Tata is posing a good question before us: Do you want to drive Indica, India's first indigenous hatchback, or want a faster, sportier and cooler version of it, at a lakh more?
Whatever your answer, Tata will be dissecting it either way very carefully.
Why this scrutiny?
Because when the ownership rights of Indica shifted from first-time car owners to cabbies and fleet owners, the Tata garage felt the need for a revamp that went beyond mere suffixes: Vista, EV, CS, eCS, V2, eV2, D90 and so on.
So what did they do?
They made a 'Bolt' move!
At first sight:
Bolt looks refreshing, but it has not shed its Indica genes. Its teardrop projector headlamps are newly done, but it's the same skull that makes the face look disappointingly familiar; the muscles or the flow-lines remain almost the same.
The rear design has been done on a blank new canvas. The number plate is centrally placed on the boot with a chrome appliqué, and the petal-shaped tail lamps are wrapped around the boot lid.
The black put-ons on the rear shoulders may virtually make the upper half of the car look seamlessly black, but give it a closer look, and the "stickers" look cheap!
Overall, you'll feel Bolt has been designed by trainees with little scope to change the design DNA.
One instruction: You can only take either one bottle or a cup inside the car! Because except the cup holder near the gear knob, there's no other place for anything else, neither in the door niche nor in the dash, while most of its competitors offer at least five of such cup/bottle holders.
The interiors look subtle and classy in three shades of gray — glossy black, metallic gray and leatherette gray. There's a glow ring around the keyhole — a by-default in most cars today, plus not-so-fancy fabric seats and chrome linings on AC vents and console make the interiors just good!
But why no space on the driver's side to keep your shades or anything even as small? A big let-down!
The console is white-lit, with the tachometer on one side and the odometer on the other, loaded with information. The 5-inch screen features trip meter, indicators for distance to empty, current gear and suggested shift, average and instantaneous fuel economy and a watch.
The 2-din ConnectNext infotainment cluster may get clumsy for beginners when music and climate control are superimposed on the same 5-inch screen with an ordinary touch response. The voice commands have an issue, not because of the technology but due to human accent variations.
But the good part about the Harman Kardon system is that unlike in other cars, it does not turn off every time you need to start the car. The irritating ritual of reconnecting your device to the system via Bluetooth every time you start the car is done away with, letting you enjoy the music uninterrupted. But the sound level via Bluetooth is weaker, nearly 75% of that from other inputs like USB or aux-in.
At the wheel:
Though Tata's new Revotron petrol engine is making news, their diesel heart remains the same - Quadrajet 1.3L CRDI (1248cc to be precise). The engine is quieter but offers some weird vibrations and drag in mid-gears. The cabin is so silent, even the horn has no reverb inside.
The thrust is powerful, but the clutch behaves erratically — it propels suddenly during the initial release, then becomes less reactive through the engagement and towards the end, there's a sudden push. There was sometimes a glitch in shifts, but the gearbox is much smoother than previous Tatas or even its competitor —Ford Figo.
Tata's engineers have offered a bouquet of safety features like dual SRS airbags, anti-lock braking system (ABS) and cornering stability control (CSC), but only in the higher variants of the Bolt, to keep the vehicle safe on track. The Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) system just saved my car from a bump in the hood!
Tata cars are infamous for being heavy and there's a lot of metal in this car as well. With the same engine under the hood and marginal difference in dimensions, Bolt is 62 kg heavier (kerb weight) than Swift, and nearly 140 kg heavier than its antecedent, Indica.
And cruising at higher speeds makes it clear why Swift and i20 have an upper hand in this segment. I tried hard and hard, but this car doesn’t just instil that confidence that the vehicle will not go kaput if we clock beyond 110!
The steering, embedded with music controls on it (top end only), feels light and zippy. Cornering at speeds and swerving in the city is effortless.
Don’t take more than one bottle, you've been warned before. The doors have small slits for dumping anything between a postcard and a 300-page book. The boot space is good for one full-sized and three small bags. The rear seat can be split 60:40, which creates room for a large 5'X3'X2' cabinet to be transported, if need be.
ARAI claims the mileage of the car to be around 22.95kmpl, which is expected from a Tata car. We took the spin for a weekend when Delhi had traffic jams on water-logged roads and AC and defogger was needed constantly to ensure safe and smooth driving. So we trust the car's console, which is smart enough to also gauge the instantaneous fuel economy, the car gave figures between 13.8 and 18 kmpl, which would vary with driving conditions and terrain.
The top-end variant of the car is loaded with safety features like Antilock Braking system, Electronic Brake force distribution, Engine Drag Torque control and Cornering Stability control, and also convenience package like 2-din Harman Kardon infotainment system with USB and aux-in, automatic climate control, on-board navigation for Android phones, etc.
Though Tatas tried to make the car smart with feature-rich infotainment system, actually it isn’t so smart. The automatic central lock, which self actuates as the car goes over 10kmph otherwise, has to be manually unlocked every time someone wants to egress.
Bolt starts at Rs 5.50 lakhs for the base variant XT (which on-paper is actually just another car), while the top end model XT packed with features will cost you Rs 7 lakhs from a Delhi showroom.
Tata Bolt alongside Indica reminds me of Maruti Alto brought next to Maruti 800 in 1998. Though Tata motors plans to continue sales of both the models, in petrol as well as diesel, dont be surprised to see a day in near future when Bolt may send Indica to the same garage of legacy where the 800 rests today.
So how was your Tata Bolt drive? Share with the author on Twitter @GulshanMWankar
Bolt vs its competitors head-to-head :