Not too long after introducing the new Sail U-VA hatchback into the Indian market, Chevrolet has brought in its next offering, the new Sail sedan, based on the same platform. We get behind the wheel of Chevrolet’s new entry mid-size challenger to bring you this exclusive twin test of both the petrol and diesel versions.
When Chevrolet first launched the Aveo sedan back in 2006, there was a lot of expectation from the car. General Motors India had just marked the transition from selling the Opel brand in India to Chevrolet. Chevrolet was better recognised in the country, what with numerous film stars patronising the Impala and Bel Air in countless movies, and in their personal lives. The Chevrolet Aveo wasn’t the hit that GM hoped for, but it sell well for a while. This brief history aside, with Chevrolet India now closely aligned with SAIC of China, the Sail is now on Indian shores.
Design & Engineering
The Chevrolet Sail sedan shares much of its styling and indeed its mechanicals with its U-VA hatchback sibling. The two-part grille with the Chevrolet bow tie proudly in the centre looks really good, and gives this car real character. The design flows strongly along the sides, finishing in a sober, yet elegant manner at the rear. A strong crease runs from just above the front wheel arch to the rear tail lamps, and it is this rising line which sets the character of the car.
Rear styling is a bit anonymous though, and the boring boot lid and plain rear bumper lacks any sort of flair. Overall, this is a car which is inoffensive in its styling, if a little boring.
Underneath the sheet metal, the Chevrolet Sail is built around a monocoque chassis, and rides on McPherson struts at the front with a simple torsion beam rear axle.
Under the bonnet you have the choice of either petrol or diesel power. Both engines are four-cylinder units boasting twin overhead cams and 16 valves. We drove both the petrol and diesel Sail.
The Sail's boot can accomodate up to 380 litres of luggage, but is awkwardly shaped.
Chevrolet will sell the Said sedan in a total of eight variants – four petrol and four diesel – titled PS, LS, LS ABS and LT ABS. We’ve tested the Sail LS ABS petrol and the Sail LT ABS diesel. The confusing thing is that the LS ABS comes with ABS and a Bluetooth compatible stereo, vis-à-vis the LS variant.
Interiors & Comfort
Hard plastics detract from quality feel. But interiors are spacious.
Step inside the Sail and you’re greeted with the same beige interiors as you will find on the U-Va hatch. We really wish Chevrolet India had worked on the interiors of the car, because if the exterior is staid, the interiors are downright dowdy. Hard plastics are a clear giveaway of the ‘built to a price’ approach, and while it is all well screwed together, the surfaces are rough to the touch and lack any form of design flair. The cost cutting goes a step further with all four power window switches grouped together just ahead of the gear lever, which aren’t very ergonomically friendly either. The switchgear too feels cheap, with a brittle and coarse action rather than any meaty clicks when operated.
Rear seats can seat three abreast thanks to flat bench and low transmission tunnel. Note different gear lever for diesel version.
The front seats are not the most comfortable because they narrow towards the top, meaning you tend to feel a little uncomfortable around the shoulder blades after long stints behind the wheel. The rear seat is a single flat bench. The low transmission tunnel means that in the Sail sedan, three people can actually sit abreast in relative comfort. Second to the Mahindra Verito, this car has the most usable rear seat. The backrest is quite reclined however, so you will not get much of a view forward.
The Sail sedan too has the ‘secret compartment’ under the rear seat. By relocating the fuel tank to under the floor of the car, Chevy engineers have managed to scoop out some stowage under the rear seat. This is useful and can take a couple of soft bags with ease, increasing versatility and carrying capacity.
Performance & Handling
Both the Sail sedan and the Sail U-VA hatchback use the same petrol and diesel engines, in the same state of tune. There isn’t much of a difference in kerb weight between the two cars, so what’s enough for the hatch should be enough for the sedan, right? Well, while the diesel Sail sedan feels competent enough, the petrol Sail feels grossly underpowered, just like its hatchback sibling. Now, while we can understand that by our government norms, cars under 4 metres in length and having petrol engines less than or equal to 1,200 cc qualify for an excise benefit, it would make sense for Chevrolet India to leverage this loophole to its advantage with the Sail U-VA hatchback. However, with the Sail sedan, it might have made sense for the company to consider a larger, more powerful engine option, similar to the strategy Toyota has adopted with the Etios sedan and Etios Liva hatchbacks.
As a result, the petrol Sail always feels underpowered, and to make matters worse, it displays an unwillingness to rev, almost as though the flywheel were far too heavy. Shifting to lower gears and trying to rev it out is pointless, and so you’re left behind hopelessly at every traffic light. The AC puts substantial load on the engine, so switching it off helps the performance but then detracts from cabin comfort.
