Made in China and re-engineered for India, the Chevrolet Sail U-VA is a practical car that comes with two engine options and a spacious cabin.

The Chevrolet Sail U-VA is the first of many India-bound products from General Motors India’s part-owner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation’s (SAIC) Chinese portfolio. The car has been thoroughly re-engineered for India. To ensure success, Chevrolet has launched the car with the option of a petrol or a diesel engine, distributed across a total of seven variants, and backed by a rather generous three-year/1,00,000km warranty. The pricing is also fairly competitive.

Designed entirely in China by GM and SAIC, the Sail U-VA is a neat looking car. There is a lot to like about the Sail’s design. The frontal styling, for one, is quite attractive, with the simple rendition of Chevrolet’s split grille, the angled headlamps and the raised bonnet being focal points. The longish front overhang, rising window line and small tail section also give the Sail a sporty, tipped-forward stance.

However, the cliff-face tail, with its vertically aligned tail-lamps and bumper-mounted number plate, looks a bit too generic.

The Sail is among the larger cars in its class, with an overall length just under the four-metre mark. But that’s not all. As the large and stretched-out windows establish, GM has endeavoured to maximise space inside the cabin.

The result is pretty spectacular, because the Sail feels roomier than many seemingly larger mid-size saloons. This feeling of space is further helped by a dashboard that extends far ahead towards the windscreen. Sadly, the dash itself doesn’t look particularly distinctive, with a design that leans more towards functionality than outright style. Still, the protruding centre console, neat contours and the combination of sand and tan coloured plastics are quite pleasing. What isn’t is the quality of plastics. Another not-so-nice bit is the instrument console. We also didn’t like the awkward positioning of the front power window switches ahead of the gear lever, or the fact that the driver’s seat can’t be adjusted for height. It’s not all that big an issue though, as the high-set seat still allows decent frontal visibility for shorter drivers.

Seating comfort

For their part, the front seats offer good comfort with nice bolstering, especially for your lower back. If anything, taller drivers may find these seats lacking in thigh support. Rear seat comfort is a mixed bag. While there is more than ample knee and shoulder room, headroom is a tad limited. However you will like the seating position at the rear, which is helped in no small part by the natural footrest under the front seats. That’s because, interestingly, the Sail U-VA comes with a centrally placed fuel tank (a-la the Honda Jazz) and this helps free up storage space under the rear seats.

At 248 litres, the boot is also pretty decent and, thanks to a clever mechanism, you can fold the rear seats absolutely flat to further increase the luggage capacity. However, the Sail doesn’t score too highly on storage space for smaller items in the cabin.

The top-end Sail U-VA LTs come with a USB and aux-ready audio player that supports Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming. However, there are no steering-mounted audio controls, and nor is there climate control. Safety equipment comprises dual airbags and ABS.

As mentioned before, the Sail U-VA is available with either a petrol or a diesel engine.

The petrol engine is the same 1.2-litre, twin-cam, four-valve-per-head unit that you get in the Beat, though revised tuning and a higher compression ratio (10.5:1 versus 9.8:1) have helped bump the power up to 85bhp. What’s nice about this engine is that it’s quite responsive at low speeds, part-throttle responses are good and power delivery is linear, all of which make it well suited to humdrum city driving. Straight-line performance is pretty good too, with a 14.66sec 0-100kph time that makes it quicker than most of its petrol rivals. If there is an issue, it’s with this engine’s refinement. It gets noisy quite early in the rev range and really buzzy after 4000rpm, so you won’t find yourself holding gears longer than needed. While we couldn’t test the petrol U-VA for fuel economy, its ARAI-tested figure of 18.2kpl is very similar to the Toyota Etios Liva’s.

Fuel economy or otherwise though, it’s the diesel that is our pick of the two engines.

To give you a brief, the Sail uses the same Fiat-sourced 1.3 Multijet engine as the Fiat Grande Punto, Maruti Swift and Tata Vista. However, GM has modified it, giving it a different air filter, a new inlet and exhaust, and a new fixed-geometry turbocharger. Peak power is now up to 77bhp. These changes, along with the revised tuning, have worked well; the engine not only feels more refined, but its responses have improved too. Like the petrol car, the diesel comes with GM’s new F17 five-speed manual gearbox. Short throws make this gearbox fun to use, though gearshifts do require some effort. The diesel’s clutch is on the heavier side too, which is a slight irritant in slow-moving traffic.

Spread of power

A sudden spike in power when the turbo kicks in has always been a problem on the 1.3 Multijet motor, but GM’s engineers have succeeded in smoothening this transition to the meat of the engine’s powerband, and this helps make the Sail diesel nice to drive.

There’s a good spread of power right till the 4200rpm mark, so overtaking is never an issue. It’s just that the Sail’s diesel doesn’t have much of a top end, which is somewhat of a dampener for the enthusiastic few who’d like to drive their diesel as if it were a petrol. For the majority though, the Sail diesel’s 13.1kpl city and 19kpl highway figures will be the big draw.

GM has softened the dampers, stiffened the springs and strengthened the anti-roll bar on the India-spec Sail and has also given it tall, 70-profile tyres. The result is an excellent ride that soaks up just about any lump or pothole you may encounter.

City-based users will also like the hydraulic power steering for its lightness at low speeds and reasonable feel on twistier paths, but there’s a dead zone at the straight-ahead position and a fair amount of body roll around bends too, so this isn’t a car meant to be driven in a rush. Our test cars’ brakes also felt grabby, and this takes some getting used to. So the Sail is a practical buy and don’t expect it to be anything more.