Opel Corsa Sail 1 6 vs Fiat Palio 1 6 GTX - The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire was brooding for some time. The rest of the volume players in the Indian automotive galaxy were running away with the numbers and market share. It was time to hit back, with a specially developed weapon...

If you’re familiar with the Star Wars saga, then the metaphor would immediately strike you. The Empire here is obviously General Motors, and the rest of the rebels are players like Hyundai, Tata Engineering, Maruti Suzuki and Fiat (the last two, to make the plot more dramatic, have been won over by the General anyway). With the others running away with volumes, especially in the burgeoning B-segment, the Empire decided to do something about it. 

In the movie, it was the Death Star. In real life, it’s the Opel Corsa Sail 1.6. And taking on the Sail single-handedly – for the moment – is the Fiat Palio 1.6 GTX. The story begins.It’s hard to say which looks better. It depends on what you like – the chubby, well rounded and cute looks of the Sail or the flashy yet stylish lines of the Palio. Much of the Sail is familiar to us – until the C-pillar it is virtually identical to the Corsa and the Swing – but somehow with a hatchback body style, the Sail looks that much more easy-going and friendly. And the metallic green our test car came wearing was a much better shade that what’s available on the Palio, for instance. And like in the Palio in GTX trim, the Sail was shod with optional larger spec tyres and five-spoke alloys. The standard tyre size in the Sail is 175/70, 13” radials, and the ones here were Bridgestone S322s, 175/65 14-inchers – which did a nice job of filling those wheel arches. 

Inside, the Sail gets a few extra premium bits, like the Multi Information Display – an LED strip that runs above the central console to give you helpful information like how late you are for your appointment, how hot it will be if you get out of the car and what radio station is playing those vomit-inducing remix numbers. And of course there’s the brushed aluminium effect on the instrument nacelle and the central console for a premium feel. The upholstery too is new to the Sail, vis-à-vis the Swing and Corsa. The Palio’s however decidedly sporty inside,especially with the thin, red needles on the instrument display and the brushed aluminium look all around. Between the two, the quality of the materials used inside is better in the Sail, and it also seems well put together. And the build quality of the Opel is indeed better, it looks like it will hold its value for a long time to come.

Like its siblings, the Sail will also have the two engine options; the 88 bhp 1.4, and this, the 1.6 – displacing 1598 CC, the inline four develops 91 bhp at 5600 revs and 12.6 kgm at 3200 rpm. Compare this to the Palio 1.6’s motor – the 16 valve 1596 CC produces all of 100 bhp at 5500 revs and 14 kgm of torque at 4250 rpm. The Sail’s motor is more relaxed and a little stingy with the horses, while the Palio’s engine produces almost ten per cent more power at about the same revs. Which goes well the GTX’ sporty image indeed.

And even the performance proves it. The Sail takes all of 5.65 seconds to touch the 60 kph mark from standstill, and the GTX does the same thing in 4.5 seconds. The century mark comes up in 14.45 seconds in the Sail, while the Palio dismisses it off in an impressive 11.87 seconds. Yes, the Palio is substantially quicker than the Sail, and the only place the Opel catches up with the Fiat is in the top speed run, at 170 kph.The numbers just substantiate what you feel while driving both cars anyway. What the Palio does effortlessly, the Sail tries hard. You really have to hoist that tacho needle to the higher limits to get the Sail to move the way you want it to. The engine is not as free-revving and that takes a little pleasure away from the drive. The gearing of the Palio’s five-speed box is also tall, allowing you to pull through in each gear,
compared to the Sail’s five-speed cog box. And hampering the process is a wheel arch that intrudes with your right foot, especially when you’re wearing boots. It would help if GM India can do something about pedal placement.

Perhaps the manufacturer has tuned the engine to offer better fuel efficiency, which is why performance enthusiasts will find the Sail a little disappointing. It’s the classic Indian market conundrum – should we engineer performance or obtain fuel efficiency? – a difficult balance to achieve indeed. It looks like GM has opted for the latter, and those who had dismissed off Opels as being thirsty for unleaded will be mighty pleased with the Sail’s fuel consumption average of about 11 kpl in the city, with the airconditioning on. Remember, it’s a 1.6 we’re talking about, and not the entry level 1.4. The Palio, on the other hand, averages 9 kpl.

Both cars trace their ancestry to Europe, and that shows in their exemplary ride and handling proficiency. Again, like looks being subjective, it’s the same with ride. The Palio, in keeping with its sporty image, is stiffly sprung and many Indian bottoms would find it wee hard. The Sail, on the other hand, provides a great ride without being spongy. It’s comfortable and hard to fault, but the offshoot is that it exhibits a little body roll – not an issue actually. When it comes to handling, both cars are evenly matched. Even if they are hatchbacks, they show maturity when it comes to tackling curves – a definite evolution, considering the other B-segment fare that’s on offer in our country. You can attack corners at high speeds and exit without letting go the throttle. Confidence inspiring.

The Palio 1.6 GTX is priced at Rs 5,16,000, while the Sail 1.6 is pegged at a compelling Rs 4,65,000. Incidentally, the 1.4 Sail’s at Rs 4,39,000 – all prices ex-showroom Delhi.For that money, you get a proven automobile that offers decent performance and fuel economy, durable build quality and great comfort. Except for the Palio’s performance and the Sail’s fuel efficiency, both cars are evenly matched. If that half a lakh rupee difference does not pinch you, go for the Palio 1.6. But if you are upgrading to the B-segment, or are looking for a great family car, the Sail makes for a compelling buy. The story continues.