The hatchback sibling of the Tata Zest is ready to go on sale, and we’ve driven the production-ready version.
What is it?
The Bolt is Tata’s newest hatchback on the X1 platform. The successor to the Vista, the carmaker’s new big hatch comes with an all-new exterior, an all-new interior and a new turbo-petrol engine too. Similar looking to the Zest compact sedan, it features a neatly executed grille and headlight combo, a ‘floating’ roof (created by blacking out the C pillar) and new tail-lights. A chrome bar over the number plate gives the wide rear some much-needed definition. Still there’s no getting away from the fact that the lines of the Vista shine though, especially when you look at the glass area of the car. And it still has that typically Tata ‘jacked-up’ stance. The strange thing is the ground clearance is only 165mm, but it looks much higher for sure. There’s a huge amount of both shoulder and head room on the inside, both in the front and in the rear, and legroom is good enough to take on many full-size sedans. And it’s not just the space on offer, the seats are large and really substantial as well. Thigh support, for example, is superb due to the long seat base, and the rake of the back seat is just right. The seats could have had a bit more lateral support and the cushioning is a bit too soft, but otherwise the back seat is a great place to be.
What’s also nice is that all that space and comfort is well backed up by an improvement in quality and fit and finish. Yes, look closely and the odd seam and joint is out of place, and there are still a bit too many shiny plastics visible, but overall, the ambience of the cabin has improved hugely. What’s responsible for uplifting the general ambience of the cabin is the new dash. Similar to that of its sister car, the Zest compact sedan, but without the two-tone look, the new steering and centre console feature tastefully executed ‘metallic’ inserts. There’s chrome piping around the vents, on the gear lever and even in between the plastic buttons, and all the shiny metal is tastefully executed. It may not be quite as well finished as on a Hyundai, but it’s a job well done all the same. While details of the variants aren’t out yet, this top-of-the-line car comes with features like the Harman-sourced central touchscreen, voice commands, SMS readout and smartphone-based navigation. The screen is still not as bright as we would like and the phone-based navigation system (that uses the GPS aerial of the car) is a bit clumsy to use, but overall equipment levels are good. And though we haven’t tested it here, it will also come powered by a Fiat-sourced 74bhp diesel engine once on sale.
What’s it like to drive?
The petrol variant is powered by an 89bhp, 1.2-litre ‘Revotron’ turbo-petrol motor. You can chose one of three modes on the Multi Drive system – Eco, City or Sport. In normal or City mode, the turbocharged engine is responds really nicely to taps on the accelerator. There’s a nice bump in power just when you want it, and the carmaker seems to have improved the motor since we tested it in the Zest. This one uses shorter gearing and gets improved throttle responses. And the light and direct steering also feels just right for the job at hand. The motor, however, still remains a bit sluggish below 1,800rpm and the gearbox still feels a bit rubbery. ‘Eco’ – a step down from ‘City’ –reduces fuel delivery in an effort to improve fuel consumption. Reactions to the throttle are dulled as a result and this feels a bit frustrating. ‘Sport’ on the other hand is plenty of fun. You feel a distinct bump up in power when you hit the switch and there is a bit more punch in the top end too. As a result, overtaking on the highway is quite easy and it has plenty of power in reserve in this mode. Pulling the Revotron motor hard, however, does reveal the origin and age of the motor. Based on the two-valves-per-cylinder 1.2 Xeta motor that powered the Indica, this motor isn’t as free-revving or as sophisticatedly engineered as most of the competition in its class, and as a result feels strained when you rev it hard. And the tuning and setup aren’t perfect either. Mash the throttle and sometimes there’s a fair period of hesitation before the motor finally gets into its stride.
Ride quality, however, is excellent. It seems almost totally unfazed by poor roads and there are almost no sharp thuds, even when we ride over some of the worst bits. There is some small amount of pitching, but that’s only because the carmaker wanted to keep things really soft and comfy at low speeds. Also impressive is straightline stability. The new ‘dual path’ dampers, new subframe and reconfigured struts help deliver good stability, despite the high ride height, and this allows it to feel relaxed and comfortable even as speeds build. What also impresses are the brakes, and the company hasn’t cut any corners here; it comes with Bosch’s ninth generation anti-lock braking system. It, however, hasn’t been designed to tear around bends. So it needs to be coaxed into corners, and there’s a considerable amount of body roll when you do so. The electric steering also feels a bit too light.
Should I buy one?
The Zest compact sedan put the carmaker back in the game, and the company expects it to achieve something similar. Spacious, comfortable, well equipped, and now better built and engineered, the new hatch, at an expected starting price of Rs 4.3 lakh, is likely to be tremendous value for money. The car feels robustly put together, quality levels are much improved and the turbo-petrol engine does the job for everyday motoring. It has its downsides – the motor is sluggish at low revs and is not free revving either. This is one reason why it is not a great driver’s car. But weigh everything the Bolt delivers against its expected price, and it’s clear, this car delivers more car per car; exactly what the carmaker has always promised and delivered.
Installation Front, transverse
Type 1193cc, 4cyl, turbo-petrol
Power 88.7bhp at 5000rpm
Torque 14.27kgm at 1500-4000rpm
Type Front-wheel drive
Gearbox 5-speed manual
Wheel base 2470mm
Ground clearance 165mm
Chassis & Body
Construction Five-door hatchback, monocoque
Wheels 15-inch alloy
Tank size 44 litres