Tata Motors is on a mission to change its brand image and therein, revealed brand new models intended to mark its step away from the traditional Tata formula. The Zest sub-four-metre sedan and the Bolt hatchback were unveiled in the run up to the Auto Expo, but we are the first to see them away from the glare of the spotlights and inspect them under the sun. We got a closer look at the Bolt hatchback and here are our impressions.
Matter of looks
Although based on the Vista's X1 platform, the carmaker has extensively re-engineered the new small car. The idea was to give the new product a more planted and sportier look. And from the looks of it, Tata's done a pretty decent job, given that they had to stick with the Vista's glasshouse and chassis hard points. The Tata Bolt has an aggressive nose with a heavily sculpted front bumper, stretched headlamps with incorporated projectors, a new grille and a power bulge on the bonnet. The insides of the headlamps are also blacked out.
In profile, you notice the thick character line down the side and at the rear, the blacked out C-pillars give the hatchback the 'floating roof' effect. The tail-lamps are also different from the Indica's vertical ones and the new, more conventional design looks quite nice.
Size wise, the Bolt is as wide and tall as the Vista, but has grown 30mm in length (thanks mostly to a longer front overhang). The wheelbase is identical to the Vista’s 2470mm, but the track is wider.
A big part of the chassis improvements were aimed at reducing the noise, vibration and harshness entering the cabin. There is, for example, a new steering rack mounted on a new sub-frame, the hard points of which were optimised to transmit the fewest shocks to the steering wheel. The steering mechanism itself is a shift from the Vista’s hydraulic power steering to a ZF-designed electrically assisted unit, which comes with a brushless motor for better returnability and on-centre feel. Even the engine mount bushes have been optimised to isolate engine vibrations from the cabin occupants. According to Girish Wagh, senior vice president Product Planning of Tata Motors, the improvements achieved through controlling the vibes at the source has facilitated the use of less NVH-absorbing material – about 3.5kg has been saved this way.
Other changes to the chassis include the dual-path front struts (load from the springs and shock absorbers enters the body from two different parts) that better absorb road imperfections and transmit less shock and noise to the cabin. The twist-beam suspension has also been changed to match the improvements at the front. All in all, the Bolt weighs in at 1080kg.
The talking point of the Bolt is the new Revotron engine. It’s a 1.2-litre turbocharged, multi-point fuel-injected petrol motor that makes 84bhp. While that might not sound particularly impressive in the face of the naturally aspirated Brio’s 88bhp or the Swift’s 86bhp, the Revotron’s USP is the meaty 14.3kgm of turbo-aided torque it makes right from 1750rpm, 11.2kgm of which is available right from 1,000rpm.
Tata says it deliberately went in for a ‘soft’ turbo to aid throttle response and linearity in power delivery. The Revotron uses a simple two-valve head and Tata Motors claims that because it’s a forced-induction engine, there’s no real loss as compared to the better breathing a four-valve head offers.
The Revotron also features a first-in-segment ‘Sport’ mode, accessed via a button on the dash that switches to a different ECU map, altering the fuelling and other parameters.
The main focus for this engine, though, was fuel efficiency and noise reduction, and to that extent, it uses a cast-iron block that is inherently better at absorbing combustion noise. A lot of other bits also help reduce engine noise – there’s a hydraulic lash adjuster and roller finger followers that help reduce mechanical noise, the reciprocating masses inside the engine have been carefully balanced and the oil sump has been stiffened too. Even the brackets to which the engine ancillaries are mounted have been designed in a way that ensures their operating frequencies never exceed limits to become a noise source.
The diesel engine is the tried and tested Fiat-licensed, 1.3-litre Multijet and Tata says that the 50kg weight reduction achieved with the modifications to the chassis and body along with better ECU calibration and fuelling has helped minimise the weak bottom-end responses that this engine is notorious for. The Bolt will get the Multijet with the fixed-geometry turbo that amounts to 74bhp.
As with the Vista, the Bolt remains spacious on the inside. But what’s most striking is the entirely new dashboard and the obvious improvement to the fit and finish. The design and the quality are nothing like we’ve seen on the Tatas we are used to. The view from the driver’s seat is of a sculpted, two-tone steering wheel and big, clearly marked dials. The driver-oriented positioning of the vents and the centre console along with the use of piano black, chrome and silver really lift the ambience of the cabin. It’s clear that careful attention has been paid to everything that you touch and move – the switches for the new infotainment system, the knurled finish on the air-con knobs, and the steering wheel have a nice quality feel to them. The only bits that resemble what was once on the Vista are the headlight and wiper stalks and the doorpads. The Bolt’s interiors feature a sportier theme with plenty of black offset by the slab of white that runs across the dashboard.
As for storage space, the door pockets remain slim, there’s a cupholder next to the gearlever and a massive glovebox to make up for the lack of cubbyholes in the cabin. Also, like the Vista, the Bolt doesn't have a dead pedal – the big air-conditioning unit that sits behind the centre console eats into the driver footwell.
The front seats, however, are excellent. They are accommodating and snug at the same time, and Tata engineers spent a lot of time optimising the side bolsters, the seat base bolsters and even the cushioning. The attention to detail even extends to the seat belt webbing and the retractor mechanism that have been designed to feel smoother and richer in the way they operate.
The rear seats are comfortable too – there’s good headroom, and with the scooped out rear of the front seats, there’s even more kneeroom than before.
Tata hasn’t announced how many variants there will be yet. In terms of features, there were projector lamps and a touchscreen infotainment system developed in conjunction with Harman that features voice controls and navigation. Also Bluetooth connectivity, an SD card reader, USB and aux-in, along with a trip computer, power windows, power mirrors, parking sensors and climate control.
The next step
The Tata Bolt hatchback is expected to enter our showrooms in the latter half of 2014. Tata has not announced prices yet, but seeing how keen they are on improving sales, we expect them to be priced competitively. There’s no doubt that Tata has taken a huge step forward with the Bolt, but the proof of this pudding will be in the driving. It remains to be seen how good this car is on the road and how well it performs against a new lot of rivals.