The Bolt is Tata Motor's second offering from its next generation line up of cars that is expected to help them out of the rut they find themselves in the Indian market. What rut? From once being an undisputed number 3 it has slipped to a weak # 5 and sporadically # 6 position in the pecking order. It follows the Zest sedan that came in the middle of last year and on which it is based. But the fight is tougher in this spectrum with the likes of Maruti Swift, Hyundai Grand i10, Honda Brio and Toyota Etios Liva giving it company. Can Bolt transform Tata's image in the premium hatchback segment?
Looks a bit like Indica
In terms of dimension, the Bolt fits right in the middle of the segment and measures almost as long and wide as the Swift but sits higher than any other hatchback in India. It also has the largest wheelbase. It is a macho looking souped up small car with large swept back clear headlamps, proportionate grille and muscular well rounded bonnet. The aggressive front is accentuated with black B and C pillars that gives it a sporty side profile. What is a dampener is its uncanny similarity with the Indica Vista. It has a similar stance and identical contours. In a category that does not suffer from a dearth of inspiration, an old wine in new bottle does not make a head turner.
A lot going for it inside
A Tata cabin has always been a very spacious one but in the Bolt you get that and some more. It houses a fresh dashboard layout that is carried from the Zest sedan that is simple yet appealing. The big plus is the quality of material and fit and finish. How many times have you heard that being said about a Tata car? The longer wheelbase means rear leg room is the best in class and a third passenger will be more at ease in a Bolt than a Swift or a Grand i10. Much has been said about the Harmon Kardon system. It is premium for this segment but not entirely glitch free. Having done all the hard work the disappointment is the poor ergonomics. Lack of bottle holders is glaring even though Tata received similar feedback on that with the Zest. While a lot of learning has gone inside, some bits have been ignored too.
Bolt gets Tata's new 1.2 litre Revotron petrol engine and the familiar 1.3 litre multijet diesel engine that already powers the Indica range of cars. Given the recent surge in demand for petrol small cars and the familiarity with the diesel powertrain, we drove the Revotron version that develops 90 PS power and a segment leading 140 NM torque. The engine is surprisingly refined and peppy at low revs. What also helps is its balanced steering and sorted handling. The soft suspension set up also gives a decent ride quality. It comes with multiple modes of driving--sport, city and eco. Even though it is well calibrated eco and city modes are so unexciting that you would end up driving it in sport to get a move on. What is Bolt's biggest undoing is its weight. At around 1100kg, it is a good 150-160 kg heavier than most other small cars. For all the eagerness in low gears, it is sluggish when pressed hard and needs a lot of work to get beyond 130 kph. Essentially, it restricts all the fun to within city limits.
At Rs 4.44-6.05 lakh, the petrol version of the Bolt offers a lot of value for money. It has adequate equipment levels including ABS and dual airbags on top end trims and a new age infotainment system, is well built and spacious inside. The cabin is nearly the best in class and unlike any Tata car we have seen before. The petrol engine itself is not bad per say but it isnt an outright performer and the car's similarity with Indica Vista rankles. Questions on the car's durability and the apparent loss of confidence in the Tata badge are persistent factors and the company has not done any favours by pricing it so close to the Swift. In a nutshell, Bolt is a big step forward but it does not have enough to spark an instant turnaround in the company's fortunes. A few thousand rupees less and it could have been another story.