Good enough, but not #GearedforGreat yet: The Tata Bolt Drive Review

We took the Tata Bolt for a week long drive when Tata Motors was in the middle of a rigorous endurance challenge to showcase the might of their new generation passenger vehicles – the Zest, Bolt and Tiago. We drove around Delhi NCR, while the #GearedforGreat challenge was simultaneously being held at the 4.2 km long NCAT (National Centre of Automotive Testing) high-speed test track at the VRDE (Vehicle Research & Development Establishment) in Ahmednagar. Four vehicles including the Bolt clocked a staggering 50,000 kms each over 18 days there, at an average speed of 120 km/h. Setting as many as 360 new records in what was a test of performance, strength, speed, efficiency and durability.

All very good. But it would be great if Tata had challenged themselves against competition in a similar event. Also, what are the chances of a manufacturer being dismissive of their own products in an event they themselves organized? Slim, we’d say.

The Zest and Bolt have been around for over a year now and were meant to turn the fortunes of the passenger car division of Tata Motors. But the market response hasn’t been too encouraging. Even with a global R&D team across India, UK and Italy working on the new carlines, rigorous validation processes, extensive simulation and on-road testing, success has continued to elude them. The big bang Lionel Messi campaign notwithstanding, Tata passenger cars continue to suffer from a huge perception problem till date, and one can only hope that the Tiago changes things for them.

Coming back to the Bolt. It takes on some formidable competition like the Maruti Suzuki Swift, Hyundai Grand i10, Ford Figo and Fiat Punto. The premium hatchback segment has moved from being a fiercely price sensitive and value driven category to add design, drive dynamics and tech features as some other important factors that influence buyer decisions. Young upwardly mobile customers today want to look good in their stylish set of wheels, get noticed on the road and aspire for sedan like features and creature comfort in a small package. Few people today want to drive cars into their personal parking slots that they think are only fit to be taxis. And sadly, the Bolt fails to break that mindset and make the cut on the aspirational quotient. Although it is a well thought out product on paper, it is just about good. Not great.

The Bolt has been developed ground-up on an entirely new platform, but lacks any standout design feature. The form factor is from the 90’s with a distinct Indica Vista hangover. While it is a well proportioned hatch with a visible improvement in build quality, fit & finish, you get a sense of déjà vu when the smiling front grille with a striking resemblance to the old warhorse stares back at you. There are some new elements like the tear drop projector headlamps and a muscular bonnet, but they fail to create any significant impact or add to its road presence. The side profile salvages some lost ground with a well balanced silhouette, prominent shoulder and character lines, dual tone ORVMs, 15″ eight spoke alloys and a faux floating roof effect that is created with a matte black vinyl sticker on the C pillar – which looks good from a distance but more like an aftermarket job on closer view. The Bolt stands tall and looks much higher than its 165mm ground clearance in the spec sheet. The rear features a roof spoiler, flame shaped tail lights and an unusually chunky horizontal chrome panel above the number plate. We can understand the urge to give it a sporty look, but this isn’t quite the best attempt.

The cabin is where the Bolt scores. Ingress and egress is easy with adequate head room, generous leg room and elbow room for five adults. The side bolstered front seats are wide and comfortable, but slightly stiff, which makes long drives a bit tiring. But no major complaints here. What strikes as a pleasant surprise is the quality of interiors. The black dashboard and central console with subtle chrome and silver accents is well designed and looks mature and understated, yet sporty. Nothing looks compromised or out of place. There is a 5″ Harman touch screen infotainment console that is easy to operate but has terrible glare visibility. It offers USB, Aux-in, Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity with SD card support and a fairly respectable sound quality. The climate control is effective and cools the relatively large cabin quickly without much fuss. It is however, extremely frugal on storage space with just a single cup holder for the driver, no space to fit in any bottles, no seat back pockets or sunglass holder, and a boot limited to 210 litres.

The variant we drove was the Tata Bolt 1.2L petrol in the top end XT trim. It had the new turbo charged Revotron engine which has a peak output of 90PS and 140Nm torque. The diesel option of the Bolt has the 1.3L Quadrajet engine which is also found under the hood of the Swift and a few others. That one is tuned to deliver 75PS power and 190 Nm torque. In all, the Bolt has two engine options with four trims each in the petrol and diesel variant.

