Of the four cars here, what should you go for – size, space and big-car feel on one hand, or sheer ability on the other?
Of the four cars here, what should you go for – size, space and big-car feel on one hand, or sheer ability on the other?

Diesel Sedans: Linea Classic vs Chevrolet Sail vs Maruti Dzire vs Honda Amaze

30th Jan 2014 12:30 pm

Of the four cars here, what should you go for – size, space and big-car feel on one hand, or sheer ability on the other?

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The Linea has always been more of a Honda City or Hyundai Verna competitor, but Fiat recently reworked its model range, chopping some equipment, re-pricing and re-branding the base models as Linea ‘Classics’. This has allowed its price to creep into the popular budget saloon segment. But by skimping on equipment, has the Linea Classic become a bit too stripped down, or will the big-car, small-price advantage win Fiat more customers?

The other hurdle Fiat has to overcome is the entry saloon segment rivals - the Honda Amaze and Maruti Dzire - both proven winners, and their combination of value for money and all-round performance make them hard to beat. Like the Linea Classic, the Sail is bigger than the Dzire and the Amaze, but Chevrolet has still managed to price it less than them. Which one of these accomplished entry-level saloons will come out on top?

The Linea, Sail and Dzire share the same basic 1.3-litre turbo-diesel engine, though different tuning means the way they behave on the road is very different. The Sail has a power rating of 77bhp, while the Swift and Linea engines are good for 74 and 75bhp, respectively (the Fiat has been detuned from the standard Linea, which produces 89bhp).

While none of these three cars feels particularly peppy at low speeds, the Linea, with its shorter gear ratios, has adequate power and feels quite eager in the city. But, the shorter gearing also makes the engine work harder at higher speeds. However, so often, the Linea feels strained and the diesel lacks sufficient grunt for outright speed. In fact, the motor feels strained when you try and drive fast. It’ll hit 100kph in 18.92sec, a full second slower than the regular 89bhp Linea diesel. Continued..

The Sail, in comparison, has smoother and more immediate power delivery. There's a slight delay till around the 2,000rpm mark, after which, the Sail pulls forward rather well. This manner of power delivery also allows the Sail to be quicker than the Dzire and the Linea during overtaking manoeuvres, and overall performance is rather good.

In comparison to the Sail, the Maruti has more throttle lag or delay. Cross this initial hesitation and 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, it is the Swift that’s the more rewarding car to drive. The engine builds revs rather quickly and, correspondingly, helps the Swift deliver the second quickest dash from 0-100kph. In fact, the Swift’s diesel engine is almost petrol-like in the way it revs all the way to 5,000rpm and given enough space, you may even find yourself holding onto each gear longer than needed, just for the fun of it.

On the contrary, the Amaze’s 98.6bhp, 1.5-litre diesel engine is at its best in traffic. That’s got a lot to do with this motor’s ready responses and instant delivery of power, but revving it more doesn’t give you as much power as you would expect. It’s also got the most progressive clutch of this trio and its gearbox has a nice mechanical feel to it.

In city confines, you’ll be happiest driving the Amaze. The Honda is happy to amble around in third gear, even at speeds as low as 30-40kph, and tap the accelerator and it gathers speed quite rapidly. This is in total contrast to the other three cars here, which need you to go to a lower gear in the same circumstances. Even on the highway, the Amaze pulls well, and there is more than enough grunt to execute a high-speed overtaking move.

In terms of engine refinement, the Dzire is by far the most refined in this group and even its overall sound insulation is the best. The Amaze is the least refined and sounds gruff and gravelly at all engine speeds. Continued..

An area where the Linea simply excels is ride and handling. The tall springs and high-quality shock absorbers result in a very soft ride. Almost no shocks filter in from the road and even the largest bumps are dealt with noiselessly. Even when you up the speed, the Linea still rides flat, only pitching a bit at times. Even though the steering is a tad too light, it’s direct and delivers decent feel. And despite its lowered power output, the Classic is still loads of fun.

The Sail has a slightly stiff edge to its ride at low speeds, but it’s not uncomfortable; it’s just that you can feel everything the tyres are going over. The ride becomes much more pliant as you go faster, but the car does tend to get unsettled over bigger bumps. It’s not the most fun to drive either – the steering isn’t the most consistent and, at high speeds, the car doesn’t feel as planted as we’d have liked.

