Chevrolet Sail U-VA
The Sail U-VA is more spacious than some mid-size saloons.
The Chevrolet Sail U-VA marks an interesting new chapter in General Motors’ India innings. That’s because it is the first of many India-bound products from GM India’s part-owner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation’s (SAIC) Chinese portfolio. But before you discount the Sail U-VA for its unfamiliar origins you should know that the car has been thoroughly re-engineered for India. The suspension has been beefed up, the body has been strengthened and even the chassis (which has its roots in the Opel Corsa that was sold in India until 2006) has been updated to comply with modern safety norms. In other words, the Sail U-VA is as much a Chevrolet as the Spark, Beat, Cruze, Captiva and the like.
If it clicks, this premium hatchback could put the wind in Chevrolet’s sales (pun intended). Remember, the Sail U-VA goes head to head with the Maruti Swift, which is a regular on the top-seller list. 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/100,000 Km warranty. The pricing is also fairly competitive. So let’s get straight to it. Our road test of the interesting Chevrolet Sail U - VA.
Designed entirely in China by GM and SAIC, the Sail U-VA is a neat looking car, but one that lacks the visual drama we’ve come to expect from Chevy’s newer cars like the Beat and the Cruze. The linear are simple and you can tell the designers have played it safe with the styling, possibly to make the U-VA appeal to a larger customer base. That said, 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. We’d also have liked to see pull-type door handles rather than the cheaper lift-type ones; they simply don’t form a nice first point of contact.
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. The hard surfaces feel a bit cheap and are a big letdown. You also won’t like the basic light and wiper stalks that seem to have been plucked from the cheaper Chevy Spark and come without proper rubber boots. Another not-so-nice bit is the instrument console. While the large, analogue speedometer is easy to read, the digital tachometer (standard across the range) beside it is a tad small and not all that legible.
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. 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 and the firm seat cushioning isn’t all that nice either. The rear seat does get large, fixed headrests, but on the flipside, these tend to impede visibility out the back. You will, however, 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-UVA comes with a centrally placed fuel tank (a-la the Honda Jazz) and this helps free up storage space for the odd soft bag under the rear seats as well.
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. The fact that the rear seat splits 60:40 only aids the flexibility. However, the Sail doesn’t score too highly on storage space for smaller items in the cabin. It’s got a small glovebox, shallow front door pockets and only a single cup-holder for rear passengers.
Those curious about features will be happy to know that 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 0-100 kph 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 4000 rpm, 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 77 bhp. These changes, along with the revised tuning, have worked well; the engine not only feels more refined, but its responses have improved too. No, the Sail still doesn’t have the effortless bottom-end pull of the Ford Figo’s motor, but it doesn’t feel more responsive than the Swift’s. Like the petrol car, the diesel comes with GM’s new F17 five-speed manual gearbox. Short throws and a narrow gate make this gearbox fun to use, though gearshifts do require some effort and there’s also some whine from the transmission. The diesel’s clutch is on the heavier side too, which is a slight irritant in slow-moving traffic.
Where the Sail does feel noticeably better than the Swift (and for that matter, the Punto and Vista) is around the 2000 rpm mark. 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 power band, and this helps make the Sail diesel nice to drive. There’s a good spread of power right till the 4200 rpm 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 13.1 kpl city and 19 kpl highway figures will be the big draw.
Another area where the Sail excels is ride comfort. 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. There’s ample ground clearance too which, along with the long-travel suspension, really allows you to, ahem, sail over the worst of our roads. Straight-line stability is really good too, and it’s only the slight vertical movement at high speeds that spoils its composure.
City-based users will also like the hydraulic power steering for its lightness at low speeds and reasonable feel on twistier paths, but the Sail still does not feel as lively as the Swift or Figo. There’s a dead zone at the straight-ahead position and a fair amount of body roll around bends too, so you can tell 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.
Chevrolet Sail U-VA
A competent and practical hatchback, but it lacks appeal.
As large hatchbacks go, the Sail U-VA offers plenty. It’s got a spacious cabin, excellent ride comfort and, in diesel avatar, comes with a well rounded engine. It also feels well put together and suited to Indian conditions. But perhaps these traits are not enough to fully camouflage the Sail’s weaker aspects. Leading the list here are the staid exterior styling and mediocre quality of plastics in the cabin. The petrol engine is on the noisier side too. A brochure-to-brochure comparison will also reveal that the Sail is down on equipment compared to other similarly priced hatches, making it seem a bit pricey for what you get. In the final analysis, the sail comes across as a competent and practical hatchback, but one that won’t pull at your heartstrings.
Cabin is spacious but rear seats are a tad too firm for comfort.
Petrol is quicker than most rivals and diesel is well rounded too.
Engine noise an issue on the petrol but diesel is sufficiently refined.
Well priced for its size but lacks some features available on rivals.
Comes with two airbags, ABS and a tough body to keep you safe.
Sets the benchmark for ride quality in this segment.
Steering is light and city-friendly, but it’s not a sporty car.
BUILD & QUALITY 10/7
Feels well put together, but hard plastics in the cabin not nice.