Re­vised Tata Bolt shakes the en­try-level tree

The Star Early Edition - - ROAD TESTS - JA­SON WOOSEY

THE BOLT, in­tro­duced in 2015, is Tata’s lat­est at­tempt at shak­ing off those cheap and nasty vibes of the orig­i­nal Indica by creat­ing a car that hatch­back buy­ers would ac­tu­ally as­pire to own.

That cer­tainly wasn’t the case with the Vista, which, like the Indica, is still on sale, but which (start­ing from R134 995 ver­sus R118 995 for the Indica) man­ages to come across as more nasty than cheap, in our opin­ion.

The Bolt (also avail­able as a short, stubby sedan for a ten grand pre­mium) finds it­self in an even higher price bracket, at R157 995 for the XMS and R167 995 for the XT flag­ship on test here. As its jelly­bean shape im­plies, it is es­sen­tially a re­fur­bished ver­sion of the Vista, but let’s not be too quick to judge. As you’ll find out soon, this has been one heck of a re­fur­bish­ment, and even in­cludes a brand new 1.2-litre tur­bocharged petrol en­gine.

While the shape re­mains fa­mil­iar, bar­ring the blacked-out C-pil­lars, the car has been re­designed at both ends, the rear now look­ing de­cid­edly generic but in­of­fen­sive enough and the front hav­ing a cheek­i­ness about it that buy­ers in this seg­ment are likely to ap­pre­ci­ate.

But if you’re look­ing for sur­prises, you’ll find those inside, where the de­sign, ma­te­ri­als and over­all am­bi­ence stand head and shoul­ders above any­thing that the brand has done be­fore. Tata read­ily ad­mits that it roped in de­sign­ers from Jaguar Land Rover, which it owns, to help with this as­pect and it re­ally shows.

Sure, the plas­tics are still hard and the cabin will never de­lude you into think­ing you’re in a Jaguar, but at the price point it re­ally hits a sweet spot, with a stylish and slightly driver-an­gled dash­board, 12.7cm colour touch­screen and var­i­ous chrome, light sil­ver and pi­ano black gar­nishes on the dash­board and in­ner door pan­els.

The Harman-de­signed touch­screen au­dio sys­tem, with USB and SD card in­puts, is easy to op­er­ate and has Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity as well as voice com­mand func­tion­al­ity. There are still plenty of but­tons and di­als sur­round­ing the screen, for se­lect­ing menu func­tions, chang­ing vol­ume and so on. The screen also dis­plays the cli­mate con­trol in­for­ma­tion, al­though your tem­per­a­ture, fan speed and air­flow are still con­trolled by tra­di­tional ro­tary di­als lower down. Base XMS mod­els also have a 12.7cm screen but with no touch func­tion­al­ity.

Talk­ing spec dif­fer­ences, the XMS trades the XT’s cli­mate con­trol sys­tem for con­ven­tional air con­di­tion­ing and also gives up the steer­ing wheel con­trols and 15” al­loy wheels.

Both are powered by the same 1.2-litre ‘Revotron’ en­gine, which pro­duces 66kW and 140Nm. Al­though it’s not a lot more pow­er­ful than a nor­mally as­pi­rated 1.2 would usu­ally be, the en­gine has a more lin­ear power de­liv­ery than one would ex­pect from this kind of en­gine and there’s vir­tu­ally no lag on pull-off. It ac­tu­ally feels more like a nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gine, ex­cept that the turbo is com­pen­sat­ing for al­ti­tude and putting it at the very sharp end of its seg­ment in per­for­mance terms. Our car didn’t prove to be as eco­nom­i­cal as some ri­vals we’ve tested, the Tata drink­ing eight litres per 100km in an ur­ban-heavy driv­ing week.

South African mod­els are tuned for a sportier feel, how­ever, and Tata per­haps took things a bit too far here as the en­gine and throt­tle are overly re­spon­sive to the point where it can ac­tu­ally get an­noy­ingly jerky in slow-mov­ing traf­fic.

Be­sides that rel­a­tively mi­nor bug­bear, and the fact that the footwell is on the cramped side, the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is peachy all round. The gear shifter, for one, op­er­ates smoothly. The ride is com­fort­able, given that it was set up for harsh In­dian roads, and al­though there is a bit of body roll dur­ing hard cor­ner­ing, this car is still fairly grippy and han­dles safely.

Get up to high­way ve­loc­i­ties and it’s mostly plain sail­ing, with am­ple power and not too much en­gine or road noise, al­though wind noise was quite notable.

Yet is the Bolt as prac­ti­cal as its ri­vals at the price? Tick yes for legroom, with lots of space to stretch in the back. How­ever, the 210 litre boot, though still big enough for a few tog bags or per­haps a big shopping spree, does fall short of price ri­vals such as the Toy­ota Etios (251 litres), VW Polo Vivo (270) and Re­nault San­dero (292). VER­DICT Which brings us to the ul­ti­mate ques­tion of whether the Bolt is worth the R167 995 that Tata is ask­ing for it.

Yes, it is a very like­able car, with a smart in­te­rior, nice ride and de­cent per­for­mance. If this is an in­di­ca­tion of where Tata is go­ing, then this is cer­tainly a com­pany to watch. On top of that, it comes with a good war­ranty (five-year/100 000km) as well as a two-year/30 000km ser­vice plan and Tata does claim to be putting a lot more ef­fort into its af­ter-sales ser­vice these days.

Yet, all con­sid­ered, I feel Tata has priced the Bolt too close to those afore­men­tioned estab­lished play­ers. Then again, if the dealer of­fers a sub­stan­tial enough dis­count, then ‘Tata ma chance’ has per­haps never been this tempt­ing.

BOLT VS RI­VALS: Tata Bolt hatch 1.2T XMS 66kW/140Nm - R167 995 Honda Brio hatch 1.2 Com­fort 65kW/109Nm - R166 300 Re­nault San­dero 0.9T Ex­pres­sion 66kW/135Nm - R159 900 Suzuki Swift hatch 63kW/113Nm - R167 900 Toy­ota Etios hatch 1.5 Sprint 66kW/132Nm - R172 600 VW Polo Vivo 1.4 Con­cept­line 55kW/132Nm - R173 800 1.2 GL

Mi­nor tweaks out­side, but inside the In­dian hatch makes strides in qual­ity.

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