The Chevrolet Sail family was officially confirmed for an India market launch at the Auto Expo in New Delhi this year, but General Motors India had long since hinted that its new product offerings for India could from its Chinese subsidiary. Indeed, former GM India MD Karl Slym had a stint in China as well, managing Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation (SAIC) and Wuling.
The low development cost base offered in China was something which could be leveraged very lucratively, figured Slym, and that is how the Chevrolet Sail hatchback and sedan were pencilled in to GM’s India model strategy.
Brief history lesson over, the name Sail U-VA for the hatchback variant we’ve driven here (the sedan will come towards the end of 2012, or maybe early 2013), was something we’d exclusively confirmed back in May. The U-VA suffix is a nod to the earlier Aveo U-VA, which didn’t set sales charts on fire in India.
Design & Engineering
When you first set eyes on the Chevrolet Sail U-VA, either in pictures or in the flesh, what is immediately apparent is that this is a most inconspicuous looking automobile. It will not spark much debate or comment, unlike Chevrolet’s own Beat. Is that a good thing? I don’t think so, since strong style goes a long way to establishing brand identity, and the anonymous looking Sail U-VA will not do that for General Motors India.
The two-part grille and Chevrolet bow tie ensure you won’t mistake the Sail U-VA for anything other than a Chevy, but along the sides and at the rear, the bland styling is the equivalent of boiled rice. At the rear, the high-mounted tail lamps are nice, but there’s just too much visual mass with the thick C-pillar and rear bumper, without any design elements to provide visual relief.
The new Sail U-VA is constructed to the usual small-car template of a simple monocoque chassis, transversely mounted engine driving the front wheels, McPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear. This architecture is something most carmakers use today, but it’s how these elements work cohesively together which determines the overall quality of the product.
Chevrolet today is a truly international brand for General Motors, and hence flies the flag for the world’s largest car-maker. The platform and engineering has to be good, no question, even in still developing markets like India and China. Let’s not forget that Indian car buyers today are treated to some very sophisticated hardware from Europe and Japan.
A big talking point for General Motors with this car is its diesel engine. It is GM’s version of the veritable Multijet engine, but no, it won’t be built by Fiat, but instead by GM themselves at their Talegaon facility. The development costs were shared by Fiat and GM, a fact the American company is at pains to point out. The final tuning has been undertaken by GM India, and while we’ve all driven a Multijet powered car in some form or another, GM’s take is slightly different, and we’ll come to that.
Walk up to the new Sail U-VA and you’re immediately greeted by the slightly old school (and cheaper looking) lift-type door handles instead of pull-type door handles we see on most cars today. The doors feel light in your hand, hinting at the U-VA’s build quality. Let’s not cast any aspersions here, but suffice to say this Chevy is unlikely to be built to the same standards as a VW or even a Fiat for that matter.
Interiors & Comfort
The Chevrolet Sail U-VA’s interiors won’t make any car buyer sit up and take notice, but they won’t put him off either. Once again, the design is bland, but functional, and material quality doesn’t appear to be what other carmakers likes Volkswagen or Hyundai offer. That said, it is isn’t too bad, and fit and finish is acceptable, if not astounding. There are no sharp edges to any of the mouldings.
The moulded steering wheel has two small horn buttons on either side, without a horn boss in the centre of the steering wheel.
The seats are comfortable, and the Sail U-VA LT variant we drove had height adjustable driver’s seat and a steering column which adjusts for rake. This should allow most drivers to be comfortable, but the deep dashboard could be an issue for shorter drivers with regards to front visibility. Overall visibility is good, and the airy glass house ensures good peripheral vision as well.
One of the new U-VA’s strengths will be the amount of space on offer, with enough leg room for rear passengers even when there’s a tall driver in the front seat. The high roof offers good head room too, and the boot is similarly spacious as well. With a claimed capacity of 248 litres, this is one of the largest boots available in a hatchback in India. In the LT variant, the rear seats split 60:40 for more flexibility when loading luggage. A large cubby ahead of the gear lever and a slot below the music system ensure there is enough place for CDs.
The factory-fitted music system allows for USB connectivity, but sound quality isn’t anything special, and there are no audio controls on the steering wheel either.
The rear seats will allow for three-abreast seating in reasonable comfort augmenting the Sail’s practicality. The seat fabric appears to be hard wearing, an important consideration in Indian conditions.
The AC unit is powerful, which is a definite plus. Of course, don’t expect climate control, which even the smaller Beat LT has, but the rate at which is cools the cabin, and the AC’s ability to maintain a low temperature even in blazing sunshine is something which customers will appreciate.
Performance & Handling
The new Sail U-VA diesel we drove is powered by the same 1,248 cc engine we spoke of earlier, except that Chevrolet India calls it Smartech 1.3l SDE, and not Multijet. This engine is tuned differently in the Sail U-VA, putting out slightly more power and torque: 78 PS and 205 Nm respectively. These figures are slightly higher than what Maruti / Fiat / Tata claim for their powerplants. We only drove it up and down on an airfield, so we can’t really comment on performance compared to the Swift / Grande Punto / Indica, but it felt more than competent.
The steering response in the Sail U-VA is light, and not sporty as we would have liked, but there was a directness to it which I really liked. The brakes felt a touch grabby, and better modulation would be appreciated. The cars we drove were pre-production prototypes, and so we expect that the final product will be slightly better in this regard.
We didn’t have much opportunity to test the handling either, so we’ll reserve our judgement in this regard for later, once we do a proper road test.
Like we mentioned, we haven’t done a detailed test of the new Chevrolet Sail U-VA, so we can’t comment on its real-world fuel economy, but the ARAI figures are: 18.2 km/l for the 1.2-litre petrol and 22.1 km/l for the 1.3-litre diesel (pictured). Chevrolet is confident that the Sail U-VA will deliver the best fuel efficiency in real-world conditions, better than even the Maruti Swift and Ritz, which use the same engine. This the company says is due to the tuning, which although delivering slightly more power and torque than the Marutis, will have more linear power delivery and therefore better fuel efficiency. We can't wait to do a long-term real-world test on the Chevy Sail U-VA to find out.
The new Sail U-VA has an optimised crash structure with impact beams, plus ABS with EBD and two airbags on the LT variant, so it is par for the course for the segment.
The new Sail U-VA’s price is yet to be announced, and that will be a very important factor in deciding its fate in the Indian car market. The hatchback segment is singularly the most cut-throat in India, and there are plenty of established players who’ve managed a head start on the Chevy. Will it be a case of coming too late to the party? I don’t think so. There is always room for one more, and the Chevrolet Sail U-VA does have a fair share of positive attributes which should endear it to Indian customers, notably the spacious interiors and soft ride quality. Interior quality does fall some way short of what car buyers are used to today, but there are many who are willing to overlook these factors for a spacious, comfortable, fuel efficient and well-priced car. On the first three counts, the Sail U-VA delivers competently, so ultimately it will be the price which could be the decisive factor.
Chinese hatchback, Chinese prices?