The Chevrolet Tavera Neo 3 is a long name indeed. The new Tavera, or Tavera Neo 3 as we’ll refer to it in this road test, has been in the Indian market for less than a decade, but has proved to be a virtuous performer in its segment. This has ensured that the Tavera today forms a key model in Chevrolet India’s line-up and is among its more profitable offerings.
The Chevrolet Tavera started life as an Isuzu Panther. General Motors at one time held a controlling stake in Isuzu (now no longer), which is how the Tavera nee Panther found its way to Indian shores. Even today, the Panther is a strong selling MUV/pick-up in markets all over South-east Asia, notably in Indonesia.
So what’s new about the Neo? A mild facelift for starters, but more significantly, a new engine. Read on for more.
Design & Engineering
When you first cast a glance at the new Tavera Neo 3, you notice the new face, which now consists of a two-part grille, immediately recognisable as a Chevrolet. That was the intent of course, and a couple of round fog lamps below the headlights add a neat touch as well. Other than the new face, nothing has changed. Walk around the Chevrolet Tavera Neo 3, and you’ll see the same boxy styling and flat sides. But the styling has its advantages on interior room, as we’ll see shortly.
From engineering first principles, the Tavera Neo 3 gets off to a flying start – if what you want is a pick-up truck. It boasts of a solid ladder-frame chassis with the body mounted on top. The rear suspension consists of semi-elliptical leaf springs with dampers, mounted on a solid axle, while the front suspension consists of coil springs and dampers. In that sense, nothing has changed, really, and the Tavera Neo 3 still seems like a car from a bygone era.
The other big change, huge change in fact, is what’s under the bonnet. Lurking there is a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail diesel engine, built by ICML and shipped to General Motors India’s Halol plant in Gujarat. This BSIV emissions-compliant engine is smaller, lighter and more powerful than the 2.5-litre direct-injection diesel that it replaces, which is a good thing. (This 2.5-litre engine will continue to be sold in cities across India where BSIV norms are yet to come into effect). The difference in price is significant however, with the BSIV variants being about a lakh of rupees more expensive than the equivalent BSIII version.
Interiors & Comfort
You can order your Tavera in a number of different seating configurations, with 7, 8, 9 or 10 seats, depending on which trim level you opt for, making for a total of 10 different variants! The version we drove was the top-of-the-line Tavera Neo 3 LT, in a 9-seat configuration of 2+3+4.
The dashboard has received some attention as well, but the end result is nothing exciting. The dual-tone grey and beige (‘pewter’ and ‘cashmere’ in Chevy-speak) dashboard is standard on all the variants. The Tavera Neo 3 gets a new instrument cluster with ice-blue backlighting, which seems to have become something of a trend in the market these days. A tachometer however is only available with the top-of-the range LT variant. Also, a second roof mounted AC with blowers for the second and third-row passengers is also only available in the Tavera Neo 3 LT.
The driver’s seat in the Tavera Neo 3 is quite roomy, but bolstering and support isn’t anywhere in the league of other MUVs such as the Toyota Innova or Mahindra Xylo. Similarly, the middle bench seat (captain seats are available as an option on the LS and LT) is quite flat as well, although you do get a generous amount of leg room and head room.
Like we mentioned earlier, the Tavera Neo 3 we drove had a 9-seat configuration, with a pair of jump seats at the rear to seat two passengers side-by-side. These jump seats are not the best place to be, especially since you are sitting aft of the rear axle, and are quite cramped for space. This makes sense only for taxi fleet operators and their ilk.
Ride quality in the Tavera suffers because of the archaic suspension layout, which like we explained earlier, is by rudimentary leaf springs at the rear. Leaf springs do have an advantage in that they are largely maintenance free and can withstand severe abuse, but by their very design are not harbingers of good ride quality. The Tavera Neo 3 displays a preponderance to ‘bunny hop’ over speed-breakers, and there’s a persistent vertical movement on rough roads, which can make rear passengers, especially those in the third row, road sick.
