The Maruti Suzuki Jimny clearly has some 4×4 enthusiasts drooling. And it really boils down to three things. Clearly, it has well-documented off-roading prowess. It’s small, but point it at rocks, bushes, or riverbanks, and it’ll come out the other side with ease, one after another.
Additionally, Jiminy may be small, but he’s still so cute to look at – like the dancing husky from Instagram. And that fact has off-roading enthusiasts as well as the young at heart – looking for fashion accessories – waiting for it with bated breath.
Finally – and this is important – after the hefty prices of the Mahindra Thar, which put the three-door out of the reach of many, the Jumini promises just the opposite. It promises accessibility. Maybe the sub-two lakh, no-frills version.
And this is a threat to the current status of Thar. Now, from the outside, Thar still looks like a rock star. It is registering 2,000 units a month in sales. It has fans of all kinds, from young men and women to those battling a mid-life crisis. And some unsuspecting senior people too. But recently, the brand’s traction has been waning. It’s possible that Thar has passed its quota of early adopters and 4×4 enthusiasts. Plus, with the Gemini launch around the corner, fence-sitters — and those who don’t want to get into family feuds over spending too much on real-world toys — have probably left Thar out of their plans.
Now Mahindra can work around this and maybe launch a stripped down version of the Thar to suppress the hype and show of the Jumini’s launch. But, it’s not like Mahindra is making a lot of money on Thar, which is why they can take this step. And in any case, the brand’s focus has shifted to a working five-door hatchback.
The savior for Mahindra – looking to woo off-roading enthusiasts on a budget – could be the Bolero New 4×4. Before we dive into it, let’s give you an overview of the price difference between Neo and Thar. The diesel entry-level, hardtop AX version of the Thar retails for over Rs 14 lakh. In comparison, the top-spec N10 (O) Neo is priced at Rs 12 lakh. Needless to say, the Neo offers more usable space, practicality and access through more doors, and has more than twenty features.
However compared to Thar it lacks three things.
The Bolero is powered by a smaller diesel engine, which is down 30bhp on power and 40Nm on torque. It has only a five-speed manual gearbox instead of the six-speed unit found on the Thar. The latter has a more dramatic road presence. It easily checks the ‘want to’ box, while Neo comes across as more useful. And there is no storyteller who supports No with his ‘want’ co-efficient. Undoubtedly, Thar has all this.
Finally, the Neo is rear-wheel drive only, while the Thar gets four-wheel drive. Having said that, with only RWD and an MLD (mechanical locking differential), the Neo still manages to do some serious off-road stuff. Now, add a proper 4×4 system to the equation, and the Bolero should prove unstoppable. Any area.
Bolero New 4×4
So, does it make sense to bring a 4×4 version of the Bolero Neo? Of course! But, with some changes of course. Sticking to the top-spec version, let’s say the price of the Neo 4×4 will be Rs 1.5 Lakh more than its current retail price. Which still puts it below the Thar’s entry-level price. And there will also be less specced versions of the Neo 4×4. But, to capture the attention of the enthusiast, Mahindra will have to do more – it will have to give the Neo some nip and tuck.
In my book, Mahindra should stick with the things that make the Nine good already. Its excellent ride quality, good highway manners, affordability and simplicity should continue on the Neo 4×4. And it doesn’t need to add more oomph to the drivetrain. Because for more oomph at a higher price tag, there’s always a thar.
What Mahindra should do, though, is start by offering Neo 4×4 AT-spec tires instead of the HT ones. They’ll look more purposeful, offer better off-road traction, and while they may affect fuel efficiency for the worse, it should be a trade-off most buyers are willing to make.
The Neo 4×4 will then get more dramatic wheel arches. It will need rock sliders instead of side steps. and a well-executed basket-like roof rack, typical of overlanding machines. Also, there are redesigned, more aggressive, and off-road-ready front and rear bumpers.
I don’t know if you can picture it, but the Neo is already making more sense, tastier and more desirable in my head. Now the only thing left to complete the picture is great storytelling. And Mahindra, as we know, is already quite good at it. Now, imagine a small caravan of Neo 4x4s decked out for overlanding outings on India’s toughest terrains. Imagine them going down dirt roads without any problems. Imagine them scrambling over rocks and branches and wading through deep rivers. Just imagine a Land Rover Discovery expedition in a Bolero Neo 4×4. Who wouldn’t want that!?
Will it happen?
The biggest question, of course, is – will it happen?
Well, we can tell you that it ‘might’. Which means it’s technically possible. In fact, knowing Mahindra, they already have a few Neo 4x4s running. After all, the base is 4×4 compatible. And if it does, don’t even launch, mind; Just an announcement of such a release, albeit with a teaser sketch before the Jimny’s launch, would have me, for sure, re-examining my decision to buy the Jimny.
Bolero Neo 4×4 Rendering by Kastab Gandhi