Buoyed by the recent successes experienced by the Zest sedan, Tata Motors recently organised a drive preview of the upcoming Bolt hatchback, which is due to be launched in January 2015. We analysed the vehicle on multiple parameters to find out if it can accomplish what its makers want it to.
Going by the numbers released by Tata Motors, there seems to be a change in the fortunes of the company. The recently launched Zest is returning good numbers in retail sales, and for a change, the petrol variant of the car is commanding better demand than its diesel sibling. This in a sense highlights the Indian consumers' willingness to accept critical petrol technologies developed by the company.
This also means that the Tata Motors plant is busy once again making cars for the individual buyers, and not operators primarily. All this then seems to make up for a good foundation for the revival of the passenger car business and naturally, there have to more models. Next up for the company is the Bolt hatchback, which we drove around the beautiful city of Udaipur. Can the Bolt then continue the momentum set in motion by the Zest? Let's find out.
The Bolt exuded energy and that wasn't only because of the red coloured cars Tata Motors lined-up for the media preview. The smoked projector lamps do a good job of lending the car with a confident and sporty look, something Tata Motors hasn't done in the past. Other elements in the front are largely the same as the Zest and continue imparting a decent and clean look. The blacked-out C-pillar and rear spoiler give a floating roof character to the Bolt, and adds further to its sporty look. The rear tail lamps though do not seem to be a seamless part of the design and look more like an afterthought.
The 15-inch alloy wheels fill up the wheel well nicely and equipped with 175-section tyres, the side profile looks more like a premium and dynamic hatchback. The overall impression we took back from the drive was that the Bolt's design is like the sides of a coin. The impressive part is that the changes are thoughtful and do a good job of imparting the car with a sporty character.
That said, the company seems to have missed an opportunity to give the Bolt a brand new visual identity. The overall outline/ silhouette of the Bolt is instantly reminiscent of the Indica/ Vista. It's just that after witnessing a significant progress in all technical areas, the design reminiscence of Indica isn't something the Bolt would be helped by.
The interior is an extension of the character, Tata Motors is trying to highlight in the Bolt – sportiness. Hence, one is greeted to an all-black interior, which not only looks sportier and younger but is also a pleasant breakaway from the plethora of beige cabins on our dusty roads. At certain places in the lower dashboard, the fitment quality could have been better. A light-coloured accent too would've helped break the monotony of black and enhance the sporty credentials.
The front seats deserve a special-mention for offering excellent side and thigh support by segment standards. We believe the Bolt has got one of the best front seats in its segment and will not only support hard cornering but will keep occupants comfortable on long drives as well.
The HARMAN infotainment system from the Zest is also seen on the Bolt, but with some new features. The system now offers the convenience to mirror MapMyIndia navigation maps onto the central screen, making it a cost yet functionality-effective feature. One can additionally now watch videos on the screen from a SD card.
At Udaipur, the test cars were all with the 1.2 l petrol Revotron turbocharged engine. The unit is the same as the one found in the Zest. The unit delivers about 89 hp and 140 Nm of torque between 1,500 and 4,000 rpm. Although the numbers are similar, the engine's state of tune is slightly different in the Bolt from the Zest. There will also be a diesel version on offer with the same 1.3 l diesel engine, sourced from Fiat. Interestingly, there won't be an AMT on offer initially and the company will take a call on it based on consumer-demand.
The Revotron engine on the Bolt is peppier than the Zest, primarily due to the lesser weight and the different tuning of the engine. Starting off, the car picks up easily but does exhibit some lag till about 1,700 rpm, after which the turbo kicks in. Thereon, the acceleration is impressive for the segment Bolt will operate in. The engine sounded pretty refined even at 120 km/h and should make for a good highway cruiser.
The five-speed manual transmission is smooth to operate and offers acceptable throw distance. A short travelling and light clutch along with a light steering make the Bolt a good car for the urban environment.
The changes to the structure and suspension of the Bolt in comparison to the Zest aren't huge but they do manage to alter the behaviour significantly. A reworked suspension, which is aimed at a dynamic ride, manages to pull off what its makers claim in style. Bolt is a happy car at high speeds, be it on a straight stretch or around the bends. The car feels much composed around corners due to a better and firmer suspension set-up. That, however, doesn't compromise the ride quality, which continues to be impressive, a character Tata has retained since the Indica days.
The brakes offer good and progressive bite but lack the feedback, especially since Tata is trying to project this as a sporty car for the young. But then, how many people actually bother about brake pedal feedback. Stability during hard-braking and directional changes taken with the brakes applied firmly was compliant and drama-free. The electric steering is light to use and is great for traffic and parking but on the highway it doesn't deliver confidence-inspiring feedback despite weighing up with increasing speed.
One would expect the Bolt to be a hatchback version of the Zest and not anything too different. Surprisingly it's character is quite different. Tata Motors has made an attempt to encash on the growing number of young buyers in the country with the Bolt. That in itself is another change in attitude of the company, like we witnessed in the case of Zest. So it's good to see an Indian company changing its outlook to a global one and believing in technology more than ever.
In the end though, do all the bits come together and form the package that Tata Motors wishes for? The things that work well for the Bolt are some great aesthetic bits, impressive interiors, great comfort, appreciable performance and some clever convenience features. What keeps us wanting though is the design reminiscence of the Indica and it is to be seen how the potential consumers perceive that.
There are some key fundamental changes happening within the organisation and the company seems better positioned to handle the issues related to after sales & service. Tata Motors is developing at a fast pace and its focus on technology is only going to be more intense in the coming times, we were told. There are bits of the jigsaw we already see falling in place and if the other too can, a brighter global future could embrace Tata Motors.
Text & Photo: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah & Arpit Mahendra