Mahindra Bolero Neo: A worthy successor to the OG Bolero?
Coorg is known for some of the finest coffee in the country and almost as popular as the coffee, is the presence of Mahindras. For many, many years Mahindras have been used in Coorg to ferry people and produce through tough conditions, and the most popular of these Mahindras here is the Bolero. So when we got the keys to the Mahindra Bolero Neo, we headed straight to Coorg to find out what makes the Bolero so popular in the region and even spoke to the owners of the OG Bolero to find out whether the Mahindra Bolero Neo combines the ruggedness and reliability of its predecessors in a more sophisticated, premium package.
It's just past 7 in the morning and we are back on the road after our third cup of coffee. Photographer Abhishek has whipped out his camera to fire away at the Mahindra Bolero Neo under the gorgeous canopy of ancient trees and we think it’d be a good idea to get another Mahindra in the frame to give it perspective. Not even a minute in and an olive green CL550 motors past. A minute later, an MM540 swings by. After about five minutes, Abhishek has enough pictures to clog up our Instagram feed with how it started vs how it’s going content. Coorg may be coffee country but it may well pass as Mahindra country with how ubiquitous they are around here.
“But why are there so many of them in this region?” I casually ask U S Thimmaiah, who knows a thing or two about Mahindras, having owned a long line of them — even a 1951 CJ-2A! He runs a coffee estate in Coorg and his primary workhorse is a Mahindra that’s very popular here, the Bolero. U S Thimmaiah has cared for his Bolero for about 12 years now, which is probably why it takes him a moment to answer. “They are rugged and easy to maintain.” And that makes a lot of sense.
Why is the Bolero so popular in Coorg?
Coorg is coffee country because of its topography: it has elevation, slopes to grow the coffee on and ample rainfall, especially in these monsoon months. And while all of that makes for some really awesome coffee, it makes it a pain in the butt to move around the estate. “The trails inside our estate are not tarred, so it gets very slushy when it rains and most SUVs end up getting stuck,” chuckles Thimmaiah as I ask him whether he would’ve chosen something other than the Bolero in hindsight. And their Bolero isn’t even four-wheel-drive! What you need for traversing a slushy coffee estate isn’t a complex low-range 4WD system. What you need is lots of low-end grunt to crawl around obstacles, a robust chassis that can take more than a few whacks and perhaps, most importantly, it needs to be more reliable than a Japanese timepiece. “In the last twelve years, we’ve not faced a single major issue with our Bolero,” says Thimmaiah, who only recommends getting it serviced regularly. And this reliability, the stress-free ownership experience is one of the most underrated ‘features’ of the Bolero. You see, the livelihood of the majority of the residents of this region is either directly or indirectly dependent on either a Mahindra or more specifically, a Bolero. Think about it for a moment. As the owner of an estate, the procurement and transport of raw material, transporting of the farmers and other workers, transporting of final produce — all of it is done in a Bolero. And if that breaks down, the entire chain is broken, affecting many others. Which is why, for generations, planters have used Mahindras in general and Boleros in particular to get work done.
Can the Bolero Neo carry forward that legacy?
As a ladder-on-frame SUV, the Neo stays true to the Bolero heritage and even shares its mHawk100 diesel engine with the BS6-compliant Bolero. Mahindra has also gone out of its way to give the Neo plenty of Bolero badging and has retained the iconic side stripe from the OG, but it really didn’t need to add all this to remind you that this is a Bolero. Because the moment you drive the Bolero Neo, you get a strong whiff that it carries DNA from its elder brother. It instantly feels capable. Coorg doesn’t have great roads, there are good patches but there are also really bad ones and perhaps the Neo’s biggest advantage is how it flattens imperfections. The Scorpio- (and Thar) derived chassis gives you the confidence to hit a bump hard and then hit the next one harder. The Bolero Neo feels indestructible from behind the ’wheel, as a Bolero should. “It is actually very comfortable too, and easy to drive,” says Tanvi right after she goes too hot into a pothole which was on the borderline of being classified as a crater. She’s referring to not just the suspension’s ability to reduce your dependency on the chiropractor, but also the seats which provide plenty of support and the individual armrests really step up the comfort level on longer drives. Another plus point on those longer journeys is the touchscreen infotainment system which has Bluetooth and USB connectivity, allowing me to channel some of that caffeine banging in my head to AC/DC as we drive over to another estate.
Deepak S B and his father S B Basavaraju also run a coffee estate in the area and have owned a Bolero for a similar length of time like U S Thimmaiah, about 12 years. But you could fool me into thinking that it was almost new. The paint, the headlights, even the upholstery on the seats — all of it looks spotless. “It’s just regular maintenance, that’s all you need to do with a Bolero,” Deepak claims. Trust me, there’s also a lot to do with how well he keeps his other vehicles too. There’s an old RX-100 tucked away in his shed that still looks showroom fresh! Back to his Bolero though. He’s clocked well over two lakh kilometres on it, and Deepak has no plans of letting it go. “Once my driver toppled it while he was on his way to pick up my kids from school,” says Deepak as I look at him in horror, before he adds “all that was needed was to push it back on its wheels and it picked up the kids on time!”
The Bolero Neo is a true-blue Bolero!
The Bolero’s stress-free ownership experience carries onto the Neo too. Mahindra claims very little difference in ownership costs between the Bolero and the Bolero Neo, which is a big plus point for Deepak. “Here in Coorg we don’t have service centres of too many brands, but you’ll easily find one for Mahindra,” he says. Mahindra’s presence in the not-so-developed areas of the country is second to none, which also takes away a lot of the headache of maintenance. “If I have to upgrade from the Bolero, it’s going to have to be this,” Deepak says as he pats the steering wheel of the Bolero Neo. He was impressed by how it handled on the road but it was deep in his estate that the Neo truly caught his fancy. It may only be rear-wheel-drive, but it can surprise you with its off-roading abilities. For starters, the same chassis and suspension setup that keeps you comfortable on the road, deals with the imperfections of this narrow trail without batting an eyelid. Then there is the Multi-Terrain Technology, MTT for short, and Mahindra lingo for a mechanically locking differential which helps us get out of the patches with thick slush. There are no levers to pull, no knobs to twist, no buttons to press. The MLD activates when it senses a difference in the speeds of the rear wheels, determines which one has traction, and locks both wheels to rotate at the same speed so torque is not wasted away in spinning the wheel that has lost traction. When we tested it out at a small off-road track at Mahindra’s Chakan factory, it worked well and felt like a good addition to the Neo. But here in the real world it is even more impressive. “Coorg has narrow roads, and we always have to put two wheels off the road to let someone by,” says Deepak. The result, if the conditions are right (or wrong actually), are that the tyres are spinning away endlessly on the slush you’ve landed it in. But with the Bolero Neo, the MTT engages with a solid thump and negates the need for an OG Bolero to pull you out. “This can easily keep up with our Bolero, even through the estate,” concludes Deepak while pouring us another cup of coffee from his plantation. Farm to table, literally, with the beans having had their first drive in the back of a Bolero.
As a means of livelihood, an integral tool of the trade, the Bolero has been indispensable in this part of the country.
And now the Bolero Neo draws from Mahindra’s rich SUV heritage. It takes everything we know and love from the OG Bolero — its ability to tackle all that you throw at it and the fact that it can live the hard knock life without knocking down your bank account — and blends it with comfort, a touch of premiumness, and easier road manners that work both on the estate and when heading to the big city, freshly-roasted-and-ground coffee in tow.