Launchpad Chevrolet seems to have crackedthe formula to survive the competition with the saloon version of the Sail U-VA. Nikhil Bhatia has the details
The Indian automotive market in 2012 witnessed an onslaught of Chevrolet models from General Motors India. There was the all-new Sail U-VA hatchback and updated versions of the Tavera, Cruze, Captiva and Spark. In the new year, the manufacturer is ready with its next new product. The car in question is the saloon version of the Sail U-VA. With the Sail saloon, Chevrolet hopes to make a serious impact in the lower end of the mid-size saloon market. However, a mere presence in the arena isn’t enough to guarantee success. Competition is intense, and what makes it harder still is the fact that buyers in this segment are just as demanding as those in the hatchback segment. That means the Sail has to deliver on comfort, space, practicality and performance. Does it manage to do so? We had both the petrol and diesel versions of the Sail for a day to find out.
If you are one of those who find the styling on newer Chevrolets a touch too radical, you’ll like the Sail for its simple lines. It’s a smart and neatly styled saloon, but one that won’t particularly stand out in the parking lot. What further robs the Sail of its individuality is that it looks identical to the Sail U-VA hatchback right up to the B-pillar. The combination of the upswept headlamps, split grille and chiselled bumper does work well, but some distinctive elements would have helped give the Sail saloon an identity of its own.
That said there’s nothing common between the two cars. The Sail is a proper saloon (4.2 metres in length) and, in that respect, doesn’t have the truncated look of the Swift Dzire, which will be among its chief rivals. However, the rear overhang is a touch too large and makes the 14-inch wheels look small in proportion. Styling at the rear is neat and simple, with the large triangular tail-lamps helping to distinguish it from the other mid-sizers.
The boot space is 370 litres, which seems just average for this class of car. But opening the boot reveals a well-shaped loading bay that can easily accommodate two large suitcases.
Access to the Sail’s cabin is really convenient thanks to the wide-opening doors, but once inside, there’s some disappointment.
The interiors are unchanged from the U-VA. Plastic quality is only decent (though panel fit is good) and the sand and beige tones in the cabin make the Sail look a bit dull on the inside. Also, the dashboard doesn’t look anything out of the ordinary. Smaller details like the absence of rubber boots on the switchgear ( borrowed from the Spark) and the old-school, lift-type door locks further take away from the overall ambience. We also wish Chevrolet had repositioned the power window switches from ahead of the gearlever to a more convenient location and done away with the digital tacho altogether — it’s small and hard to read on the move. Steering-mounted audio controls are another item that remains on our wishlist. Top variant Sails do get an audio system with Bluetooth audio streaming and telephony, however.
The Sail’s cabin scores quite high on comfort. The front seats are well shaped with good lower back support. There’s no driver’s seat height adjustment, but even shorter drivers won’t have an issue with frontal visibility. However, the large fixed rear headrests do restrict the view. The Sail and U-VA sit on the same wheelbase so, just as expected, we find there’s excellent kneeroom in the back. The cabin is also wide enough to seat three and headroom is sufficient for anyone less than six feet tall. Chevrolet has increased the recline angle of the rear seat backrest on the Sail (vis-à-vis the U-VA) and this, along with slightly softer cushioning and the inclusion of a foldable centre armrest, have worked wonders for rear seat comfort. The combination of a comfy rear seat, ample space and large rear windows should really appeal to the chauffeur-driven. As with the U-VA, the Sail comes with its fuel tank under the front seats, and this creates a natural footrest for the rear passengers. This layout has also freed up some storage space under the rear seat where the fuel tank would traditionally sit, and it’s big enough for a couple of small bags. All in all, the Sail offers plenty in terms of space for smaller items, with a total of six bottle-holders (including two in the rear centre armrest) and a large recess just ahead of the gearlever.
The Indian version
Chevrolet sells the Sail in China (it is among the largest-selling cars there) with a 1.4-litre petrol engine and we were expecting this motor on the Indian version too. However, the Indian car gets a smaller 1.2-litre petrol. Perhaps costs have played a role in this decision. The Smartech 1.2 BDOHC engine the Sail comes with is a straight lift from the U-VA and produces the same 85bhp and 11.5kgm of torque. Even through the gears, the Sail isn’t as quick as its larger-hearted rivals. But you can ignore the numbers, because the engine is pretty responsive to part-throttle inputs and fairly flexible above 2000rpm. In true petrol motor fashion, the engine is at its best when revved hard between 4000-6000rpm. The trouble is, this is a noisy motor and even at moderate engine speeds the sound tends to get quite intrusive. Moreover, the five-speed gearbox isn’t the most precise unit around, so quick shifts aren’t the easiest to execute.
We came away far more impressed with the diesel Sail. Once again, it’s the same version of the Fiat Multijet 1.3 as in the Sail U-VA. The engine comes with a fixed-geometry turbo that helps it deliver 77bhp and 20.9kgm. The best bit about this engine is its power delivery. Multijet motors are known to have a spiky power delivery, but Chevrolet engineers seem to have curbed that issue to a big extent. There’s decent power off-boost, and even when the turbo does come in at about 2000rpm, the build of power is fairly linear. The nice spread of power in the mid-range and a well-weighted clutch further make the Sail quite easy to drive in typical city traffic. There’s also good fun rowing through the Opel-sourced F17 five-speed gearbox (only on the diesel), thanks to its short throws and positive shifts. However, performance junkies won’t find what they are looking for because the Sail’s engine doesn’t rev high or quickly.
For the fuel economy conscious, Chevrolet is claiming an ARAI-tested economy of 18.2kpl for the petrol Sail and 22.1kpl for the Sail diesel.
Impressive ride quality
The Sail shares its suspension hardware with the U-VA which is a combination of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear. Unsurprisingly, the ride quality is similar too, which means it’s fantastic.
The long-travel suspension absorbs just about every pothole on the road with the 175/70 R14 tyres further smoothening the blow. What’s also nice is that the Sail is free from unnecessary vertical movements, even on the worst of paths. While this should have made the Sail an excellent highway cruiser, its somewhat nervous high-speed manners play spoilsport.
At speeds above 100kph, the Sail doesn’t feel as planted as it should and the overly light steering does little to boost confidence. Following feedback from U-VA owners, Chevrolet has recalibrated the petrol Sail’s steering for more feel, but it still feels quite disconnected (less so than the diesel). There’s lots of body roll too, so this is the sort of car you’d be better off driving a notch down. If there’s a positive on the handling front, it’s that the light steering makes the Sail easy to manoeuvre into tight parking spots.
So, the Sail saloon leaves us impressed with its well-rounded diesel engine, brilliant ride and spacious cabin. The areas it remains wanting in are cabin quality, dynamics and refinement (in the petrol). Although the Sail isn’t quite the all-rounder, it is a practical saloon, doing what it is meant to do with honesty.
One has to consider the aggressive pricing policy Chevrolet has followed with this new car. The base petrol variant starts at Rs. 4.99 lakh and goes up to Rs. 6.41 for the top variant. The diesel variants are priced between Rs. 6.29 lakh and Rs. 7.51lakh.
At this price point, Chevy may crack the Indian auto market with the saloon version of the Sail.
the best bit about this car's engine is its power delivery. Multijet motors are known to have a spiky power delivery, but Chevrolet engineers seem to have curbed that issue to a big extent