Battle of the Execs

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SummaryFirst introduced globally in 1966, into its eleventh generation now, produced in 15-odd countries, the best-selling nameplate in history with close to 39 million units sold in over 140 countries till date—this car is a hero.

Launched last year, Hyundai’s Neo Fluidic Elantra has seen sales rise in an otherwise shrinking executive segment, and has eaten into the sales of market leader Toyota Corolla Altis. We find out how good the new Elantra is as compared to the Corolla

First introduced globally in 1966, into its eleventh generation now, produced in 15-odd countries, the best-selling nameplate in history with close to 39 million units sold in over 140 countries till date—this car is a hero. And, India is no exception. Introduced in India in 2003, the Toyota Corolla, in a way, not only created the executive segment, but has also led it from the front.

First introduced globally in 1990, into its fifth generation now, saw few highs and many lows, adopted Hyundai’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ styling theme and relaunched as the Neo Fluidic Elantra in 2010, became the 2012 North American car of the year, has seen only highs since then—this car isn’t less either. The Elantra entered India in 2004 but was discontinued in 2007 due to low demand, then it re-entered in August 2012 and has seen rising sales in an otherwise shrinking executive segment.

Last year’s sales data shows us that while 4,214 Corollas were sold in the April-December 2012-13 period (down from 6,206 in the same period a year ago), as many as 3,052 Elantras were bought by Indians in the much shorter August-December period.

So, how good is the new Elantra as compared to the market leader, the Corolla?

First impression

What has massively worked for the new Elantra is the fluidic sculpture styling theme—also seen on the Eon, the new Verna and the new Sonata—which essentially makes the buyer go: “I wanna buy it for the way it looks!” In fact, the design is so radical that the car, though six months into India, still makes people turn their heads wherever it goes. Although from the front it looks a bit like Verna, the stance changes once you look at it from the side, with the coupé-like sloping roofline among its finest features. The tail lamps stretch a lot into the side body and look quite good.

The Corolla, on the other hand, has traditional design lines that only a decreasing number of people find classy or attractive. The large number of Corollas on Indian roads means that it is rarely looked at twice. (We, in India, still get the tenth generation Corolla Altis). Where the Corolla does score over the Elantra is build quality—it feels a lot more solidly put together.

Inside

The flowing lines of the Elantra seep into its interior too. The dashboard itself is a work of art—the centre console is quite broad at the top, narrows towards the air vents and widens again as it wraps itself around the gear lever—as is the steering column, with almost all the necessary controls on the wheel. You also get a refrigerated glovebox. The quality of materials is among the best in class. The space inside is good and the cabin is a comfortable place to be in. A unique feature the car gets is ventilated front seats—a segment first.

The insides of the Corolla, although not dull, don’t make you feel excited either. Though the material used is very good, you don’t have many options by way of controls. The centre console is quite basic, as is the steering column. But what you do get is a massive amount of space—it’s probably got the finest rear seat in the segment, as is the knee and headroom all around. The interiors are typically Toyota—functional but not overboard.

Under the hood

Both the cars come in petrol as well as diesel engine options. While the Elantra petrol gets the 1.8-litre engine producing a maximum power of 149.5PS@6500rpm and a maximum torque of 18.1kgm@4700rpm, its diesel mill is essentially the same CRDi unit that powers the Verna—it produces a decent power of 128PS@4000rpm and a maximum torque of 26.5kgm@1900-2750rpm. The Corolla petrol is powered by the proven 1.8-litre engine that produces 140PS@6400rpm of power and a maximum torque of 17.6kgm@4000rpm, while its diesel mill is relatively dull on paper—the 1364cc engine produces 88.4PS@3800rpm of power and a torque of 20.9kgm@1800-2800rpm.

On the road

Petrol: Although Elantra’s petrol mill produces higher power on paper than Corolla’s, it doesn’t quite reflect on the road. While the Elantra goes from 0-100 kmph in about 12 seconds, the Corolla takes 13 seconds to hit the ton. While the Elantra covers close to 12 km to a litre of petrol, the Corolla betters it with 14 km.

Diesel: Again, the Elantra’s diesel motor produces higher power on paper than Corolla’s and it does reflect a lot on the road. The engine is refined, quiet and free revving. Even though you do encounter the turbo lag now and then, a slick and quick-shifting gearbox ensures you can get over it quite easily. The diesel Elantra hits the ton in just under 11 seconds! The engine is fuel-efficient too, and returns a good figure of 15 kmpl. The Corolla diesel is, unarguably, underpowered, and after you have driven the Elantra, the car feels underwhelming. The engine, though, has a decent low-end torque and this ensures you don’t feel frustrated by the lack of power, at least while driving in the city. But once you are on the highway, the difference shows. The Corolla goes from 0-100 kmph in a lazy 15 seconds. On the positive, the engine is highly fuel-efficient and, driven sensibly, can give you an amazing mileage of 19 kmpl in the city and 20-plus on the highway.

Hyundais are not known to be amazing riders and this you feel in the Elantra also, despite massive improvement over the previous model. The Elantra is very comfortable when you are driving it within city limits, and the slick steering response ensures you don’t get tired even after you’ve spend hours in that horrible traffic jam; the steering is so light that you can literally operate it with your index finger! But the same responsive steering gives you an almost minimalist feel when you are driving at high speeds, so you have to be a little more careful while changing lanes at high speeds. The suspension, too, feels wallowy at high speeds.

No such problems with the Corolla though. It’s comfortable, feels planted, is quiet and rides much better than probably all the cars in its segment. It feels much more composed than the Elantra at higher speeds. Also, better headroom space at the rear means that back-seat occupants in the Corolla sit more comfortably.

Verdict

Traditionally, the executive segment in India always meant luxury, value and image. It wasn’t really about performance or the feel-good factor. The Corolla, traditionally, might still score some brownie points over the new Elantra, but as far as the feel-good factor is concerned, it is Elantra all the way.

Of course, until the eleventh generation Corolla enters India …

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