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Tata Bolt review, road test

5th Mar 2015 10:01 am

Read the Tata Bolt review, road test from Autocar India; It's Tata's best hatchback yet, but does it appeal to the heart?

  • Make : Tata
  • Model : Bolt

The Zest sub-compact sedan isn’t exactly flying out of showrooms but there’s no doubt it has evoked a positive response in the market and a newfound respect for Tata Motors’ latest breed of cars. And to ride this feel-good swell, Tata Motors quickly launched the Bolt, which is essentially the hatchback iteration of the Zest. Both these models represent a fresh beginning for Tata Motors and though they are not all new, they are certainly the bridge to Tata’s future.

Like with the Zest, the carmaker has spared no effort (and expense) in making the Bolt as good as it can. The stakes are even higher for the Bolt because unlike the relatively uncrowded compact sedan segment, the hatchback segment is the most cut-throat chunk of our market.

On the face of it, things look good for the Bolt. It’s spacious, superbly equipped and quite nice to look at. Prices start at Rs 4.44 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the base petrol XE trim, going up to a rather ambitious Rs 6.99 lakh for the range-topping XT diesel. However, these days, it’s more than just price and the equipment level that determine a car’s success. Customers have become more demanding and discerning, which means the Bolt has to deliver in every area. In this exhaustive road test, we find out if it does.

The Bolt’s high kerb weight and heavy turbocharged petrol engine put it at a disadvantage against its competitors. In the most efficient ‘Eco’ mode, the Bolt managed a respectable 11.4kpl in our urban cycle and 16.1kpl on our highway route. However, that’s some way off the Swift whose K-series petrol returns 12.6kpl and 17kpl on the same route. In ‘Sport’ and ‘City’ modes, the Bolt will be even thirstier.

We’ve not had a chance to test the diesel Bolt yet but to put things into perspective, ARAI has rated it at 22.95kpl while the Swift and Grand i10 have an ARAI rating of 25.2kpl and 24kpl, respectively. 
 

Tata Bolt

Rs 5.49 lakh * on road price (New Delhi)

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Clap your eyes on the Bolt and for the most part, it doesn’t have that ‘functional’ look of the earlier Tata hatchbacks. Instead, it comes across as a fairly stylish car, especially when viewed head-on. The face sports a neatly executed grille and headlight combination and has little in common with the Vista; that’s a good thing for a brand that’s reinventing itself. Nevertheless, in profile, the blackened C-pillar (which is a stingy vinyl sticker instead of paint) and the ‘floating roof’ can’t distract you from thinking that there’s a Vista underneath here somewhere. The identical glass area and doors are a dead giveaway.

The rear now gets contemporary wraparound tail-lights that replace the dated ‘Christmas tree’ design. There’s also a chrome bar that gives the wide rear some much-needed definition and the black cladding on the bumper adds some ruggedness. And since the petrol variant tips the scales at 1125kg (1160kg for the diesel), there’s a fair bit of heft in its construction too – it’s heavier than some mid-size sedans.

The Bolt rides 165mm above the ground, which is 10mm lower than its sedan sibling. This is because, while both the Bolt and the Zest ride on 15-inch rims in their highest trims, the hatchback gets smaller 175/65 section tyres compared to the sedan’s 185/60 section rubber.

 

If the exteriors don’t manage to convince you that the Bolt is a new Tata, then the interiors certainly will, because apart from the spacious cabin, the Bolt doesn’t share much with the Vista.

In fact, the all-new dashboard is similar to the Zest’s but, instead of the sedan’s dual-tone scheme, the hatchback gets a sportier all-black look. If you’re familiar with the Vista, you’ll find a big step-up in quality, especially with the switchgear and some nicely damped buttons on the centre console. However, some plastics, such as those on the mirror casing and door pockets, have rough edges. Also, the rear seatbelt’s retracting mechanism on our test car went bust after a few uses, which is more worrying as it’s a sign that Tata’s well-known quality niggles still persist.

Typical of Tata hatchbacks, you walk into the cabin and sit relatively higher up in the driver’s seat. The front seats are generous and plush but feel a touch too soft, and lack of support for the lower back can lead to aches after a long drive. While finding a good driving position is easy, taller drivers may find the tilt adjustable steering blocking a chunk of the instrument cluster. Other ergonomic irritants are a narrow footwell which leaves little place to rest your left foot and the ‘Multi-Drive’ row of buttons which are set too low.

The Bolt’s strength, however, lies in the spacious rear bench. The ample legroom rivals many mid-size sedans and thanks to the wide cabin, passengers seated three abreast here won’t have to jostle for shoulder room. Surprisingly though, while the front seats feel too soft, the rear bench feels a bit too firm. Tata needs to give the Bolt’s seats consistent foam density.

For convenience, there’s just a single cup holder in the front and an open stowage in front of the gear lever to hold your phone. The top trim also gets a storage tray under the front passenger’s seat – useful to hide valuables when parked. That said, the lack of bottle holders and slim door pockets hampers practicality and even the 210-litre boot isn’t particularly large; in fact, it’s around 10 percent smaller than the Vista’s.

