Taking the helm of the Chevrolet Sail

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BACK for a second model year in the Philippine market, the Sail is Chevrolet’s answer to entry-level sedan stalwarts like the Toyota Vios and Mitsubishi Mirage G4, and while a customer’s ultimate choice in the crowded category may come down to a matter of taste, the offering from the American automaker proves itself to be a worthy option.

Sporty looks
The Sail’s good looks are probably its best feature, with a more rugged, sporty exterior than most of its competitors; one of our colleagues here at Fast Times described the Sail as “a bit more manly” than either the Vios or the Mirage. The car is also noticeably taller than its contemporaries, with a distinct thick-bodied shape. The bowtie brand’s typical two-section grill is framed by swept headlamps and a front bumper cover featuring a bit of a chin spoiler; round foglamps, which would otherwise look out of place if not for the attractive recessed mounting.

At the rear, wrap-around taillights and a molded lip spoiler on the trunk lid add to the sporty look, which is capped off in the top of the line LTZ model with stylish 16-inch wheels in a gunmetal finish.

Interior comfort
In terms of interior space, the Sail is a comfortable ride for four adults, fitted out in tasteful gray and black. Storage space abounds; in addition to the cavernous trunk (Chevy says it has 366 liters of space), we counted 16 separate storage compartments scattered about in the cabin.

The LTZ model also has a power moonroof with a manual sliding interior cover, an uncommon feature in cars of this class.


Also available in the top-end model is a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system, an Android-driven unit that contains built-in apps such as Waze, Spotify and Google Play Store. The system also has what are becoming standard features of auto touchscreens, such as a navigation system, phone-mirroring, voice recognition, and Bluetooth audio, as well as serving as the monitor for the rear camera that automatically engages when the car is put in reverse.

In addition to the touchscreen system, driver information is available in a digital display between the large dash gauges, with basic controls for the system – including the stereo and phone interface – mounted on the sporty three-spoke steering wheel. Driver comfort is enhanced by a tilt steering column and four-way adjustable seat.

Safety features are fairly standard fare: anti-lock braking system, driver and passenger airbags, speed-sensitive door locks, and automatic belt retractors for front and rear passengers. An anti-theft alarm system is also standard on all three Sail variants.

Performance
As an entry-level vehicle, the Sail is fairly conventional in its mechanical design, but is a stable performer on the road. Offered in three variants – the 1.5-liter LTZ with four-speed automatic (equipped with an active select Sport mode for pseudo-manual control), the similarly equipped LT model, and the 1.3-liter LT fitted with a five-speed manual transmission. The larger engine is a slightly more advanced DVVT (dynamic variable valve timing) package – the computer assist makes for greater engine efficiency when mated to an automatic transmission – and is rated at 107 horsepower and 141 Newton-meters of torque. The smaller 1.3-liter VVT engine is only slightly less powerful with a rating of 98 hp and 127 Nm.

On the road, the Sail is easy to manage and did not present any unpleasant surprises in performance. In automatic mode, shifts are smooth, and the front-wheel drive package provides firm control. Using the manual sport mode was more enjoyable but not necessarily more efficient, which is not surprising; computer-assisted control systems in most cars outperform the average human driver. Somewhat oddly, the Sail seemed to perform at its best in manual mode if it was short-shifted, which might be a function of its being programmed to provide the best balance between efficiency and performance.

If there is anything that could be improved in terms of driving performance, the Sail’s springy front suspension might be something Chevy should take a look at. While the loose front end combined with a solid rear axle and tighter rear suspension is a good setup for a front-wheel drive car, there was the occasional speed bump or pothole the front wheels seemed to take a little harder than was comfortable.

And while the Sail is an overall sound package, there are a few improvements that could be made. For a tall driver, the placement of the gauges – or the steering wheel – puts the wheel in the way of the main instruments, obliging the driver to either bob his head or move the tilting column to a different position for a clear view. Likewise, the location of all the power window switches at the bottom of the central dash section is, if not actually inconvenient, a little counterintuitive. The USB port (a must-have feature for the author, whose first act in any new car is to plug in a thumb drive with his own music) is also located under the center panel below the infotainment system, a hard-to-reach location.

And finally, one item we feel compelled to point out for safety reasons is the lack of an interrupter switch on the power moonroof that would stop the moving panel if it’s obstructed. Without it, there is some risk that inattentive fingers or hands could get caught. Makes us wonder why the “anti-clip” function seems lacking in many vehicle models today.

Even so, none of these little flaws are deal-breakers by any means. The Chevy Sail is priced slightly lower than its Vios and Mirage competitors, performs as well as those models or even better, and is by far the best-looking choice; those in the market for a small sedan may be doing themselves a disservice if they overlook the Sail.

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