Just a year or so ago, Hyundai’s Verna was India’s most popular mid-size sedan. When it was launched in 2011, its combination of sculpted styling, powerful engines and quality interiors wowed the car-buying public. And what made all the difference was that it came loaded with equipment. Fast-forward to 2015, however, and its newer competition has caught up, and the Hyundai also still lags behind in certain crucial areas. Now, in an effort to make it more competitive, Hyundai has launched the updated Verna, and apart from cosmetic upgrades, there have been changes under the skin too. Hyundai has tried to address the lacklustre driving dynamics of the old car and made other changes too. But does the new Verna have what it takes to stand up to the recently more successful competition from Japan?
How do they drive?
Start the Verna’s petrol engine and it settles down to very silent idle. Peak power is 121 bhp, making it the most powerful car here. But despite that, the Verna just doesn’t feel as fast as the Honda City. This is confirmed by our testing equipment. The dash to 100 kmph is completed in 11.49 seconds, which is 1.3 seconds down on the City. The engine has linear power delivery, the mid-range is strong and the engine starts pulling harder the more you rev it. Hence, to get the most out of this engine, you need to keep the motor in its mid-range. This can be a task at times, especially when driving in traffic. The five-speed gearbox, however, is smooth.
The Honda City’s engine is the sportiest of the lot. Pin the accelerator pedal to the floor and the City begins to reward you after 3,000 revs. The motor is rev-happy and it begs you to drive harder. The engine feels the strongest once past the 5,000-rpm mark and it sounds sporty too. But while threading your way through town below 2,000-rpm (with a full load on board), the engine does feel a bit lethargic and you’ll find yourself downshifting often to stay in the meat of the powerband. But working the five-speed gearbox isn’t a chore at all. Its slick action urges you to change gears with a swift action and it’s very precise and smooth in operation. Flat-out, the City leaps to 100 kmph in 10.13 seconds and will go on to a top-speed of 192 kmph easily.
The Maruti Ciaz petrol feels very responsive at low engine speeds. The smaller, 1.4-litre motor produces only 91 bhp, but Maruti has tuned it for city use and this is clearly evident when you drive the car. The motor is peppy and flexible from the word go and it feels quieter than the Honda engine. The engine pulls well from low speeds and this makes it ideally suited to city duties. But once on an open road, the smaller engine size becomes apparent and it doesn’t feel as strong as the other two. The mid-range isn’t particularly strong; this engine gets noisy as the tachometer closes in on its 6,200-rpm redline. Flat-out performance is fairly decent, with the dash to 100 kmph taking 12.02 seconds.
Ride & handling
Hyundai has taken the effort to improve the ride and handling on the Verna and it shows. The car now corners more assuredly and it doesn’t feel as nervous as before. The soft suspension tackles potholes and patchy bits at slower city speeds quite well, absorbing bumps with a nice damped feeling, and the suspension works silently too. But at higher speeds, though improved, it still feels a bit loose, and the ride doesn’t feel as consistent as on the other two. Though the steering has more weight than before, it still has a ‘floaty’ feel around the straight-ahead position and this does induce a bit of nervousness at very high speeds. Braking isn’t very impressive either.
The Ciaz has the best ride in this group. It is pliant and soaks up potholes with ease. Even sharp ridges, the kind that catch out the Verna or the City, are smoothened out without jarring passengers. It’s fair to say that the Ciaz, with its relatively soft suspension, has the best low-speed ride in its segment. Even at higher speeds, the Ciaz retains composure. The handling, however, isn’t exactly sporty. The steering has an inconsistent feel and there is considerable body roll when pushed around corners.
The City has the stiffest suspension setting of the three. Low speed ride isn’t plush and the suspension is a bit on the noisy side. But as soon as you up the pace, the ride improves considerably and the City feels best on the highway. Though the Honda is shod with weedy, 175-section tyres, this doesn’t make it a let-down dynamically. Throwing the City hard into corners does result in the tyres fighting for grip, but it isn’t half as bad as you may imagine from such slim rubber. Even the electric power steering is accurate and the City feels best around corners.
What are they like inside?
The Verna’s cabin feels the best put together, the Honda’s dash looks the most modern and the Ciaz gives you the greatest sense of space.
The Honda, with its soft cushioning and large chairs, offers the most comfortable seats. You can spend hours here without feeling tired, and space is massive too; clearly, for comfort, Honda gets an eleven on ten. The City’s dash, though a bit over-styled, looks modern and the instruments with their blue LED rings are clear. The controls work well too, with a nice tactile feel that tells you just how much money and effort have been put in here. The Honda City has the most comfortable rear seat with perfect cushioning, loads of legroom and a raised footrest under the front seat (a result of the mid-mounted fuel tank). Headroom is a bit disappointing and tall people will find it too tight.
The Verna’s dash offers better quality, but it looks a bit too plain and there’s not much flair to the now dated design. You sit higher up than in the City as well, but the seats are nowhere as comfortable. And while the back seat is nice enough, legroom at the rear is distinctly less than on the others here. The Verna’s rear seat, though the lowest on space, is quite well designed and you won’t have much cause for complaint. It even has a clever lever that allows the rear-seat passengers to move the front passenger seat forward to improve legroom.
The Maruti has an uncluttered and European-inspired dashboard design, which looks elegant. Yes, some parts, such as the window switches and trip computer, are shared with the cheaper Swift, but overall, the quality is good. Its biggest trump card is the space it offers. There’s acres of room inside, but what lets it down are the hard and unsupportive seats. So it just doesn’t feel as comfortable as the City on long journeys.
The City is a big car, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it has a large, 506-litre boot. But the Maruti trumps it with 510 litres. The Verna’s boot is quite large, but at 465 litres, it is the smallest here.
Buying & owning
When comparing top trims, the Ciaz is Rs 1.3 lakh cheaper than the City and a lakh cheaper than the Verna. Both Maruti and Honda come with a two-year (40,000 km) warranty, while Hyundai offers a three-year (1 lakh km) warranty. In terms of aftersales, Maruti is second to none.
Equipment & safety
All three cars are well kitted out and offer almost everything you would expect from a car at this price point. The Verna, like the old car, is very well equipped. You get keyless go, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, Bluetooth connectivity, climate control, a CD player with aux-in and USB ports, and steering-mounted audio controls. It also comes with goodies like electrically foldable external rear view mirrors, auto dimming internal rear view mirror, a cooled glovebox, alloy wheels, ABS with EBD and leather upholstery.
Both the City and the Ciaz get leather on their seats and steering wheels too. They come equipped with automatic climate control, steering-mounted audio and telephone controls, Bluetooth streaming, aux-in and USB ports, a reversing camera, rear defogger, keyless entry with push-button start and electrically adjustable and foldable wing mirrors.
Unlike the Verna, the Ciaz and the City come with rear AC vents. However, while the City gets a reversing camera with a normal and wide view, it misses out on parking sensors. The Ciaz gets rear parking sensors but a single view reversing camera. The City scores over the other two with a sunroof and cruise control. The Ciaz and Verna, on the other hand, feature projector headlamps and larger 16-inch alloys with fatter 195-section tyres over the City’s skinny 175 tyres and 15-inch wheels. The Ciaz also gets a rear sunblind, which is useful on hot sunny days. On the safety front, the Verna trumps the other two with six airbags compared to the twin setup on the City and Ciaz.
– By Whatcar?