Am I fated to attend all the Beat launches? Not that I'm complaining, since at the very least I get to listen to the usually excellent band Groove Adda I grooved to at the petrol launch and listened to again this time around. Then there is the car itself. At launch, the Chevrolet Beat presented itself as a cheerful, compact city car that wrapped up a lot of promise in a cheerful, bold styling package. What GMI announced then was that once their engine facility in Talegaon near Pune was up and running, it would start producing an India-specific diesel engine for the Beat, a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit.
Well, the engine and the car bearing it are here. The engine is called the XSDE Smartech in usual manufacturer marketing speak and is loaded with the usual frugality and emissions technologies. It is a wee common-rail diesel that claims the highest specific outputs in its class on both torque and power. Just so you know, this engine is based on the SDE four-cylinder engine that won awards in 2005 - and is another name for the Fiat JTD engine, which is an excellent engine, obviously. And if you remember, GM was part of the development of this engine in partnership with Fiat over ten years ago. In the current form, the engine development is being credited to GM Powertrain Europe as well as GM's Indian technology centre. In the process of crafting this Beat, GM have created their first diesel-powered hatchback in history and launched India's smallest (and consequently least powerful) common-rail diesel passenger car motor. In full and final form, the car produces 58.5PS at 4000 rpm and 150Nm at 1750 rpm, decent numbers. Claimed economy is 24 kmpl (ARAI), which is excellent, because it brings up the realistic prospect of something like 15-16kmpl in actual city driving.
On the road, the whole package is pretty focused. On economy and on city driving. Driving alone below 3000rpm, engine noise in the cabin is low and the torque available on demand is good, which means driving is fairly gearshift-free and easy on the throttle foot as well as on the driver attached to it. On the other hand, our test car loaded with four respectably sized gents and their belongings felt a bit on the slow side when trying to overtake other vehicles doing 70-80kmph. This isn't necessarily a negative because first of all, all journalists seem to expect shattering acceleration from everything, and the car was fully loaded in every respect of the world. That said, we will be keeping a close eye on the roll-on figures at road test time.
To further boost economy - critical in the segment - GMI are collectively calling a suite of aids Intellidrive, which includes variable electric power steering, a sort of anti-stall that regulates the clutch and torque when you roll off and a system that monitors coolant temperature and oil pressure and is able to adjust power and torque output so as to minimise damage to the engine and the clutch. The highway stint brought home the nature of the engine's power delivery which clearly suggests a small, frugal diesel built to run in the city. And this I think it will probably do rather well. The electric power steering assistance, for instance, is rather well tuned, offering low effort without stepping into the over-servoed zone where cars like Hyundai's new Verna have been found. It's easy to punt the Beat through traffic and equally easy to pilot it on the highway at speed.
As of now, the Beat doesn't really have a direct rival in the compact diesel hatchback segment as it were. I guess the nearest rival would perhaps be the base Ford Figo, which is larger, more spacious, more powerful and probably more expensive as well. GMI hope to see as many 8-9000 units per month in the initial phase in terms of sales, very good numbers. A big factor in this will be the price, which is yet to be announced. We understand at GMI would like to have the Beat diesel on the road at Rs 4.5 lakh, which sets up a target price of roughly Rs 4 lakh ex-showroom, or Rs 35-40000 more than the petrol Beat, which is a good, effective price point for the car. GMI are also going ahead and offering the same 3 year, 100,000km warranty for the diesel engine. At this price point, the Beat, as GMI promised, will be the cheapest diesel passenger car you can purchase in the country and I don't need to tell you that this in itself is a huge sales proposition.