With a common-rail motor and improved interiors, the Mahindra Bolero ZLX aims to be a more upmarket buy

There's still a lot of life in the Mahindra Bolero. The company has just upgraded India's most popular MUV, giving it a low-cost CRDi system, some minor facelifts and updating the interiors. The Bolero is powered by the same 2.5litre engine as before, only now, it comes with a CRDi motor to make it more efficient and improve driveability. Churning out 63bhp and 19.8kgm of torque, the engine gives the same output as its predecessor, but peak torque has increased slightly.

What is new is the peppy low-speed responses — the engine pulls cleanly from 1000rpm in third gear — and surprising refinement. Of course the typical diesel clatter is audible, but it's much better than the old engine.

Out on the highway, the engine runs out of steam pretty quickly, and it gets worse once loaded up with seven people. At just 100kph, you are getting close to the outer edges of the Bolero's performance envelope, which means overtaking manoeuvres need serious planning. Flat out, the Bolero hits 100kph in a yawning 25.61 seconds and, because of its limited power, takes ages to get to its 124kph top speed.

However, given its vintage, the Bolero's road manners are much better than you would expect. The ride is quite level and absorbent over most surfaces, with only sharp bumps kicking through to the cabin. There's not much steering feel though and the crisp handling typical of modern SUVs is just not there.

The redesigned dash looks like it's been lifted straight out of Knight Rider. By modern car standards, the digital displays and voice messaging system are not quite well done, but we are sure it will have quite an effect in the rural areas, where the Bolero is popular. The digital gauges and trip computer do add some sophistication and the beige fabric brightens things up, but dashboard panel gaps and the general quality are well below par.

The poor ergonomics, is an old problem in Bolero. The front seats are flat, the steering is too big and high and the pedals are painful to use after some time. Move over to the rear and you are greeted by cramped seats which don't offer much legroom or good underthigh support.

The Bolero comes with a start-stop system, but when the engine shuts down, so does the air-con compressor (only the blower stays on). Of course, when this happens, you could switch the start-stop system off completely, but that simply defeats the purpose.

As a hardy and rugged vehicle for rural areas, the Bolero works well. As a personal car, it is a bit too compromised. The ageing platform is not that good on safety either.