2021 Mahindra Bolero Neo first drive review
The Mahindra TUV300 has always seemed a good idea, offering the capability of Mahindra's ladder-frame SUVs in a compact, contemporary package. It hasn't quite panned out that way though, with the Bolero and Scorpio far outselling their sub-four-metre derivative. Mahindra's response to tackle this has been the Mahindra Bolero Neo.
2021 Mahindra Bolero Neo: What's changed on the outside?
By moving the TUV300 into the Mahindra Bolero family, Mahindra now seems to be pitching this SUV to its widest and most loyal band of customers in semi-urban and rural India. The Bolero Neo is meant to be a more modern alternative to the Bolero and the changes made are in line with appealing to this audience.
So the quite bland look of the TUV300's fascia has been replaced by the more recognizably Mahindra mesh grille and vertical chrome strakes. The squarish headlamps have been made simpler but the new LED DRLs bring back some flair. Also changed is the front bumper, housing a larger air dam with more of a direct link to the Bolero in its arrangement. Seen together, these changes give the Bolero Neo a more condensed and less visually bulky face.
Not quite as noticeable is the 20mm drop in body height, and a further 20mm drop to the bonnet line. This hasn't completely eliminated the narrow, top-heavy look from the pre-facelift version, but the Bolero Neo does look more proportionately stanced than earlier. Helping this is the grey cladding on the lower section and along the length of the SUV, although we did notice the separate sections of the narrow band to be misaligned on more than one example. Other minor changes are the X-shaped spare wheel cover and the new alloy wheel design, leaving a generally more attractive and proportionate SUV than before.
2021 Mahindra Bolero Neo: Interiors and features
Mahindra hasn't changed the ground clearance to affect the visual changes, which means it's quite a step up into either of the rows of the Mahindra Bolero Neo. The footboards available on the mid to top-spec version are essential for kids or older passengers, as narrow as they are.
The dual-tone grey and beige dashboard has been carried over, although the instrument cluster is now the same as in the Thar. So you have an informative 3.5-inch MID and clean dials. Most buttons are easy to reach, although the centre mounted window switches can take getting used to. General material quality is what you would expect from a budget offering such as this, although the unclean cutouts for the USB and Aux ports are jarring in a car from 2021. Similarly, we would have liked to have seen better fitment with some of the embellishments attached to the dashboard.
The Bolero Neo can't compete as well on space management as most other sub-four-metre SUVs with their modular architectures. While the wide track of its ladder-frame construction offers comfortable seating three-abreast in the second-row, there isn't a prominent central tunnel either, taller adults will find themselves sitting with folded legs here, although headroom shouldn't be a problem for most. The seats themselves offer good underthigh support but could have been better contoured. The Bolero Neo will most likely be used to move several people together often, hence the two jump seats in the boot. But with no seatbelts here, these are best used in unavoidable situations.
There are usable bottle holders on all four doors and a neat arrangement of cubby holes around the gear lever. Folding the jump seats reveals a sizeable boot, which increases further with the second-row backrest folding. But with the side-folding mechanism, a section of this space is rendered unusable. Notable features are a height-adjustable driver's seat, quite rare at this price point, and the newly added cruise control. But we think Mahindra should have kept the reversing camera from the TUV300 and offered Android Auto and Apple Carplay with the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment, although phone-based connected tech is offered. Other than this, all but the base version of the Bolero Neo come with most features expected at this price.
2021 Mahindra Bolero Neo: Driving impressions
In the very short time we spent behind the wheel, the Bolero Neo seemed fit for its intended purpose. In the larger context of things, the Bolero Neo might come across as a touch too rough-edged for the typical urbane SUV shopper but this hardiness should hold it in good stead in the dusty trails and broken roads it is expected to endure in heartland India.
The Bolero Neo is powered by the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-diesel as in the TUV300. This is a derivative of the Bolero's motor and makes the same 100PS as before, torque has increased by 20 Nm to 260 Nm though. This motor is quite sedate in the way it moves through the rev-band and the power-band itself is also narrow by modern standards. But what is there is usable, with a good slug of torque available right from idle. This is likely there to improve the Bolero Neo's load-lugging capability but a handy by-product is that the SUV feels quite alert in most driving situations we managed to put it through. The gearing seems well suited to maximise this wide band of torque helped with the light clutch action, so gear changes are few and far between. A good thing, given the mushy shift quality.
There is quite a bit of vibration through the gear stick, most apparent at start-up where the gear lever judders violently, which we think could have been better controlled. We also think the younger audience this SUV is aimed at would like a lighter steering at slow speeds, which should make parking and navigating crowded streets quite cumbersome. This lightens the faster you go which again makes things trickier than it needs to be at speed.
The multi-link solid rear axle set-up can't quite iron out speed breakers or a series of broken patches as well as some other ladder-frame SUVs we've driven, with a bobbing motion from the loose rear end quite apparent in these situations. This should however tone down with a full load of passengers, and the healthy 75-section 15-inch wheels cushion these motions reasonably well for the most part. The shortcomings of this construction also shows itself as a constant sideways body motion at high speed, which seems to be much better controlled in the related Thar. There's quite a bit of body roll as expected, but again keeping speeds in check doesn't let this get too uncomfortable.
There's no denying that there's a sense of toughness to the Bolero Neo with the compromises it makes on the road, which some prospective owners will appreciate. Despite the extraneous body movements, the Bolero Neo seems very happy to tackle a pitted trail with no signs of complaint from the suspension. We put the SUV through a fairly serious off-road trail to test the new Eaton-sourced mechanical locking differential, and despite no 4WD the Bolero impressed here. The solid axle gives its great articulation to traverse mounds and fairly deep pits, the automatically engaging differential working as intended in our short time behind the wheel. The system distributes the available torque equally across both rear wheels when it detects a 100 rpm difference in wheel speeds. This system should help when a wheel runs out of grip on slippery road surfaces or when dipped off-road on narrow country roads. We suspect it'll even handle a fairly serious off-road trial in experienced hands.
2021 Mahindra Bolero Neo: Verdict and prices
The Mahindra Bolero Neo is priced between Rs 8.48 and Rs 10 lakh, the differential-equipped variant should be about Rs 50,000 more. This puts it just under the usual crop of sub-four-metre SUVs whose buyers will not probably fully appreciate the Bolero Neo. Its closest competitor is the regular Bolero, priced at a marginal discount. The younger, more aware audience in heartland India the Bolero Neo targets will probably take to the typical Bolero sturdiness and rough-road capability in a more modern take the Neo offers, despite the few rough edges in the way it drives.
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