Fact: One-in-two cars sold in India is a hatchback. Reality check: Tata is represented in this segment by way of the slow-selling Nano, the Indica which caters mainly to the taxi market, and the Vista. Compare that to Maruti, which has six hot-selling hatchbacks, and Hyundai which has four, and it becomes evident that the manufacturer which once launched the first fully indigenous Indian passenger car has became a bit too relaxed.
And that is one of the main reasons why Tata's second make-or-break product must be a hatchback like the Tata Bolt. Expected to go on sale next month, here's the review of the Bolt petrol powered by the turbocharged Revotron engine.
Its amazing how the slightly redesigned smoked projector headlamps, the new grille and bumper have transformed the boring Vista into the sporty Bolt. That seems to be the theme pretty much everywhere, where designers have played around with what was already available, yet have managed to bring in a lot of freshness, one that is sure to go appreciated by buyers.
Even the side profile of the car which is by far the most resemblant of the Vista manages to not look mundane thanks to the new 15-inch alloys and the blackened B- and C-Pillars. The C-Pillar, apart from being blackened, gets some graphics to it which may not appeal to everyone’s tastes, but isn’t an eyesore either.
The rear sees a neatly integrated spoiler and a diffuser like element with a foglight. The redesigned taillights do not feature LED elements like that of the Zest, but manage to look rather nice even when lit.
The Bolt’s dimensions are at 3,825 mm in length, 1,695 mm in width, 1,562 mm in height and 2,470 mm in wheelbase. It has a ground clearance of 165 mm, and the petrol model weighs between 1,095-1,125 kg, while the diesel weighs between 1,132-1,160 kg. If you haven’t already done the math, the Bolt is a good 10-20 kg lighter than the Zest.
The Bolt’s cabin manages to look similar to that of the Zest’s for most part save for a few minor changes.
First off, the dashboard is finished in an all-black color (Tata calls it ‘Java Black’), which according to the company will appeal to the younger target audience of the car, compared to the Zest’s dual-tone black-and-beige interior.
The other changes lie in the Harman infotainment system which is now more advanced than ever. The system has a clever way of becoming a navigation device as it can mirror the Maps application on your phone. Given that most customers of the Bolt are bound to own a smartphone with data connectivity, this system certainly makes sense, and is a rather clever way of saving Tata a few thousand rupees from actually offering a GPS system, which by the way none of its competitors offer anyway.
The system also supports video playback through SD card, though we will advice drivers to avoid watching a movie while driving for obvious reasons. And since we’re speaking about the entertainment system, let’s just say that the 8-speaker Harman system in the Bolt is the best sounding in its class; the clarity level is superb!
Now for the seats. The front seats feature a new - what Tata Motors calls - Rugby design in that they have extra support for the occupant’s shoulders. After the initial minutes of getting used to the seats, you’ll find the front seats an extremely comfortable place to be in.
Space at the rear is very good, with Tata claiming class-leading space. Compared to the competition (which Tata referred to as ‘A’ and ‘B’), the Bolt has more leg and headroom at 918 mm and 971 mm respectively. While headroom and legroom are comparable if not slightly better than the Elite i20 (currently, one of the largest in segment), its the shoulder room that really impresses as seating three abreast seems very comfortable in the Bolt.
The rear seat backs fold in a 60:40 ratio, but even with all passengers in place, the Bolt can take 210 liters of luggage. We found that the bootlid has no handle/recess to grip your fingers while opening, but a Tata official told Indian Autos Blog that the company was working on this.
Overall fit-and-quality levels, while good, seem a bit less premium than the Zest. Grouses extend to the power window buttons, door locks and glovebox compartment which feel out of place in an otherwise well put together cabin.
The top-end Bolt will get smoked projector headlights, foglights, 15-inch alloys and a rear spoiler with wiper. Inside, power windows for all doors, electrically adjustable wing mirrors, keyless entry, driver seat height adjustment, steering mounted controls with voice recognition, climate control and of course the fully-loaded Harman touchscreen system with 8-speakers are offered.
From the safety aspect, the Bolt gets dual front airbags, ABS, EBD and corner stability control.
Engine and Gearbox:
The Bolt will be offered with the 1.2-liter turbocharged petrol engine and a 1.3-liter diesel engine, both paired to a 5-speed manual transmission. Tata wanted us to sample the petrol Bolt so bad, that all the media vehicles were petrol powered, and all in red!