Performance & Handling
With the new engine under the bonnet, we did have great expectations from the Tavera Neo 3 in the performance department, and this is singularly where the BSIV version shows the greatest improvement. For starters, the new engine is a lot more refined. It idles quieter, and on the move it is surprisingly refined as well. Chevrolet have resorted to using a substantial amount of sound deadening material in the Tavera Neo 3, and this definitely helps the case. What adds to the positive impression is that the Tavera Neo 3 manages to be bereft of any boom or resonance within the cabin even at a steady highway cruise.
Pick-up and performance with the 2.0-litre common-rail diesel motor are much improved as well compared to the 2.5-litre DI unit. Of course, since this engine is not in a very high state of tune, it helps to make it rather drivable as well. Chevrolet India’s engineers have focussed on this aspect, and the specs indicate that the 2.0-litre motor produces its maximum torque of 264 Nm (88 Nm more than the 2.5 DI) between a wide operating range of 1750-2500 rpm.
The five-speed manual gearbox has a better shift action as well, which when married to the light clutch means life is easy for the driver. The small steering wheel feels good to hold, but is not adjustable for rake or reach.
There isn’t much one must expect in handling terms from a large MUV, but the Tavera Neo 3 proves surprisingly competent in this regard. Despite the rudimentary suspension, it does not feel ponderous to steer, nor does it display any nervous behaviour at highway speeds either, which I found truly impressive. Power steering is only available on the LS and LT variants with the base and Max variants having to make do with manual steering. A dead pedal or clutch foot rest is standard on the Tavera Neo 3 across all variants, and this is a definite plus.
While the improvements to the Tavera Neo 3’s performance are welcome, the new 2.0-litre common rail diesel motor shows up very good figures at the pumps as well. We had five people aboard, with both ACs running in the 41 degree C heat, yet managed an entirely respectable 12 km/l in the city, which is more than many of its competitors. Once again, it is the mild state of tune of this engine (it produces only 107 PS in the Tavera, although it can be tuned for at least 140 PS according to some engineers we spoke to) which helps it to deliver good fuel efficiency. The highway figures should prove to be at least a couple of km/l more.
If there is an area of concern, or a detraction the Tavera Neo 3’s viability as a large family vehicle, it is the paucity of safety features on offer. It does not get ABS or airbags on any variants, and they aren’t available as cost options either. Of course, you get child locks on the rear doors, but those are small mercies. With the top-of-the-line LT variant breaching the Rs 12 lakh mark, this isn’t what a fully paid-up customer expects.
For Chevrolet, it is imperative that the company maintains a presence in the highly-lucrative MUV segment. Yes, the new Chevrolet Enjoy MPV is on its way to market soon, with an expected launch by year-end, but that is a completely different vehicle which will appeal to a different class of buyer.
The Tavera Neo 3 proves to be a reliable and rugged workhorse, and I’ve personally driven a Tavera with over 200,000 kilometres on the clock which still performed perfectly well. It is this reliability which appeals to the Indian customer, although the long-term reliability of the new BSIV engine will only come to be known over a period of time.
The new Chevrolet Tavera Neo 3, despite the facelift and new engine, stills seems like something of an anachronism in the Indian passenger car market today. The archaic suspension layout detracts from the overall ride quality and comfort of the vehicle, and the paucity of features is hard to swallow. The new engine has improved performance and drivability a great deal, which is a definite plus.
But Chevrolet India’s pricing strategy with the Tavera Neo 3 is hard to fathom. Given its age, technology on offer and features, one would expect it to compete more with the likes of the Tata Sumo Grande and the Mahndra Xylo, but Chevrolet India has priced it closer to the Innova instead. Sure, a big gap exists in the pricing of a Mahindra Xylo and a Toyota Innova, but it is not a gap that the Chevrolet Tavera Neo 3 is qualified to fill. It is competent MUV no doubt, but at Rs 11.54 lakh, on the road for the top-of-the-line LT variant, the price is a little optimistic. If you opt for the captain chairs (which come with leather upholstery) in the second, the price shoots up to Rs 12.34 lakh.