Mahindra Bolero Neo drive impressions: Few frills, much skills off beaten path
Mahindra Bolero Neo seeks and strives to be the perfect blend of rugged drive character with a relatively pleasant cabin at a price point that is mighty appealing. And in this once sentence, I may have already summed up my first impressions of the latest from the Mahindra camp.
Similar CarsFind More Cars
And yet, here is an SUV that deserves more than just a taut one line verdict, especially if you get to get behind its wheels on the first day of Delhi monsoons.
Mahindra could not have picked a better day to hand over the Bolero Neo to the HT Auto team than this past Wednesday - June 14. The parched Delhi ground got its first proper gulp of monsoon showers and what was going to a be a short winding road set out for our first drive impressions, filled up with mud and muck, slush and sludge. Perfect playground for the Bolero Neo? Read on.
The near-perfect love child
Once upon a time, Bolero and TUV300 decided to get cozy and love bloomed in the form of Bolero Neo. Yes, the Bolero Neo does look near identical to the TUV300 in its overall design language. First and even subsequent glances will confirm as much. But look closer and you'll find Bolero's genetics as well.
The front fascia, especially the grille, is inspired by Bolero and the Bolero Neo also boasts of an upright face with a slightly aggressive appeal. The six-slat chrome grille looks quite stylish while the new static bending headlights with DRLs are a refreshing touch as well.
Over at the side, the wheel arches are slightly more pronounced now and the C-pillar has been given a dark shade. There is a chunky plastic cladding all along the side of the Bolero Neo that seeks to underline its go-anywhere credentials.
The rear profile of the SUV is completed with an X-type spare wheel cover, a spoiler and a prominent Bolero badge.
Classic cabin with a premium touch
Anyone stepping inside the Bolero Neo with a mile-long list of expectations of a mile-long list of features will walk out rather bitter. While rivals do now offer a plethora of convenience features, this Mahindra isn't playing that game.The list of what is absent is longer than the list of what's there - no air purifier, no high-end sound system, no sunroof, no leather seats, no wireless phone charging and no, the front seats are not ventilated.
But rather than paying attention to the glitz, the Bolero Neo's cabin seems content in being functional. And that's across the three rows of seats. There's dedicated armrests for the front two passengers, a responsive seven-inch touch-screen infotainment unit with Bluetooth, USB and AUX options, Blue Sense app, voice messaging system, steering mounted controls, among a few others. Think of this as a Bolero with a young heart, a TUV300 with a refresh.
Functional bits like electrically adjustable ORVMs, follow me home headlamps, cruise control, remote key entry, rear wiper and rear-glass defogger also make this a truly driver's car.
The fabric seats are in a light colour which means it could be prone to grime if this SUV does wander around beyond conventional roads. These seats are also rather hard but I quit expected them to be. On the flipside, the ride height is great and there's decent space for passengers on the bench seats in the middle row.
The jump seats in the third row ought to be used for sitting only on SOS basis but the fact that this sub four-metre SUV does squeeze in a third row at all is, again, commendable.
The cabin overall is definitely a step up from TUV300 and several steps up from the Bolero but it won't be quite fair to compare it to what's on offer from the Koreans.
Shut up and drive
The Bolero Neo seems to have an eager sense around it to be put out there and put in motion. Underpinned by the third-generation ladder-frame chassis which is what's base for Thar and Scorpio too, the Bolero Neo is the only rear-wheel drive option in its segment.
We are calling this a first-drive impression rather than a first-drive review because we didn't really put the Bolero Neo to all kinds of test and on long stretches of roads. But the hour that we were inside pummeling this vehicle was almost as much fun as when we drove out the Thar last year.
There's no outright 4x4 option of course but Bolero Neo clearly has the inherent family trait of being most at home when going beyond the pamper of regular roads. The stiff suspension makes it so darn easy for one to just ignore road blemishes that the carefree air becomes intoxicating after a while.
The 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox and if I was blindfolded, I would have probably still guessed that I am inside a Bolero of one gen or the other. There's 100 hp for the taking but torque figure has gone up to 260Nm.
And just in case you were wondering, the mechanically locking differential - available on the top variant - promises to improve traction on challenging terrain.
Final say after initial drive:
The Bolero Neo has its priorities straight. It is claiming to be a more premium version of TUV300 and on that count, it really is. It is also claiming to be as capable as a Bolero and it well could be as well. It isn't a radically new product and therefore, may not create a whole lot of buzz like some of its rivals did during their respective launches.
Offered in four variants - N4, N8, N10 and N10(O) - and starting at ₹8.48 lakh (ex showroom), the Mahindra sub-compact SUV however is as rugged as an SUV minus 4x4 can be. I feel that it could have the bragging rights on roads and beyond but Mahindra could have perhaps given it some more exterior updates to set it farther apart as a whole new product instead of a near clone of another. Comfort above all else? Look elsewhere. Muscle power on the move without quite breaking bank? Say hello to Mahindra Bolero Neo.