Mahindra Bolero BS6: Review
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21 years into its service, the Bolero soldiers on to meet the needs of the remote and rural areas of the country. But is it finally time for the legend to evolve?
We all know the Bolero too well. Mostly seen in its white avatar, the utilitarian SUV has long been the dependable workhorse of people who see more dust than tarmac when they drive. Its simple mechanical construction, lack of electronic complexities and RWD ladder-frame architecture meant it lived on quietly, taking punishment more than the daily-soap bahus in an Ekta Kapoor drama.
However, what Mahindra completely forgot was to evolve the Bolero with time. And as a result, it today feels almost dinosaur-like in the crowd of urban SUVs. In its BS6, and possibly last avatar before it evolves, we take it for a drive to see which rudimentary aspect of the Bolero is an absolute must for it to retain its toughness, and which ones should have evolved in the last 20 years.
The Bolero still looks like it did 20 years ago. Yes, the bumpers, headlamps and the side graphics have changed but the iconic boxy shape has withstood the test of time. It is the only car in India with a metal front bumper. And surprisingly, Mahindra claims that it even meets the pedestrian protection norms to remain operational on the road. As a result, fender benders mostly bend the other car’s fenders while the Bolero’s metal bumper itself can then later be easily fixed, not replaced. The headlamps get a cornering function as well, a pleasant surprise.
Another highlight of the Bolero are its 15-inch wheels. The 215/75 R15 profile means that it gets a massive 16cm sidewall. Most modern day urban SUVs have a 12cm-13cm sidewall. This helps the Bolero tackle potholes and bad roads without breaking a sweat. The large sidewall offers better cushioning and better protection for the rims and suspension components.
At the back, the spare wheel is mounted on the sideways-opening boot gate and there is a large protruding step which could be dangerous for other cars while backing up. Overall, the Bolero... is the Bolero. It's a boxy SUV that shouts utility, not style.
But while a metallic bumper and a big rear step are things you can live with, there are aspects of the Bolero that should have evolved. Like, the antenna is still a manual folding unit placed on the A pillar. The last time I saw one was on my grandfather's transistor. And then comes the manually adjustable ORVMs. In 2021, Mahindra should have at least given some sort of an internal adjustment, even if it is the stick-manual one. These aspects make the Bolero feel old and ignored.
Mahindra has tried to keep the Bolero’s interiors up to date with time, but in a Bolero way. This means that while the analog dials made way for a digital instrument cluster and even the centre console later featured warning lights and a small display, all of these were barebones basic. The digital speedometer and tachometer are rather small and the orange backlight feels anything but premium. The steering wheel is new for 2021 and does feel better.
The plastics however have not evolved at all. They are still the lowest of quality and squeak and rattle quite often. The wooden finish is just a paint and its finishing is like a kindergartner’s drawing. You also now get a single DIN audio system, similar to the ones seen in budget cars of the 2000s. Luckily, this Kenwood unit features Bluetooth connectivity and can stream music as well as take calls. Speakers quality too is average at best. You also get an AC and power windows. And that's about it for the features. Anything that is fragile or considered a convenience feature is not there in the Bolero.
You do get a storage in the centre console along with cupholders and a 12V charger for some practicality. But the glove box is tiny and the driver door pocket can only hold one bottle and some papers.
For the second row passengers, getting in is easy with the side step. The seats too offer comfortable cushioning and because you sit tall, there is ample underthigh support as well. The tall roof means you have lots of headroom, but the foot room is compromised by the seat mounting brackets. Three abreast is no problem, however the middle passenger does not get a headrest. The other two get adjustable ones. There is nothing to add to this experience and no features to talk about. There is a flimsy armrest, but no cupholders, practical door pockets, cabin light and no place even to keep a bottle of water or charge your phone. Even the power window switches are placed in the front centre console.
