Mahindra’s Bolero Neo: a tough-as-nails, people mover with a touch of modernity

Mahindra has relaunched the TUV300 in 2021, rebranded as the Bolero Neo. The trusted Bolero has proven its mettle over nearly two decades of its existence and Mahindra wants to capitalise on its brand success and turn the Bolero Neo into its next sales hero. The TUV has always made a good case for wearing the Bolero badge and you will see it in this review.

Design and interior

While the Bolero Neo carries forward the TUV300’s boxy styling, the entire body shell has now been lowered further onto the ladder-frame chassis to lower the overall ride height by 20mm. The bonnet too sits 40mm lower than before. The result is that the Bolero Neo appears a lot squatter than the TUV300, with a noticeably smaller gap in its wheel arches.

While the Neo and regular Bolero’s designs have little in common, Mahindra has added certain elements like the toothy front grille, some sloping cuts on the front bumper and the round fog lamps, to give it some resemblance to the latter. An unmistakable Bolero design element is the black shoulder cladding that runs the length of the Bolero Neo and helps break the visual height of the model.

Mahindra’s Bolero Neo: a tough-as-nails, people mover with a touch of modernity

The 15-inch wheel design is different, although these look a touch too small compared to its body height. At the rear, the tail-lamps have regained the red tint, (the 2019 TUV300 facelift had clear lens units), and it retains the roof spoiler and unpainted rear parking sensors. The X-shaped spare wheel cover is also carried over, but it now proudly says Bolero.

Move to enter the cabin and what is immediately noticeable is that the lowered body shell has made entry and egress slightly easier. Inside, the Bolero Neo carries forward the cabin design from the TUV300, but its interiors are nothing compared to the crude cabin of the standard Bolero.

The neatly designed dashboard continues to sport a beige and black dual-tone theme and houses a 7.0-inch touchscreen. The seats wear a new fabric material compared to the 2019 facelift’s quilted leatherette upholstery. That aside, the Neo still gets chair-like front seats with long seat squabs and individual armrests.

Mahindra’s Bolero Neo: a tough-as-nails, people mover with a touch of modernity

The rear bench too is flat and will easily seat three abreast, however, the seat cushioning is on the firmer side. There is even a centre armrest for added comfort. Knee and legroom aren’t as generous as the headroom on offer, and that was deliberately done to accommodate side facing jump seats in the rear.

Coming to the jump seats, average-sized adults will find limited shoulder room here, and headroom too is at a premium. Two occupants sitting opposite each other here will have to sit off-centre and stagger their feet and knees, due to the lack of space. There are butterfly windows for ventilation, and a seat pocket to stow away items like a phone. There, however, are no seat belts and in case of a collision, this is not the place or the position in which to be seated.

Mahindra’s Bolero Neo: a tough-as-nails, people mover with a touch of modernity

In terms of equipment, while you do get kit like ABS with EBD and corner braking control, dual airbags, 7.0-inch touchscreen, remote-key entry, electric mirror adjustment, parking sensors, rear wiper and cruise control in the fully-loaded N10, it still lacks some modern car features. Kit such as automatic climate control, electric folding mirrors, projector headlamps and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and a rear-view camera are missing.

To follow later will be an N10 (O) variant that will also get a mechanical locking differential, which would make the Bolero Neo a lot more capable over treacherous terrain.

Mahindra’s Bolero Neo: a tough-as-nails, people mover with a touch of modernity

Engine and driving experience

Under the hood of the Neo sits a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder diesel engine, shared with the Bolero, but in a higher 100hp state of tune; the regular Bolero makes 75hp. What is new is its electronically controlled variable geometry turbocharger, and as a result, max torque has been bumped up to 260Nm — 20Nm more than the TUV300; though the max torque band now spreads just over 500rpm, from 1,750-2,250rpm. So, does that affect driveability? Absolutely not!

The three-cylinder diesel is certainly one of the nicer ones out there and feels smooth, refined and almost vibe-free. With performance concentrated in low RPMs and short gearing, the unit feels quite responsive and pulls easily from idling RPMs without much effort. Power delivery is linear, and you can even amble around in higher gears at lower revs.

Revving the unit out to its modest 4,500rpm limit serves no purpose as there is not much to be had in terms of power. The unit, though, runs out of breath past 100kph and those who often travel with a full load of passengers on expressways or hills will be left wanting for stronger pulling power.

The 5-speed manual gearbox is smooth even though the throws are a bit long, and its light clutch makes driving a breeze. The Neo begins to shine when the going gets tough.

We only got to drive the SUV at Mahindra’s Pune test track, but they did have a small rough road patch prepared. Over this track, the Neo pummelled through without batting an eyelid — the chassis and tough-as-nails suspension components are built to take a beating.

What also makes the Neo feel at ease over hostile road conditions is the new mechanical locking differential (MLD). If the MLD detects one of the rear wheels spinning faster than the other, it locks that wheel while transferring power to the one with more traction, enhancing the Neo’s overall road grip at low and crawling speeds. The MLD’s metallic clanging sound as it locks the wheel, could catch drivers by surprise, at least initially. While this Eaton MLD has always been available as an add-on for the TUV300, it is now offered as standard on the N10 (O) variant.

Through the corners, body roll is still apparent, but it is lesser than before as a result of a lower centre of gravity, and reworked suspension.

Mahindra’s Bolero Neo: a tough-as-nails, people mover with a touch of modernity

Truth be told, the Mahindra Bolero Neo’s body-on-frame construction, 7-seat capacity and its rear-wheel-drive layout places it in a segment of its own, much different from the sophisticated compact SUVs on sale. So, while this Mahindra isn’t likely to appeal to the average, urban family car shopper, it makes an extremely compelling case for buyers seeking a tough-as-nails, go-anywhere people mover with a touch of modernity.

Yes, its styling may not scream ruggedness, but underneath it certainly is, plus the optional MLD further enhances its go-anywhere ability by infusing a higher degree of confidence while traversing treacherous terrain. There is also far better overall refinement and a host of modern features, all which certainly build a strong case for the Bolero Neo.

Then there is the pricing, while the MLD equipped version is yet to be launched, the Neo’s asking price ranges from ₹ 8.48 to 9.99 lakh, almost at par with the Bolero’s ₹ 8.63-9.61 lakh price range, thus making for a far superior value offering.

This is the best iteration of the TUV till date, and one that certainly deserves to wear the Bolero badge. The only question that now remains is whether its target audience thinks so too.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 4:14:37 AM |

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