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Dancing to the diesel beat

Dancing to the diesel beat
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First Published: Tue, Jun 21 2011. 08 54 PM IST

Beat’s variant: The diesel version has a new EPS system.
Beat’s variant: The diesel version has a new EPS system.
Updated: Tue, Jun 21 2011. 08 54 PM IST
Of late we have seen a rush towards diesel cars in our market. The growing gap in the price of petrol and diesel is the chief cause, followed by the higher mileage and driving pleasure that some of the diesel variants offer over their petrol counterparts. In the small car space the shift has naturally been more apparent. So cars such as the Ford Figo and the Suzuki Swift have ridden to big volumes on the back of their diesel avatars.
Enter the Chevrolet Beat, which will be India’s smallest diesel car when it launches in the second half of July. Given the market trend I have just pointed out, General Motors (GM) will expect big numbers from this one.
Beat’s variant: The diesel version has a new EPS system.
GM and Fiat had jointly developed a mass market version of Fiat’s 1.3-litre multijet diesel power train in 2002. The engine was subsequently shared with Suzuki—which had a global alliance with GM at the time, and with Tata—which is Fiat’s alliance partner too. GM and Fiat broke their alliance in 2005, but the technology-sharing on this one power train continued. So today you find the same engine being used by Opel and Chevrolet models in Europe, and in India by the diesel variants of the following cars: Maruti Suzuki Swift, Ritz, Swift Dzire, SX4, Fiat Grande Punto, Linea, Tata Indigo Manza and Indica Vista.
But here comes the twist. Engineers at GM’s European development centre have knocked off one cylinder from that engine and created an all-new 1-litre, three-cylinder version, which they now like to call the 1.0 SDE Smartech. At 57 bhp, its power output may seem meagre, but the 150 Nm of torque you get is certainly healthy and, in fact, is the highest torque per litre in its class now.
The car is zippy and fun. The gear shifts are very smooth, courtesy a new five-speed gearbox in the Beat diesel. The car also has a new electric power steering (EPS) that’s a first in this segment from GM. The petrol Beat gets the EPS only later, and unlike other EPS systems already available in the segment, I found this one to be more precise. The car also has effective peddle mapping, which means the throttle response from the accelerator peddle is instant and even adapts to your driving habits.
But what impressed me a lot was the overall ride feel. The suspension is stiff and yet not rigid, which means you get a cushioned feel over bad roads, all without being too soft—so as to keep driving dynamics in the satisfactory zone. Unlike most other cars in this space, which primarily aim to be sporty, GM decided to favour ride comfort over handling for the diesel Beat. I believe this was a good move, given Indian conditions and Indian user preferences—which means even the backseat drivers will be happy over potholes and bumps.
The car’s looks are identical to the current petrol Beat except for a TCDi (turbocharged common-rail direct fuel injection) badge at the rear to indicate it’s a diesel. In fact, GM has left the car unchanged inside too. Even the variants will be the same in terms of the trim level. This is again a positive because usually one finds that the diesel versions score a bit low on specifications when it comes to interior trim or equipment levels to keep the price tags of diesel and petrol closer. Given that this diesel engine is a three-cylinder and is also being made at GM’s power train facility in India, I don’t think prices will be astronomical. The expected range is Rs 4.5-5.5 lakh.
GM has tweaked the car’s in-dash music system to offer better sound output and has also provided a full-sized USP interface—unlike the earlier system, which only had a micro-USB interface to plug in your MP3 player. The car’s cabin is roomy, yet seems cramped because the
colours are dark and dull, and a relatively smaller rear window lets in less light. Having said that, material quality is great, and the sense of space once you do get in is pretty good.
So GM is all set to dance to a new diesel Beat. I reckon this engine will be the little gem for GM, so I expect variations of it as well (as the original 1.3-litre unit) to show up in other GM cars starting next year, when the Sail sedan and hatch arrive sporting a diesel option. The car’s biggest rival will be the Ford Figo. The Figo scores on space and big-car feel, as well as good mileage. The Beat diesel will now likely better that mileage and offer superior ride comfort. So in my view, both will hold their own, with a different proposition being offered to consumers. Once again, it is the market and buyer that will benefit, so I am all for it.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at roadrunner@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Jun 21 2011. 08 54 PM IST