Equipment, though, is what the Bolt has in abundance. The top XT trim gets a Harman-sourced touchscreen interface that also doubles up as the screen for climate control. In the Bolt, this infotainment screen gets an upgraded firmware (vis-à-vis the Zest) that adds GPS navigation through an Android phone. For better readability, the screen’s contrast has been tweaked as well, but that hasn’t done much to improve legibility in direct sunlight. Thankfully, you won’t have to strain your eyes much as the infotainment system can read aloud text messages and supports voice commands for dialling. Surprisingly though, there isn’t a CD player but it supports most modern audio sources such as Bluetooth, USB, iPods and aux. Sound quality from the eight-speaker (four mid-range drivers and four tweeters) set-up sounds great; most customers won’t be tempted to spring for an audio upgrade.

 

The Bolt gets the same 1.2 petrol Revotron and the Fiat-sourced 1.3 Multijet diesel as in the Zest, but there are some differences. The petrol Bolt’s gearing is shorter than the Zest’s and the diesel Bolt gets the lower-powered 74bhp version (with a fixed geometry turbo) as opposed to the Zest’s more powerful 89bhp unit.

Like in the Zest, the petrol Bolt’s ‘Multi-drive’ lets you choose between three driving modes: City, Sport and Eco (Economy), each of which tweaks the ECU’s map for three different power outputs.

‘City’, being the default mode, is also a balance between economy and power. It works fine if you’re on a lazy Sunday drive, but if you’re feeling even slightly enthusiastic and want to get a move on, you’ll want to press the nicely damped ‘Sport’ button. In this mode, you can feel the Bolt suddenly wake up, feel alert and respond urgently to throttle inputs. The shorter final drive has made the Bolt distinctly more energetic than the Zest, which has a duller response.

The mid-range is particularly strong and overtaking is painless once the Bolt gets into its stride, which is above 2,000rpm. There’s a strong surge that doesn’t let up till 5,500rpm. However, the Revotron, with its two-valve per cylinder head and heavy internals, doesn’t have an appetite for revs and it’s best to upshift just before the modest 6,000rpm redline. Effortless performance is the talking point here and the Bolt’s ability to get you to serious speeds without a fuss makes it a superb highway cruiser. Be in no doubt, the Bolt is surprisingly quick and, in fact, quicker than most other hatchbacks including sporty ones like the Swift and i20 .

Press ‘Eco’ mode and the drop in performance is immediately obvious and it takes a good 2.77 seconds extra than in ‘Sport’ to hit 100kph. In-gear acceleration is blunted too but that’s to be expected from a pure fuel economy mode. The problem is that Eco mode really dulls throttle response and hence, it’s really useable only when crawling in peak hour traffic; overtaking on the highways can get arduous.

A flaw with the Revotron, which though improved but still not sorted out, is the slightly hesitant power delivery, especially on part throttle. There are quite a few flat spots and at low revs, there is a distinct lack of poke which calls for an added downshift, especially while exiting corners. The gearshift is pretty light but a bit rubbery and lacks the rifle- bolt precision of some of its rivals. Also, the Revotron has a tendency to stall quite frequently if you don’t give it enough revs.

What is likeable though is the impressive level of refinement. The cast-iron block absorbs most of the engine noise and road noise is well contained too.

Speaking of refinement, the diesel Bolt, with its Fiat-sourced 1.3-litre diesel engine, is easily one of the quietest oil burners amongst its peers. That said, driveability isn’t as impressive and there’s a fair bit of turbo-lag that is a characteristic of this motor. So, while off-boost performance isn’t too bad, the engine only gets into its stride at about 2000rpm and pulls nicely to about 4,000rpm. After which it’s best to upshift as it doesn’t pack much punch on its journey thereon to the 5,000rpm redline. The clutch is fairly light and the Fiat-sourced gearbox feels far more precise than Tata Motors’ home-grown transmission.

The Bolt uses a conventional suspension setup with independent struts at the front and a torsion beam and springs at the rear and is tuned to be slightly stiffer than the Zest’s setup. What isn’t conventional though is the way it muscles its way over bumps. The new dual-path dampers, new subframe and recalibrated struts silently iron out the rough bits, round off sharper bumps and do a splendid  job at keeping the occupants isolated from the road. Sure, the hatchback pitches and bobs a bit at speed but overall, the suspension feels almost perfect for our road conditions and this makes the Bolt one of the best riding cars in its class.

Despite the relatively high ride height, stability at speed is impressive and this, combined with (the nicely calibrated) Bosch’s ninth-generation ABS system, instils confidence on open roads. The steering bristles with feel, is accurate and grip levels are good too. That said, going round the bends at speed results in a fair bit of body roll and this takes away some of the joy from swiftly changing directions. It’s not that it feels unsafe, it just isn’t as much fun as, say, the Swift.

 

The Bolt is a huge step forward for Tata Motors and a credible alternative to some of the best hatchbacks out there. It's spacious, well-equipped, nice to drive and, despite its Vista lineage, looks quite fresh and stylish. In fact, the Bolt tugs at your heart strings like no other Tata small car, but is it just as good value as before? No doubt, you get a lot for your money but the higher variants are pricey for a hatchback with the Tata badge. Also, the petrol Bolt isnt too fuel-efficient and the diesels performance is ordinary. Quality issues of previous Tata cars will also be on buyers; minds and only time will tell if Tata Motors has finally overcome this problem. However, put the badge aside and look at the Bolt on pure merit; it beats a lot of its rivals by the sheer breadth of what it offers. 

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