The Chevrolet Beat you see on these pages is one of the success stories of the last couple of years, and definitely a car which has turned General Motors’ Indian fortunes around. In its diesel avatar, the Beat is a car which has all it takes to be a top seller. Read on to find out just how well the beat stacks up.
Design & Engineering
There’s no car which quite wakes you up just by looking at it, but if styling could serve as an alarm clock, then the Beat is an air-raid siren! Especially in the luscious paprika red you see here. The big cow-catcher nose, two-part front grille, massive headlamps and winged bonnet merge into the edgy sides with the rising belt line, meeting with the ‘hidden’ rear door handles, before finishing off into a chopped tail with equally big tail lamps, the Beat is a surfeit of design elements and contours. The fact that the whole melds together so beautifully, substantiates GM’s design to carry forward the concept car look.
Under the skin, the Beat is built on the usual small car principles of a monocoque chassis, utilising McPherson struts for the front suspension and a torsion beam rear axle. The Beat is built at GM’s Talegaon facility near Pune, and the build quality is more than acceptable for this class. The interiors, especially the dashboard and glove compartment, feel sturdily built, which should ensure there are no rattles or squeaks in the years to come. The rear doors however feel slightly light, and it would help not to slam them shut.
Interiors & Comfort
The Beat’s funky styling is carried forward to the interior as well, with a segmented bar-type tachometer and an analogue speedometer. The instruments are in a pod which moves when you adjust the steering wheel, ensuring they are always in the driver’s line of sight. This is a neat touch, and something we really like.
The Beat’s front seats are quite flat, and under-thigh support isn’t as much as we would have liked, but the saving grace is the near-perfect seat-back, with no awkward aches or pains even after long stints behind the wheel. There are some compromises in finding the best driving position, but then no car is perfect. The steering wheel feels nice to hold, and the gear lever is within easy reach.
The rear seats are much better, with just the right amount of cushioning and a good backrest angle. But again, the short seat squab means under thigh support isn’t much. The high window line could make rear seat passengers feel slightly cooped up, but the grey-blue interiors do liven things up a bit. What’s impressive is the amount of leg space in the rear of the Beat, which would embarrass some bigger hatchbacks.
Performance & Handling
The Beat uses a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, but don’t be fooled by its modest displacement. This engine has been developed by GM’s engineers using the four-cylinder Fiat Multijet as the base. Designated 1.0 XSDE Smartech, this engine produces 58 PS of power and an impressive 150 Nm of torque. It’s the torque which is the talking point of the Beat diesel, for it endows this small car with impressive performance and very good fuel efficiency.
At start-up, especially when cold, you do notice pronounced torque rock and quite a bit of diesel clatter. The Beat’s diesel engine utilises graphite-coated cylinder liners for reduced friction, and once warmed up, this engine boasts impressive refinement.
The best part about the Beat diesel is just how little lag there is. There are other three-cylinder diesels on the market, but none of them can best the Beat’s nature. It picks up smoothly with no hiccups from as low as 1200 rpm, and revs cleanly to the naughty side of 4000 rpm. There’s no point to over-revving this engine however. Instead, just keep it in the mid-range and surf the abundant torque.
A good engine is complimented by a good balance between ride and handling. If there is one trait about the Beat I particularly like, then it has to be the ride quality. There are no small cars on the market today which have the same well-damped nature as the Beat does. You notice this especially on consecutive rumble strips. But the pliant ride is brought to the fore by the handling, which is sure-footed, with sharp turn-in manners and good mid-corner stability. Of course, the increase in weight that the diesel engine brings means there is some degree of understeer, when you compare the Beat diesel to its petrol sibling. But grip levels have been enhanced to cope with this, notably by the use of slightly wider tyres. The diesel Beat utilises 165/65 R14 tyres, which are wider than the 155/70 R14 used on the petrol model. The increased contact patch at each corner helps to compensate for the heavier kerb weight.
Chevrolet’s engineers have also worked at re-tuning the Beat’s electrically-assisted power steering system. One still feels a slight wooliness or vagueness in the dead-ahead position, which the engineers have not been able to dial out, but the turning forces now seem more progressive and linear than before, which is a small improvement.
Fuel efficiency is the diesel Beat’s trump card. In the worst possible morning rush hour traffic, with three people on board, the Beat recorded a figure of 16.3 kpl with the AC on. That works out to a running cost of a little under Rs 3 per kilometre. Under the IDC tests, the Beat is ratified for 24 kpl, which I think is achievable in the real world, albeit on the highway. Here, it’s important to note that the nature of the Smartech engine and its tuning is what is responsible for such stellar real-world figures. The fact that the Beat achieves the mileage figures that it does without compromising on drivability is the icing on the cake.
The Chevrolet Beat is a car which is sold all over the world, including Europe and North America. As such , it has to meet stringent safety norms, and the Beat is the better for it. High strength steels have been used for the construction of most critical structural members, ensuring a high degree of occupant safety in an accident. ABS, dual airbags and load-limiting seat belts are only available on the top-of-the-line LT variant. Chevrolet would do well to offer ABS as a cost option at least on the lower-spec models.
There’s much to like about the diesel Beat. Yes, the styling is the car’s starting point, and the fact that it is such a strong characterful design obviously draws a lot of comment. I for one, simply love it. Equally, there are some for whom the Beat’s design appears simply over the top. Be that as it may, this car’s beauty is more than just skin deep. It boasts of a futuristic cabin, ample interior space, a good blend of ride and handling and simply staggering fuel economy.
The Chevrolet Beat diesel is priced at Rs 4.8 lakh, ex-showroom for the top-of-the-line LT variant, which isn’t cheap, but for the price you get a fully-loaded car with all the bells and whistles, including ABS, airbags, power windows, power steering, climate control and a factory-fitted stereo with USB capability. This represents very good value for money as well.
Ford Figo, Maruti Ritz
Did You Know?
The Chevy Beat was first previewed as a design concept in 2007, along with two other cars. General Motors ran an online poll, asking the public to vote for the design of their choice. So overwhelming was the response to the Beat concept, that the company put the car into production almost unchanged. Abroad, the Beat is sold as the Chevrolet Spark, replacing the car by the same name as it’s sold here in India.