Does the re-engineered-for-India Chevrolet Sail have what it takes to compete with the established order?
The Chevrolet Sail U-VA will be the first model to come out of the GM-SAIC joint venture. This car, which will replace the Aveo U-VA will ive into a cut-throat and ruthlessly competitive segment. It will face stiff competition from considerably talented cars, like the Maruti Swift, Ford Figo and Toyota Etios Liva. So does it have enough oomph to take on the rest? Read on to find out.
The Sail, though nice looking, is styled to fit the ‘please all, displease none’ mould, and as a result looks a bit too generic and tame. The lines of the car are neat, the skinning is very modern and there are no unnecessarily exaggerated features. The angled headlights wrap around the nose quite nicely and the rising windowline makes the Sail look tipped forward and sporty. The rear isn’t as attractive and the vertically aligned tail-lights look a bit old fashioned now.
The Sail’s chassis has been engineered to provide extremely high levels of rigidity. GM’s engineers in India have also completely redone the suspension to suit our roads, which call for more ground clearance; hence raising the ride height of the cars was essential. The petrol version stands at 171mm, and the diesel at a lower (but still very high) 168mm. Taller, stiffer springs have been used and the front anti-roll bar has been beefed up in accordance with the higher Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). The dampers have been softened, however, keeping ride comfort in mind, so GM seems to have got the basics right.
GM plans to manufacture the Sail in India eventually with an extremely high level of local content. However, for now, localisation stands at 42 percent, with a much higher 65 percent on the cards in the near future.
The first impression of the interior is that it’s not particularly upmarket and the plastics are not very rich. Also, the doorpads are a bit shallow, the power window buttons are placed ahead of the gearlever and the glovebox is quite small. The interior is, however, very functional and has a restrained maturity. The protruding central console, with its large vents, is particularly attractive. Finished in dull silver, it contrasts with the rest of the dash quite nicely, and functionality of the buttons and switches is also good.
The front seats are quite comfortable and well bolstered, and though there is no height adjustment, outside visibility is good thanks to a high-set seat. The rear doors open wide enough to make entry into the back quite easy, and you will be amazed by the amount of legroom on offer. Headroom isn’t as generous though, possibly due to the sloping roofline. The back seat felt a bit too flat and firm and lacked the plushness of the Swift’s seats, which are the benchmark for comfort. To make up, the seating position at the rear is brilliant thanks largely to a centrally placed fuel tank. Boot space is pretty decent and the Sail can swallow 248 litres of luggage. In terms of safety, the Sail is decently well equipped and comes with two front airbags and ABS on the top-end version.
The diesel version of the Sail U-VA uses what GM calls the 1.3 SDE (Small Diesel Engine), better known to us as Fiat’s Multijet unit. Though insulation is pretty good and noise levels much lower than rivals like the Figo, Liva and even Swift, you can still hear the diesel clatter from ahead of the firewall. There’s also a bit of turbo lag, but it’s not as pronounced as it is on the Swift. Keep the engine in the mid range and the Sail really rewards you. It feels really smooth and you can pick up the pace at any time without using the gearbox. The diesel Sail takes 15.2 seconds to get to 100kph, and in 22.9 seconds you are doing 120. Power tails off around 4200rpm, so it’s best to upshift early. In-gear acceleration is quick as well due to its strong mid-range. GM engineers have tuned this engine quite well and possibly this the best take so far on the venerable 1.3 multi-jet diesel.
In comparison, the petrol engine is a bit of a mixed bag. Known as the 1.2 BDOHC, this 1199cc motor uses twin overhead cams and all-aluminium construction. Idle is smooth enough and the engine is quite responsive at low speeds, but spin the motor faster and it gets quite audible. The Sail petrol surprised us with its flat-out performance and the way it sprints from 0-100kph in just 14.6 seconds – quicker than the Swift. In-gear acceleration is strong too, especially in third. The big news is the Sail’s all-new F17 five-speed manual gearbox which is a pretty accomplished unit and does duty in Opels and Vauxhalls in the sophisticated markets of Europe. Though the gear shift requires a bit of effort, we just love the short throw and the precise way in which this gearbox operates.
What amazed is the way this robust hatch gobbles up potholes for breakfast and feasts on the worst that our road authorities can feed it. The key to the Sail’s amazing ability to float over bad roads is the pliant, long-travel suspension that’s been brilliantly set up, and the tall 175/70 R14 tyres. In fact, so good is the ride that it could well be the best riding car in its class. Only a bit of road noise from the rear and some vertical movement at high speeds spoil its near-perfect score in this respect.
The steering is quite light, which is a big help in town, and even when you press on, you will be impressed with the accuracy of the helm. It’s just that the steering isn’t bristling with feel and has a dead zone around the straight-ahead position, which sanitises the driving experience. The Sail rolls a fair bit and it doesn’t like darting in and out of corners but then that isn’t its brief
Straight-line stability is superb though, and as a long-distance tool the Sail is surprisingly good. The brakes are not as strongly servo-ed as some other hatchbacks, but they deliver plenty of confidence.
Viewed in totality, GM’s Sail U-VA has a lot of plus points. It has a large and spacious cabin, unbelievably good ride quality and uses one of the best small-capacity diesel engines around, which GM has tuned to be even better. The Sail is a tough, no-nonsense car that’s really well suited to Indian conditions.
It has its downsides. The petrol motor is noisy and we weren’t impressed by the interior quality. Still, at an expected starting price of Rs 4.2 lakh (ex-showroom) for the petrol and Rs 5.8 lakh for the diesel, backed by a three-year warranty, the Chevy Sail is serious bang for your buck. This could be the surprise of 2012.
Price Rs 4.2-6.5 lakh (est. ex-showroom)
Fuel Petrol/ diesel
Installation Front, transverse
Type 4 cyls, 1199cc, petrol / 4 cyls 1248cc, turbo-diesel
Bore/stroke 69.5/79.0mm; 69.7/82.0mm
Power 85bhp at 6000rpm / 77bhp at 4000rpm
Torque 11.52kgm at 4400rpm / 20.90kgm at 1750rpm
Power to weight 79.81/68.50bhp per tonne
Transmission Front-wheel drive
Gearbox 5-speed manual
Wheel base 2465mm
Boot volume 248 litres
Ground clearance 174/168mm
Tyres 175/70 R14
Spare Full size
Tank size 42 litres