While I don't really mind the lack of features given the Bolero’s kind of usage, the lack of basics like better plastics and storage, a passenger airbag, retracting seatbelt for the middle row and some sort of storage for the rear seats does hurt. And for the driver, Mahindra could have easily included adjustable steering, steering-mounted controls or a height-adjustable seat. These have now become common even in hatchbacks and to not find them in a Rs 10 lakh SUV feels cheap.
The two rear jump seats of the Bolero are placed in the boot. This means either two people (preferably kids) or luggage can occupy that space at a time. And if people do decide to occupy that space, there are no seatbelts to keep them in place, or AC vents to keep them cool, despite the windows being fixed glass. In terms of luggage capacity, there is plenty of space for 3 suitcases and some soft bags.
Engine and performance
In the last update, the Bolero was chopped down to 4-metres at the cost of its flared bumpers and a new 1.5-litre diesel was plonked in to save taxes. This new avatar was called the Bolero Power Plus. In the BS6 update, only this configuration is now available in the lineup with the engine receiving an update. Mahindra’s three-cylinder mHawk D75 1.5-litre diesel engine produces 76PS of power and 210Nm of torque and comes mated to a 5-speed manual transmission.
In the BS6 era, the engine has become more refined and quieter. This has certainly made the cabin feel a lot more peaceful. Get going and the Bolero feels super easy to drive. The peak torque is available at just 1600rpm and this means you are always surfing the wave. Dial in the short gearing and the setup becomes very tractable as well. Inside the city, most commutes will be dealt in the 2nd and the 3rd gears. The torque is enough for it to go for gaps and oblige for city overtakes as well. The engine revs happily till about 3000rpm and then starts to struggle for power. So don't expect it to feel even remotely sporty. But calm commutes are a breeze.
Performance numbers don’t favor the Bolero. With a tested 0-100kmph time of 23.46 seconds, it is the slowest car we have tested at CarDekho ever. But you will never feel this on your commutes as you are rarely on full throttle. Because the engine favours low-medium speed driveability, you can carry more people or cargo without struggling. Drive easily and it will return 15.64kmpl in the city and 17.36kmpl on the highway. Speaking of highways, the Bolero is a calm cruiser as well. The only thing bothering at 100kmph and beyond is the wind noise from the A-pillar. And don't expect to make any quick overtakes on the open roads.
Ride and handling
The Bolero did surprise us with its ride quality. The expectations were low from a ladder-frame SUV with a leaf spring setup at the back, but it shined through. The larger sidewalls and the absorbent front suspension makes for a very comfortable ride. It manages to cushion occupants well from the imperfections of the road. It goes over speed breakers without breaking a sweat and laughs at potholes. However, this is true mostly for the front seat. The middle row passengers will feel some feedback coming from the rear leaf springs. And as for the third row passengers, the ride will feel quite bouncy. But overall, for the 5 in the front, the ride remains well settled and gets better with more load in the SUV. On no roads or gravel, the faster you go, the smoother the drive becomes.
Handling is one aspect of the Bolero that’s a little tricky. At regular speeds, the SUV feels like any other. But as the pace picks up, it starts to roll quickly. There is a lot of body roll and the front inner wheel, thanks to the soft suspension, lifts up quite easily. We highly recommend that you drive the Bolero carefully on hilly roads.
Apart from the powertrain experience which has been updated with time, the Bolero does feel like a 20-year-old SUV being built today. The metal on the outside, plastics on the inside and the sheer lack of cabin conveniences means it can only suit the audience that wants the Bolero for its no-nonsense and rugged appeal.
However, the top B6 (O) variant now costs more than Rs 10 lakh on road. And at that price, the missing basic amenities like internally adjustable ORVMs, a better antenna, better quality interiors, retracting seatbelts for the second row and better in-cabin practicality really hurt. And we get that there is no place for a climate control or wireless charger in a Bolero, but these basics would surely make the experience better even for the people who want the Bolero for its rugged nature. These aspects could likely be included in the next-generation Bolero which will be based on the TUV300, and we are certainly waiting for that.