Both the Amaze and the Dzire, though not as good as the Fiat, have much better ride qualities than the Chevrolet. Around town, the Amaze’s suspension is quiet and absorbent and there’s not much of the sharp vertical movement you get in the Sail. The suspension handles bumps and craters with aplomb and passengers sit in good comfort. However, the poor overall sound insulation means that quite a bit of road and tyre noise enters the cabin.

The Dzire has no such problems. It’s clear from the start that it’s a quieter, more refined car. In fact, the Dzire’s low-speed ride is even better than the Honda’s, partly because it gets bigger 15-inch wheels (the Honda uses 14-inchers) and partly because Maruti has tuned the Dzire’s rear suspension for the comfort that saloon car owners expect. As a result, you get a nicely pliant ride at low speeds with some pitching and movement as you go faster. The Amaze’s stiffer suspension setup gives it the slight edge in stability as the speeds rise, though. Agility is very good and it surprises you with how comfortable it is around corners. In the hectic traffic of the city, it’s the Amaze’s lighter, more measured controls that make it the easiest to drive as well. Continued..

Apart from providing sufficient interior space, cabin quality and ambience are also high priorities for these cars. And it is here that the Dzire 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. Where the Swift loses points is on visibility from the driver’s seat. The thick pillars on either side of the front and rear windscreen mean you often have serious blind spots to deal with. In comparison to the others, the Dzire’s rear-seat feels quite cramped. Legroom, headroom and width are all just about average, and the small rear windows make this portion of the Swift’s cabin feel smaller still. Leave the space aspect aside, though, and it is the Maruti that has a very comfy rear seat.

It’s also the only car, other than the Linea, to feature adjustable rear headrests, important for prevention of whiplash injury. The Linea has the toughest build, and the nice, thunky door shut is proof of that. The dash design still looks good and has lot of Italian flair, but it must be said that fit and finish are not as good as in the Maruti. The Linea’s rear seats, however, are very comfy, with a high seating position, lots of thigh support (thanks to a long squab), and a perfectly angled backrest. That said, legroom isn’t that impressive and headroom is tight too.

The Amaze’s large glass area gives a great view out and also makes the cabin look larger than it is. In terms of design, the dashboard looks quite spartan, but it is user-friendly, uses the least space and is solidly built. The Amaze’s front seat is good and there is lots of space and support. The Amaze uses tiny, almost useless headrests for the rear seat; an oversight. This could lead to whiplash injuries in the event of a rear impact. The seat itself does offer the best combination of space and comfort, though. There’s good legroom and the seating position is quite nice.

The Sail’s front seats offer decent comfort and come with nice bolstering for the lower back. What’s also nice is the feeling of space inside the cabin, helped in no small part 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 lift the cabin ambience to an extent, but there are many bits that seem out of place in a car of this price. The digital tachometer beside the speedometer is hard to read, and the indicator stalks feel cheap. The rear seat is also not all that comfy, and the hard cushioning is largely to blame for this. But if you are looking for sheer space, then the Sail has it in spades. There’s lots of legroom and the upward-sloping footrests under the front seats only add to the comfort. Continued..

On airport runs, you’ll like the Amaze’s large boot, which will easily accommodate two suitcases. Its low, wide-opening sill also makes loading your luggage easy. The Linea and Sail have boots that are quite large too. The Dzire may have the most space for small items in the cabin but its boot space is restricted. A high loading lip also means you’ll have to toss your bags into the marginal space available.

The Fiat Linea Classic is the least equipped here. The diesel classic comes only in two trims (Classic and Classic Plus). The base Classic is minimalist in terms of equipment and we recommend going for the higher Classic Plus variant. In the Classic Plus variant, you get features like ABS, central locking, rear defogger, wheel covers, remote tailgate opening and CD/MP3 player, which is missing on the lower Classic variant.