But anyway, this significant grouse aside, what are these two cars like to drive?
Petrol and diesel Sail have same tyre size. Highest LT ABS variant gets alloy wheels. Taller 175/70 profile tyres help ride quality.
The Sail it has to be said is quite soundly engineered. The focus of the chassis engineers has obviously been on ride comfort, and in this aspect we cannot fault the car. It rides very well, especially on broken surfaces, and body control is reasonably good too. However, up the pace a bit, and the Sail displays a recalcitrance to dart from corner to corner. It isn’t as ‘pokey’ as the Swift Dzire for example. One impressive facet of this car’s attitude shines through on really rough roads however, which it takes in its stride with nonchalance.
The diesel Sail is overall much nicer to drive, namely because of the tractable and torquey 1.3-litre diesel four-pot under the hood. This is the same engine which does duty in numerous cars in India, from various brands like Fiat, Tata Motors and Maruti. This engine, popularly called the Multijet by Fiat, was actually jointly developed by GM and Fiat. It’s tuned differently compared to the others, making slightly more torque (205 Nm versus 190 Nm for Maruti), but this isn’t particularly discernible. It boasts of impressive drivability though, with minimal lag and a strong surge of torque in the mid-range, which makes light work of traffic. The gear ratios are well thought out in this car, and third gear is particularly versatile, letting you potter around town and still retaining enough thrust for zippy overtakes, even at highway speeds. Chevy engineers need a pat on the back for the way this car shifts gears too, with short, positive throws.
The combination of this mid-range prowess, good ride quality and a surefooted attitude make for a good mile-muncher.
The Sail diesel (left) is the one to go for.
The big question: kitna average hai? Chevrolet claims the diesel Sail returns 22.1 km/l, while the petrol is rated at 18.2 km/l albeit under ideal test conditions. Here, we were pleasantly surprised with how the diesel Sail performed in real world conditions. With three people on board and the AC on full blast, the Sail still managed 14.6 km/l in real world conditions, on our test route which was made up of 80 percent city driving and 20 percent highway driving. At a steady cruise on the highway, driving with a light foot, 19-20 km/l should be there for the taking.
The petrol Sail fared much worse though, struggling to deliver 11 km/l over the same route. Like I mentioned earlier, the combination of an underpowered engine and frequent gear-shifting no doubt hampered the car significantly.
ABS + EBD only on the higher two variants. Driver airbag standard on three of the four variants.
The Chinese market, like India, does not have the same focus on safety like Europe and North America do. Remember, the Sail was originally engineered for the Chinese market. It has a steel structure with optimised crumple zones, but this hasn’t been tested by an internationally recognised testing authority, so we cannot comment on its crash-worthiness. Chevrolet is fitting a driver side airbag on all except the base PS variant as standard across the Sail model range. The mid-spec Sail LS variant has the option of ABS+EBD as well, but a front passenger airbag is only available with the top-of-the-range Sail LT variant.
For the Indian market, the Sail has passable safety features, but we wouldn’t rate it the highest among its peer group.
The Sail is going to be a key model for Chevrolet in India. Other than the Beat hatchback, which is selling quite well, Chevrolet does not seem to have a single segment winner going for it. General Motors has been consistently been facing operational losses, and so now is faced with a real conundrum. Margins at the lower end of the market are tight, and profitability can only be achieved with high sales volumes, which the company is struggling to meet.
The new Sail sedan and Sail U-VA hatchback are aimed at the meatiest end of the Indian passenger car market. The Sail sedans we’ve driven here are competent products no doubt, but there isn’t a single facet which stands out, or a single feature which we could call best in class.
The Sail petrol is let down, and let down significantly, by it being a poor drive.
However, of the two, it is the Sail diesel sedan which truly deserves to sell well. The sum of its capabilities is indeed greater than any one standout feature, and this should stand it in good stead. It has a spacious cabin, good ride quality, excellent drivability and good fuel efficiency too. It feels like a proper compact sedan, and not some chopped three-box with an unsightly appendage for a boot, which is a good thing.
Chevrolet’s unique warranty scheme is useful too, and does add to the value of the car for discerning buyers. Pricing is on par with the likes of the Maruti Swift Dzire and Honda Amaze, while being cheaper than the Toyota Etios. Visually, it is a bigger car than either the Dzire or the Amaze, so that should help its cause.
If General Motors India does bounce back into the black in coming years, it could owe its turnaround in some part to this car.