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Chevrolet Beat Diesel review - Chevy's ‘Beat'er avatar

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Aug 17, 2011
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Grocery prices are up, interest rates are up, weekly fuel price hikes cease to surprise you and your monthly expense statement plotted on a graph looks like the power delivery curve of a F1 car.

So, what will you lay your hands on for saving a few paise everyday? Invariably, most heads of family will first attempt to prune the cost of their daily commute. And, since the addiction to personal mobility is difficult to give up, the only option is to try and choose the most practical option that will bring down per kilometre costs.

The increase in popularity for diesel cars is a trend that will only get pronounced in given this kind of inflationary scenario and as long as the Government dilly-dallies with the possibility of imposing a special levy on cars that run on the fuel. Now that Jairam is out, everyone pro-diesel will probably be heaving a sigh of relief.

The big hope for paise-pinching heads of family (which basically includes every small car buyer) is to get an easy-to-drive and easy-to-maintain, small-engined diesel small car. Coming up with a small engine is the tough part in that package. There are a number of car makers whose small diesel engines are in various stages of development.

Good things come in small packages

The first to roll out a one-litre diesel engine in its car will be GM India, when later this month it launches the Chevrolet Beat Diesel – a hatch that will neatly fit that frugal diesel need amongst buyers.

What you get in the new Beat Diesel is essentially the same car with some minor trim changes and just a discreet TCDi badging at the rear that gives away its fuel choice and engine. Shoehorned in the tight, narrow space under the bonnet is the new one-litre diesel burner that GM calls the 1.0 XSDE Smartech engine.

The 996cc, three-cylinder engine has been developed from GM's SDE 4-cylinder version that won the International Engine of the Year 2005 award. The three-cylinder version has been developed specially for India by GM Technical Centre India and GM Power-train Europe. The engine has been loaded with a quite a few new technologies to squeeze every bit of efficiency from it. One of the results of that entire tech being bolted on is an amazing level refinement and driveability that the new engine offers in this compact size segment.

Crank the engine and there is none of the clatter that even some of the more modern common rail diesel engines have. The Beat's is a tall-boy, cab-forward design and the thin rectangular patch of space available under the hood seems rather tight for a diesel engine. But, the entire package including a fixed geometry turbocharger (FGT) has been packed neatly into the bay.

The FGT, which features a vacuum operated waste gate, ensures a simple effective way of offering additional power delivery for this new DOHC, 12-valve diesel engine. Being the first such in its category, the performance numbers of the 1.0 XSDE Smartech can't be termed as a new benchmark, but they are quite impressive. Generating a peak torque of about 160.3 Nm and a peak power of 62.5 PS, the new engine doesn't look so diminutive when you look at these numbers. But, does the new engine feel as impressive on the road.

Under the Goan sun

I drove the new Beat Diesel a couple of weeks ago in Goa, enjoying the duel between the sun and clouds, the classic Goan-style weather. One thing is for sure, there are a lot of refinement benefits that the new engine has derived from the various tech bits it has been endowed with.

The electrically controlled throttle body that reduces the engine shut-off shake, the BOSCH common rail injection that operates at a high 1,600 bar injection pressure, the hydraulic valve lash adjusters, the light weight pistons with graphite coated skirts, the torsional vibration dampers and balancer gears in the crankshaft assembly and the optimised cylinder block are all contributors to the high refinement levels of the new engine.

For an engine this small and a three-cylinder unit at that, the new Beat diesel is fairly quiet and refined. Inside the cabin, the engine noise and vibration has been fairly well contained, though under hard acceleration the noise level does start to get a bit intrusive. Vibration at the steering wheel or door panels is negligible and during relaxed cruising it is almost indistinguishable from its petrol sibling.

But, when it comes to sheer acceleration, despite the new engine's high torque availability at low engine rpm levels and despite the other tech features like the electronic clutch switch and the plastic intake manifold that are meant to optimise torque delivery, the new Beat diesel tends to suffer on occasion, especially when there is a need to pull away quickly.

The issue seems to be with the way the engine has been designed to perform. Almost all the torque is loaded in to the low rpm range and so it starts to taper-off rapidly past the 3,000 rpm level. The amount of power available seems to follow a similar curve. It is also possible that some of the blame should rest with the gear ratios that have been chosen.

For example, a taller second gear could have offset some of the problem I faced particularly during overtaking manoeuvres, where I actually had to shift up into the third halfway through the overtake move to tap into more power. Essentially, a bit more mid-range torque availability will give the Beat diesel more grunt to tackle quick overtakes and steep hill climbs with greater ease.

On the contrary, like it did with panache inside crowded streets of Goa, the Beat diesel will likely be a boon when driven within city limits. There is so much low-end torque, you'll barely need to shift gears in stop and go traffic. The same five-speed gearbox has been carried forward from the petrol. Though there is not much of a chance that you'll get anywhere close to the claimed 24 kmpl as fuel efficiency, you will certainly get at least a 20 per cent hike in mileage from the Beat diesel compared to similar sized petrols.

The new Beat diesel has been tested extensively abroad and in various conditions in India. It shows in the suspension tuning, which features what GM engineers call a gas charged rebound suspension. Accommodating the slightly higher weight of the engine and soaking up speed breakers and potholes effectively, the suspension should delight back benchers and the driver alike.

The new Beat diesel will be available in three variants and is likely to be priced between Rs 4-5 lakh.

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

Published on July 20, 2011
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