Out of the four, the Maruti Dzire, in its top-of-the-line ZDi trim, is the best equipped. Inside, you will find a dual-DIN CD player that supports USB and aux inputs, and plays through six speakers. This top-end variant also has steering-mounted audio controls, but Bluetooth connectivity is absent across the range. The Dzire ZDi is also the only one that features climate control. In terms of safety, it gets dual front airbags and ABS with EBD, which is absent on lower Dzire variants. On the outside, the Dzire ZDi features 15-inch alloy wheels (the largest here), while lower variants have 14-inch pressed steel rims. Continued..

The Honda Amaze VX diesel gets similar levels of equipment to the Dzire ZDi, minus the climate control and CD player, but it does have electrically folding rear-view mirrors, which are absent on the other two cars. It also features a dual-DIN music system with steering-mounted controls on the VX trim. As for safety, only the VX gets dual front airbags, while ABS with EBD and keyless entry are present on both the VX and S variants. Also, strangely, the VX trim gets a more powerful double horn instead of the single horn present on the other variants of the Amaze.

The Chevrolet Sail diesel LT ABS feels the worst equipped, here with the notable absence of climate control and steering-mounted audio controls. But, it is the only one here whose audio player features Bluetooth connectivity. In terms of safety, the top-spec LT ABS car gets dual front airbags and (as the name suggests) ABS, while the LS trim one step below is equipped with a single, driver-side airbag and ABS as an optional extra.

The Chevy, Maruti and Honda, in their top trims, feature keyless entry as well as all four power windows. While the Amaze and the Dzire have the power window switches (all four) mounted on the driver’s door, the Sail has them centrally placed in front of the gear lever, which we found inconvenient.

The Linea Classic Plus, priced at Rs 7.50 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), is the cheapest car here. But the lack of equipment is the biggest concern for the Fiat. In a view to reduce the price, Fiat has skimped on a lot of equipment, omitting some key features like airbags, steering-mounted controls, rear power windows, alloy wheels and chrome touches, among other things.

Chevrolet sells the Sail diesel saloon in two trims, though you can have the base LS version with ABS as well, which is something we’d recommend. Prices for the Sail diesel start at Rs 6.40 lakh and extend up to Rs 7.65 lakh for the top-spec LT version. The Maruti Swift Dzire diesel range starts at Rs 5.99 lakh for the base LDi variant. Rs 6.75 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 7.58 lakh, but also gets you loads of kit. Continued..

The Amaze is the most expensive car here, but not by that much. With four variants to choose from and prices starting from Rs 6.21 lakh, the Amaze is well priced.

Fuel economy-wise, it is the Amaze that stretches each litre of diesel the furthest. You can expect it to deliver 15.2kpl in the city and a fantastic 20.8kpl on the highway. The Swift and Sail aren’t too far behind either. We got 14.6kpl and 19.8kpl in the city and 12.9kpl and 18.7kpl on the highway from the Maruti and Chevy, respectively. The Linea Classic is the least fuel efficient in this group and this is also down to the Fiat’s heavy 1230kg kerb weight.

The Sail is quite a competent car by itself. It’s bigger than the Amaze and Dzire, it looks like a proper saloon and has some essential equipment as well. But, frankly, it struggles to keep up with the others. It isn’t as comfortable and the ride and handling aren’t as good. But the biggest disappointment lies with the way the Sail simply feels like it has some cheaply built plastics.

The Linea is a solid package. It’s the cheapest here, has a big-car feel, the best ride and handling, has large and comfortable seats and feels the most robust and solidly built. But in reducing the price, Fiat has skimped on some essential equipment. Even the engine offers the least performance and is not that refined either.

The Dzire, on the other hand, feels more upmarket. It’s got the best looking interiors, fantastic front seats, a good low-speed ride and plenty of equipment. But the rear seats are quite cramped and the boot is tiny, and in this regard, it is closer to a hatchback than a saloon.

The Amaze is the winner of this test simply because it is the most practical car here. It’s got reasonably good interiors, a punchy powerful engine and a great balance between a comfy ride and entertaining handling. Even though the cabin may not have the premium feel of the Dzire and the engine is noisy.

The fact that Honda has offered more performance, has squeezed out so much passenger space, especially at the rear, and given it properly comfortable seats and a usefully big boot only adds to its practical nature.

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