In India, where the hatchback segment is the biggest in the automotive market, diesel options are very popular. And this growing demand is evident in the long waiting period for each of these cars. Although more expensive initially than the petrol variants, the diesel versions’ low running costs (owing to greater fuel efficiency and lower price of the fuel itself) and better resale value (a result of better fuel efficiency) are decisive factors for many customers.
The latest entrant in the diesel hatchback segment is the new Chevrolet Sail U-VA. The Sail is a car from General Motors India’s part owner Shanghai Automotive Corporation’s Chinese portfolio. The car has been thoroughly re-engineered for India; its suspension built to tackle the worst of our roads, its diesel engine the same Fiat-sourced motor as in the Maruti Swift and its body shell strengthened. The Sail does have the right ingredients but is it enough to trump the Figo and the Swift?
Ford’s Figo, for one, adds to its strengths of value, practicality and efficiency with recent tweaks to styling. Then there’s the hugely popular Maruti Swift, which brings a dash of fun to this practicality-oriented arena. So, which of these cars offers the best blend of comfort, performance and fuel economy to be worth your hard-earned money?
The Sail and Swift share their 1.3-litre turbodiesel engines, though different tuning gives the Sail a power rating of 77bhp and the Swift’s engine 74bhp. The two motors also deliver their power differently.
While neither car’s low range is particularly good, the Sail has the smoother and more immediate power delivery. There is a slight shove around the 2000rpm mark, after which, the Sail pulls forward rather well. The quicker power delivery also helps the Sail post quicker in-gear times than the Swift and overall performance is rather good.
In comparison, the Swift takes noticeably longer to deliver power below 2000rpm. But once past this mark, there’s a spike in power, and this can be a bit irritating in stop-and-go traffic. However, if you keep your foot down on the throttle pedal, it is the Swift that is the more rewarding car to drive. The engine builds revs rather quickly and, correspondingly, helps the Swift deliver the quickest dash from 0-100kph. In fact, the Swift’s diesel engine is almost petrol-like in the way it revs to 5000rpm so, given enough space, you may even find yourself holding onto each gear longer than needed.
The Figo’s 68bhp, 1.4-litre turbodiesel engine, on the other hand, is at its best in traffic. This motor is responsive and delivers power instantly at low to medium speeds. It’s also got the lightest clutch of this trio and its gearbox has a nice mechanical feel to it. Gearshifts on the Swift are nice and light, and those on the Sail are slickly executed as well.
In the city, the Figo is the best option. It’s happy to amble around in third gear, even at speeds as low as 30 or 40kph, and tap the accelerator and the Ford gathers speed quite rapidly. This is in total contrast to the other two cars here, which need you to execute almost twice as many downshifts. However, the Figo tends to run out of breath on the highway, particularly when you have to execute a high-speed overtaking move.
In terms of engine refinement, none of the three cars really impresses. While the Swift’s motor clatters at idle, the Sail’s engine noise is accompanied by a very audible whistle from the turbo after 2000rpm. And the Figo sounds gruff and gravelly at all engine speeds.
RIDE AND HANDLING
When it comes to ride quality, the Chevrolet Sail really impresses. Its suspension gobbles up potholes and large speedbreakers with ease. The thick tyres also add to the cushioning effect. The Sail trumps both the Swift and the Figo over uneven surfaces. Straight-line stability is also really good, though the other cars don’t disappoint on this count either, especially the Ford.
Although the Figo does deliver a very pliant ride, it doesn’t handle big bumps too well. The Figo also tends to bottom out when loaded with passengers. This isn’t an issue on the Swift, but the Maruti fails to iron out surface imperfections quite as well as the other two cars here. However, the Swift’s stiff suspension lends it agility around bends that makes it fun to drive on twisty roads. However, it’s the Figo that’s the most fun-to-drive car here. It’s got the better-weighted steering and, thanks to its good body control, it’s really entertaining to drive on twisting roads too.
In contrast, the Sail’s soft suspension makes it roll quite a bit in corners and isn’t a car you’d want to drive with much enthusiasm. Still, for day-to-day city driving, you’ll like the lightness of the Sail’s steering; it requires the least effort to turn.
Of course, hatches being targeted mostly at owner-drivers, front-seat ambience in this segment gets more emphasis than rear-seat comfort. And it is here that the Swift feels the most special. It’s got the most contemporary-looking dashboard, and the overall level of fit and finish is easily the best. The smartly bolstered front seats also offer great support. However, the visibility from the driver’s seat in the Swift is poor. The thick pillars on either side of the front and rear windscreen create some serious blind spots.
In contrast, the Figo’s large glass area gives a great view out and also makes the cabin look larger than it is. The new blue plastics on the top of the dashboard (a part of the update) are a nice added touch. In terms of design, the dashboard looks quite basic, but it is user friendly and the most solidly built. Sadly, the Figo’s front seat-base is a tad short and the height adjustment is quite odd too; it doesn’t raise the entire seat, but merely alters the angle of the base.
Curiously, driver’s seat height adjust is absent from the Sail altogether. The seats are quite comfortable, though, and come with nice bolstering for the lower back. What’s also nice is the feeling of space inside the cabin, helped by a dashboard that extends far forward towards the windscreen. However, the dash itself looks quite ordinary and is finished in rather hard plastics. Beige and tan tones do uplift the cabin ambience to an extent, but there are many bits that are unseemly in a car of this price. The digital tachometer beside the speedometer is hard to read, and the indicator stalks seem as if they’ve been lifted from the cheaper Spark. The rear seat is also not all that comfy, and the hard cushioning is largely to blame for this. But the Sail does offer a lot of space, one of the best in this class. There’s lots of legroom and the upward-sloping footrests under the front seats only add to the comfort.
