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Booted, and suited for India

Sailing Sedan version of GM’s new Sail car is a pleasant drive. Now, if only they could do something about the interiors. Sumant Banerji reports.

autos Updated: Feb 11, 2013 10:53 IST
Sumant Banerji

India has for long been waiting for a blockbuster from General Motors, one of the largest car makers in the world. The last time it achieved success in any segment was in 2008, with the Cruze. But that was not a mass market car. Its next big hope was the Beat, but that has been beset by problems. Last year, GM pinned its hopes on the Sail hatchback, a platform borrowed from its Chinese joint venture. But it was pitted directly against the Swift, and critics felt GM had got the pricing wrong yet again. Now, the Sail sedan has been released. Has GM learnt its lessons and got the details right this time?.

Any different from the hatch?

The idea of making a sedan out of a traditional compact car or vice versa is a globally popular trend. It is convenient, saves time and energy and is saves expense big time. In, it becomes even more lucrative as by pruning the length a bit, companies also save on taxes. But the Sail sedan comes from China, where people love big cars, so GM has not been able to do that.

Essentially, the sedan remains a compact car with a boot tacked on. So the front looks just like the Sail hatchback. The visage is strong and muscular with the large headlamps, and because it is not a sub 4-metre vehicle, it looks wholesome and proportionate.

It does suffer from “looks too much like the small car” syndrome, but that is common in the segment --- the Etios, Dzire and the upcoming Honda Amaze all have similar issues. Even then, GM could have done a bit to make it stand out. While not exactly ugly, the Sail does not merit a second glance — and we did not get one, either, driving it.

Bland interiors
Think Chinese and you would imagine that finesse and attention to detail would be missing. You would be right. Also absent is flair. The interiors of the car disappoint, period. We harped on this aspect when we reviewed the hatch, and nothing has changed. In fact things are so unimaginative that you may as well look outside the window for excitement.

There are some ergonomic improvements though. The headlamp and wiper controls are Japanese-fashion, not the US model --- that is, wiper controls on the left, headlamp on the right. The high point of the car is the generous leg room on offer at the rear; three adults would not be cramped. Boot space is also decent at 370 litres. If only GM had shoe-horned the interiors of the now defunct Aveo sedan into this one, a major grouse would have been avoided.
Performance, ride, handling

One problem with the lower excise duty benefit on petrol engines below 1.2-litre capacity is that many entry-level sedans feel grossly under-powered. The Etios has a bigger 1.5-litre engine and is an exception, but the Dzire --- and now the Sail --- suffer as a result. But petrol sedans don’t sell much, so let’s look at the diesel variant. The Sail comes with the universal 1.3-litre mutijet engine. Why universal? Because from the Swift, Dzire, Indica, Indigo, Manza, Linea, Punto to Sail, everybody is using the same engine. So far, we not quite seen that engine better utilised than in the Swift siblings.

While that is unchanged, GM has done a good job with the Sail. Power and pick up are decent both in the city as well as on the highway. Ride quality is adequate, too, and it remains largely unperturbed by bad roads, evening out most potholes without a fuss.

It does not handle quite as well, largely because it feels undershod on its 14" wheels. There is a tendency to understeer and on sharp turns it does get ruffled. The bigger plus however is that we found the car to be very frugal. Despite our best (worst!) efforts, it still gave us a decent 14 kilometres per litre in the city. With sensible handling, one can easily coax 18kpl --- good figures for a full-bodied vehicle.

We had some expectations of the Sail compact car last year, but had to come away disappointed. Given that it was the same car, we expected nothing of the Sail sedan. And have come back pleasantly surprised. A lot of it has to do with the pricing, where for once, GM is spot on.
It sits just a shade above segment topper Dzire, and costs substantially less than the Toyota Etios. Remember, this is not a sub 4-metre car, so to offer such a package at this price is good value for money. There are blemishes that GM would do well to rectify. What can put a spanner in the works is the Honda Amaze, slated to arrive within two months, and GM needs to be ready for that.

Overall, we can safely say that if you are in the market for a spacious, no-frills sedan, here is a Chevy you can consider.