The Revotron engine produces 90 PS (88.7 bhp) at 5,000 rpm and 140 Nm of torque between 1,500-4,000 rpm. The positive qualities of this engine first.
It’s extremely silent, and vibration free at idle. The vibration free character of this engine extends even through its rev range, giving us the impression that this is a free revving unit. In terms of power, the Bolt feels marginally quicker than the Zest, and seems to have enough grunt for the city and highway.
Next up is its low-end response. The Bolt doesn’t pick speed at a very quick pace, but the engine doesn’t shudder when its at a very low rpm at a high gear. Regular owners are unlikely to complain about this engine when it comes to power and drivability. Enthusiasts on the other hand certainly need to look elsewhere.
While turbocharged with 90 PS and 140 Nm (the latter being the highest in segment if you were to not include the VW GT TSI), the Bolt doesn’t race forward with enthusiasm, or post particularly quick 0-100 km/h times. The latter we reckon should take about 14-15 seconds, not particularly quick, but not slow either.
It’s this enthusiastic response we found lacking even on the Zest, which has identical power and torque figures. Then again, this department shouldn’t worry the non-enthusiast who is purely looking for a smooth and refined petrol engined hatch. The Revotron can certainly match the Honda i-VTEC and Maruti K-Series in refinement and vibrations, but not on power or raw performance.
Like the Zest, the Bolt gets multi-drive, wherein three driving modes (City, Sport and Eco) are available for the driver to select, and the throttle maps are accordingly varied. Sport increases the response while Eco, as its name suggests, does the opposite. As the throttle maps are altered, you do feel a slight difference between these modes. The 5-speed manual feels just like it was on the Zest: Slick, easy to use and overall nothing to complain about.
To summarize, the Bolt petrol has adequate performance for urban streets and multi-lane highways. But enthusiasm, not so much.
Ride and Handling:
“The road holding capability is brilliant”, we remember telling a Tata engineer after our drive. And indeed it is, for Tata engineers have played a bit with the Bolt’s underpinnings.
Compared to the Zest, minor adjustments have been made to the bushes, and while Tata wouldn’t admit it on record, the Bolt has been deliberately made to feel stiffer, fitting its younger target group.
The Bolt perhaps strikes the best balance in the ride and handling department: It feels sporty while taking corners without feeling like a rock while going over one. No matter the speed, we were unable to hear any tyre squealing, which is not to say that we didn’t push this car, but rather the tyres have been specially developed for the car by Goodyear. The 175/65 tubeless tyres offer loads of grip, and yet is termed a low-rolling resistance tyre for efficiency purposes.
The steering of the Bolt feels a bit artificially weighed, but nevertheless does a good job of inspiring confidence in the driver.
Overall, regular and keen drivers will appreciate the Bolt in this department. It can be a comfortable city car or a road-hugging hatch depending on how you drive.
Brakes and Safety:
Top-end variants of the car will get dual airbags, ABS, EBD and corner stability control, which puts the Bolt on par with competitors. With discs up front and drum brakes at the rear, the Bolt's braking performance feels powerful, and more than adequate.
There are no nasty surprises in store even under hard braking, as the Bosch ABS kicks in when needed to firmly and more importantly, maneuverably bring the car to a stop. We would in fact recommend buyers pick the ABS variant of the Bolt for its added security.
Tata will disclose the ARAI figures at the time of the launch. But going by the Zest’s fuel efficiency figures (which are the worst in class), we wouldn’t expect too much from the Bolt. The on-board readout showed figures of 8-9 km/l when driven hard, and about 13 km/l when driven at a reasonable pace on the highway.
The Bolt indeed makes its case as the sportier hatch twin of the Zest, and as the second comeback product for Tata Motors. It ticks the right boxes, and while prices are yet to be revealed, its no secret that Tata is indeed targeting an aggressive number.
Unlike the Zest which has too few rivals, the Bolt competes in a cut-throat segment. On the one hand, there is the established Swift, while on the other, customers are migrating to more premium cars like the Elite i20 and the new Polo. The segment is only set to grow more competitive with the arrival of the new Honda Jazz early next year.
Buyers it would seem are spoilt for choice in a segment where, on a rare occasion, all cars come across as recommendable purchases. They all have their own USPs, but the real winner will indeed be the one that packages many strengths into one. Has the Bolt managed that? Well, we would wait for the prices before taking that final call.