In comparison, the Swift’s rear seat feels quite cramped. Legroom, headroom and width are all just about average, and the small rear windows and predominantly black interior colour theme make this portion of the Swift’s cabin feel smaller still. However, the Swift’s rear seats are very comfortable. It’s also the only car here to feature adjustable rear headrests.
The Figo has tiny, almost useless headrests for the rear seat which could lead to whiplash injuries in the event of a rear impact. But the Figo’s rear seat does offer the best combination of space and comfort. There’s decent legroom and the seating position is quite nice as well. On airport runs, you’ll also appreciate the Figo’s large boot, which will easily accommodate two suitcases and the low, wide-opening sill makes loading easy. The Sail’s boot is quite large too, and you also have the option to stow some luggage under the rear seats.
The Swift may have the most space for small items in the cabin (including bottle-holders in the rear doors) but its boot space is restricted. A high loading lip also means you’ll have to toss your bags into the marginal space available. All the cars here give you the option to fold down the rear seat, though the Sail goes one up by having a split rear seat.
BUYING AND OWNING
The Sail U-VA diesel is available in two trim levels, though you can have the base LS version with anti-lock brakes as well, which we’d recommend. Prices for the Sail diesel start at Rs 5.87 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) and extend up to Rs 6.62 lakh for the top-spec LT version. The Maruti Swift diesel range starts at Rs 5.57 lakh for the base LDi variant. Rs 5.99 lakh will buy you the fairly well equipped VDi model, but if you can extend your budget, we suggest you buy the fully-loaded ZDi trim that costs Rs 6.82 lakh, but also gets you loads of kit.
The Figo diesel is easily the most affordable car here. Even in its top-most Titanium trim (Rs 5.97 lakh), the Figo is a whole lot cheaper than its competitors. With four variants to choose from and prices starting from Rs 4.79 lakh, there’s truly a Figo for everyone.
Fuel economy-wise, it is the Swift that stretches each litre of diesel the furthest. You can expect the Swift diesel to deliver 14.6kpl in the city and a fantastic 19.5kpl on the highway. The Figo and Sail aren’t too far behind either. We got 14.1kpl and 13.1kpl in the city and 18.5kpl and 19kpl on the highway from the Ford and Chevy, respectively. As you may be aware, Maruti has the largest after-sales network in India, so finding service won’t be a problem wherever you may be in India.
There are, after all, 1,653 authorised service centres across the country! In comparison, Chevrolet has 272 service points and Ford’s got 187. However, Maruti is the least generous with its standard warranty. The Swift comes with a two-year/40,000km warranty, which is considerably less than the three-year/1,00,000 standard warranty on the Sail and the Figo’s two-year/1,00,000km warranty.
For the sake of comparison, we’ll talk about the fully loaded variants only. Modern-day essentials like air conditioning, power steering, steering tilt-adjustment, electrically adjustable rear-view mirrors and a rear windscreen wiper and a defogger are available on all three. However, the Sail doesn’t get steering-mounted audio controls, a recent addition to the Ford Figo in Titanium spec (albeit mounted on the steering column), and standard on the Swift ZDi. All cars get MP3 CD players with USB and aux-in ports. However, the Swift doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls or audio; the Sail and Figo both do. Where the Swift goes one up on the others is with its automatic climate control system; the others get a conventional air-conditioner.
In terms of safety equipment, all cars get dual front airbags and seatbelts for all three rear passengers. Sadly, the Figo’s small, in-built rear headrests provide no whiplash protection in the event of a rear impact.
The Sail, Figo and Swift come with anti-lock braking (ABS) systems. As the name suggests, ABS prevents the wheels from locking up under hard braking to enable better steering control in emergency situations. In addition to this, the Swift and Figo also get Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) that balances brake force between the front and rear wheels for best performance. Interestingly, you can choose from a long list of optional accessories to customise your Sail. Chevrolet offers a rear seat entertainment package, keyless start, a cooled box and reverse parking sensors among other options you can specify at the dealership. Similarly, Ford also sells a MapmyIndia satellite navigation system as an optional extra.
The Sail U-VA is a surprisingly good car. It’s got the most spacious cabin here and its fantastic ride quality really sets it apart. What’s also impressive is how Chevrolet has reworked the Fiat-sourced Multijet engine to deliver good performance both in the city and on the highway. But the Sail does have its failings. The interior doesn’t feel up to the mark, seat comfort is average and it also loses out to the Ford and the Suzuki in terms of performance. Moreover, it’s expensive.
On the other hand, there is the Swift, which brings an element of fun to this segment. It’s got strong performance and good handling, making it a great driver’s car. The Swift also appeals with its racy design, a smart and well-finished cabin, and tones of features. Excellent fuel economy and Maruti’s hassle-free ownership experience are the other benefits here. However, the Swift is not perfect. The back seat is cramped and the small boot also marks it down.
In this diesel hatch face-off, the Figo emerges the winner. It offers the best combination of practicality, comfort and appeal. It feels solidly put together, rides and handles well, and is well equipped too. The engine is ideal for city use, being responsive and effortless in traffic. And of course, the icing on the cake is its much cheaper price tag. Given a mix of all these different advantages, we feel this is the best option you have when it comes to this class of car.