The engine is paired with a 5 speed manual transmission and comes with a unique multi-drive system that allows you to opt between City, Eco and Sport mode at the flick of a switch. While there is no significant difference how the Bolt behaves in any of these modes, it is good to see luxury car features slowly making their way into small cars. They just need to work better.

The driving position in the Bolt is upright and the seat and steering height can be adjusted for a commanding all round view. The sporty 3-spoke electronic power steering is very impressive – small in size, with a good grip. It comes equipped with phone, voice command, volume control and SRC buttons that help you navigate through the infotainment system without getting distracted. The instrument cluster throws up relevant information like trip meter, distance to empty, average fuel efficiency, instant fuel efficiency, clock, outside temperature and drive modes. There is also a gear shift indicator that shows the gear you are driving in, but doesn’t prompt you when to shift. Which is a bit odd. Another annoying fact is the absence of a dead pedal and even a lack of space to rest your left foot. Do product development folks in this day and age really expect people to drive with the left foot on the clutch pedal?

There are several issues with the way the Bolt drives. For one, it lacks bite inspite of being a turbo charged piece. It is quite stressful in stop-and-go city traffic and even after clocking 650+ kms on the odometer we stalled regularly. We just didn’t find the sweet spot. The take off is jerky and then it goes into a sluggish tortoise mode before bolting off like a hare. There is nothing much in the drive for enthusiasts either. Even if you manage to get the engine all excited in an open stretch by pushing the pedal hard and get to a high rev zone, the high speed vibrations and road noise inside the cabin would make you want to slow down. The car really takes its own sweet time to get from 0-100 km/h and stresses out so bad that you feel sorry for it. And a piece of advice – don’t try overtaking at high speeds unless you have planned and timed it really well. It takes quite some deft handling to achieve this miracle. On most occasions, we preferred to just let the world pass by and enjoyed the slow cruise. The ride quality is fairly good thanks to the soft suspension which manages to absorb bumps and potholes well. But on higher speeds you would tend to experience a fair bit of body roll around the curves.

In terms of safety features, the Bolt comes with two front airbags, ABS and EBD. Our variant also had speed sensing auto door locks. What we missed though was a set of parking sensors which is pretty much a standard feature these days.

The fuel efficiency we clocked (or rather the lack of it) was disappointing. While the company claims a fuel economy of 17.57 km/l with the 1.2L petrol and 22.95km/l with the 1.3L diesel, we got a dismal figure of 11.9 km/l over a 668 km drive in the petrol variant. Considering that we drove more than 200 kms on the Noida/Yamuna Expressway and still clocked a poor average figure, tells the story.

The base variant of the Bolt is priced at INR 4.58 lacs and goes up to INR 7.24 lacs (ex-showroom Delhi) for the top model. The XT variant we drove is available at INR 6.12 lacs. Is it a good buy? Well good enough for some maybe, but not a great, compelling buy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the cut to the consideration list of most prospective buyers fishing in this segment. It is low on the freshness quotient, lacks flair and falters at the last mile with a fair bit of catching up to do on every aspect – road presence, build quality, drivability, performance and efficiency. It may be a while before we can really say #GetSetBolt and hopefully version 2.0 should be better.

More importantly, Tata Motors has set itself such high standards with its Horizonext strategy, that there is little room for compromise. When expectations are high and you believe you are #GearedforGreat, flirting with good just won’t do. You need to live on the edge of greatness. And that we are yet to see with the Bolt. While we love the Tata brand and wants them to succeed in everything they do, there is some ground to cover here. And we will be cheering for them when they eventually do.

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    August 3, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Nice efforts in giving the reviews. Though you are right at some points like storage space & cubby holes but also are totally wrong at some points like driving modes & mileage to name a few. I have touched mileage of 20 km per ltr at speed of 60-80kmph in my petrol BOLT in eco mode on highway & 17 kmpl in city mode with speed of 70-100 kmph.

    The mode eco & sports are drastically different & if someone says they feel the same while driving then it's utter lie.

    Though car looks like better looking sibling of old indica /vista, it's much better & unique looking than common hatchbacks on the road these days. It's music system is awesome. The petrol engine has best power & torque figures in thsi price range (better than polo/swift/i20/punto/etios liva- any one). the car is heavy & planted & i.e why rides slow than swift which is 200-300 kgs lighter. Security is also something of value & Tata offer that in XMS & XMT model at 1-3 lacs less than other most selling cars. It's ones choice to own a better vehicle by logic & facts or by brand name & public opinion.

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