comfort
With regards to how everything looks and feels inside the Bolero Neo, there isn’t much to explore if you are familiar with the TUV300’s cabin. It all remains the same for the Neo which means the not-so-nice materials continue with shiny hard plastics on the center console and doors. Mediocre finish aside, there is a plenty of room up front with lots of open storage cubbies between the front seats. The seats itself are large and wide and the under thigh support is surprisingly good, too. You also get usable armrests which make long distance driving that little bit more relaxing.
So that’s the positive bit. Unfortunately, comfort at the back is something that’s still a concern. While there’s abundance of headroom (thanks to the tall body) and the whole cabin feels roomy from waist up, you would be left wanting for more knee room. With the front seats set to my position, there is some legroom crunch even for average sized adults.
We aren’t fans of the cushioning either as it’s too firm for everyday use and the bench itself is flat and not properly contoured like in most other cars. As for the jump seats at the back, you can seat two passengers but they are hardly usable because of the lack of legroom when either side of the jump seats is occupied. What’s also worth adding is that the latter don’t get seatbelts either because of the confronting layout.
Engine and Performance
With its more interesting mechanicals, the Bolero Neo has a rather unique drive experience compared to the compact crossovers around the Rs 10 lakh range. In fact, it uses Mahindra’s Gen 3 chassis that underpins the new Thar and the proven mHawk 1493cc diesel engine making 100bhp and 260Nm. We will get to the suspension setup in the ride and handling bit.
Starting off with the engine, it makes 24bhp/50Nm more than the one on the Bolero even though both are essentially the same. The Neo, then, has decent pulling power on paper which translates to a surprisingly refined drive experience as long as you are doing city speeds. This engine spins up in a smooth manner till about 2,500rpm post which you can hear some diesel clatter. As for the actual go, low to medium speed performance is effortless and tractability is strong – you get all of 260Nm of pulling power between 1750rpm and 2250rpm and as a result, the midrange on this engine is particularly strong. Be it in the city or on the highway (until speeds of 100kmph or so), the torque build up is meaty and the Neo never feels like its struggling.
The 5-speed manual impresses with its light albeit slightly vague shift action. The clutch is light, too, and easy to modulate allowing newbies to pull away from standstill without stalling or bunny-hopping this hardy SUV. Frankly the only downside to this gearbox is the long throws which would add to the driver’s fatigue over long journeys.
Ride and Handling
This is one area where the Neo has made many strides over the regular old Bolero. In terms of the setup, it’s running a double wishbone independent front and a multi-link rear coil setup. The Bolero, on the other hand, uses a relatively utilitarian setup which includes an independent front but leaf springs at the rear. As for the ride quality, there is always a certain amount of dip and rebound over undulated surfaces though if you keep the Neo below the speed limits there is no questioning the incredibly cushy ride no matter how rough the road surface gets. It’s supple yet predictable and like the Scorpio, manages to smother almost everything in its way. Naturally, the lateral movements that are typical of a ladder-frame construction are still there but overall there is no stopping the Neo and it makes you feel like you are riding over layers of huge, fluffy pillows even if the road is riddled with potholes.
The steering is light but slow and overall the handling is okay. The Bolero Neo is slow to react to your inputs and naturally its high center of gravity plays spoil sport when you chuck it through some corners.
Features and Equipment
The top-spec N10 trim you see here offers a good mix of usable features but it’s not remarkably packed. You get a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, cruise control, eco mode, start/stop function, tilt adjustment for the steering, height adjustment for the driver’s seat, armrest in the front and middle rows, electrically adjustable ORVM, front and rear power windows, rear wiper and keyless entry. For safety, there’s dual airbags, ABS and static bending headlights. There’s also an N10 option trim which will be available soon with a locking rear differential to give it some off-road capability even though it’s a rear-wheel drive only vehicle.
You have got to give it to Mahindra for pricing the Bolero Neo so close to the regular Bolero. At Rs 8.48 lakh ex-showroom, the entry-level Neo is not only cheaper but also better equipped and more refined than the base Bolero which retails at Rs 8.63 lakh. The top-spec N10 trim is almost Rs 40,000 more expensive than the B6 (O) Bolero but it unquestionably offers better value with its longer list of features and more sophisticated mechanicals. On the downside, it’s not the most polished vehicle you can buy for the price – the interior quality is below par and the second row comfort leaves a lot to be desired. But if you are looking for a robust yet easy to drive SUV that can take on bad roads with ease, the Bolero Neo is your best bet. It just makes for an ideal middle-ground for buyers looking to get a lifestyle vehicle on a budget and with the Bolero badge; it might just be able to draw many a folks looking for something different in the sub Rs 10 lakh bracket.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi