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There is no doubting that this trio comprises of very important cars, the ones that have been conceived to colour the aspirational landscape of the Indian middle class. The Honda City is no less than a torchbearer, not only for Honda but also for the premium C-segment as a whole. It’s a brand in itself, almost synonymous with a sedan in a typical Indian middle class household. Then came the Volkswagen Vento and City’s reign was challenged. The Vento was, and is, a well thought and executed approach by the Germans. Based on the Polo, it relied on economics textbooks rather than compromises and cost cutting measures to keep its pricetag low. But what really helped it take the fight to the City was a diesel engine. It worked and the Honda responded soon enough with a reasonable price cut on the City. Looking at last month’s sales figures, this too worked. Also Read - Maruti Ciaz takes top slot in premium sedan segment during Apr-Sep, FY'19
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While the price and value battle was being fought between the bigwigs, what we failed to notice was that someone had front row seats to this bout. That someone happens to be Hyundai, and it was watching it pretty closely. So closely, that its own contender steps in to the arena with air of invincibility around it. So is it going to be a one-punch-knockout match or does the City and Vento still have enough to keep the Hyundai Verna engaged in a tough bout? This time, I’ll be the one watching from the front row.
On the outside, the Vento is a handsome looking car. It gets most of its form from the Polo, which is the best part. While the same design elements make the Polo look athletic and sporty, the slightly elongated wheelbase and the nicely executed boot gives the Vento a certain degree of elegance. In fact, it is the only car in this test that comes wearing a classy single breasted jacket as opposed to the showy designer outfits of the other two. The frontend features clean cut lines and the chrome lining on the front grille with a prominent Volkswagen logo give it a very matured face. The chrome surround for the fog lamps stands out too.
This is very much unlike the Honda City that looks pretty futuristic and in spite of being around for quite some time, doesn’t look dated at all. I like the frontend with the headlights merging with the large, layered grille giving the impression of a long single unit. Looks like something out of an 80’s sci-fi flick but still very modern. The rear benefits from a notchback style boot and stylish tail lamps. One careless glance and you can easily mistake the City as a BMW 3-series from the rear. Viewed from the side, the City has an arrow-like stance that makes it appear sporty when parked next to the Vento.
But all this was before the fluidic Verna arrived, or poured in, I should say. The Hyundai Verna had never been a showstopper and the last update it got made it look a bit of an oddball. The new Verna changes all that. It is immediately striking to look at. Of course it benefits from being the most recent and unseen, but the Verna garners attention by truckloads and passes this test being the most stylish of the lot.
The front features a trapezoidal grille that is soon becoming the face of all modern Hyundais. This is accentuated by wraparound headlamps with techie-looking detailing inside. The oblong foglamps with L-shaped chrome surrounds serve as perfect accessories for the Verna’s ensemble. Move over to the side and there is a swooping waistline and a prominent light catcher below it to add sharpness to the design. Then there is the beautifully drawn coupe-like roofline merging beautifully with the stubby boot. The rear is equally arresting with its large tail lamps, sharply raked windshield and a sporty pinch in the bootlid.
If looks matter the most to you and are going to be the decisive factor for your purchase, look closely at each one of these. The three cars tingle different areas of your taste buds. If you’re a man of matured tastes, little bit of grey hair and pink (business) newspapers are the most awaited item in your breakfast table, the Vento is your perfect companion. But if stylish is your middle name and you want a car that speaks it out loud the real contention is between the City and the Verna, and this the Verna wins hands down.
Let’s face it. Looks are important, but can be deceptive at times (haven’t you noticed the vixens in Bond movies are often prettier than 007’s lady loves?). As far as cars go, what’s more important in the real world is how the car feels on the inside as this is where you’re going to spend most of your time. Thankfully, all three cars feel well put together on the inside too and compete well in terms of space. I bet you wouldn’t feel cramped inside any of them unless you’re XXXL and above.
Although it might appear staid when compared to the other two cars, the Vento’s dash has a solid feel to it. The design is very basic, but high quality materials are convincing enough. Sadly, the Vento’s equipment list isn’t. What you get on the highline variant is a basic audio system, climate control, ABS and two airbags. The features exclusive to the Vento are tilt and telescopic adjustments for the steering wheel, auto-down function on all four power windows and rear AC vents. If you are more of a backseat guy, you would appreciate the tiny lever that can slide the front passenger seat back and forth to free up added leg space. While driving, I sorely missed steering mounted controls for the audio system and an AUX connectivity for the music system.
The Vento boasts good kneeroom at the rear but I found the rear bench to offer the least amount of support. The seat feels a bit flat and could do with a bit more cushioning. The Vento is based on the Polo and with identical width, three is a bit of a squeeze at the back here. The seats come draped in high quality fabric but there is no optional leather upholstery on offer. The limited IPL edition came with faux leather seat covers and a touchscreen audio system with SatNav and I strongly recommend Volkswagen comes up with more premium features on the Vento, especially when it is the cheapest car here and a marginal price hike with more features can give it greater value.
The City’s interiors are a striking contrast. They immediately feel young and sporty, and everything oozes of quality in true Honda fashion. The vast expanse of the dash, the jet black and dark beige two-tone finish around and an ultra cool steering wheel immediately urge you to take out those sneakers from college. The only sore point in the cabin is the centre console. The silver finish just doesn’t go with the dash and the layout is very simple. The City doesn’t get automatic climate control and the mixer-type knobs just ruin the futuristic feel. Here too, you get the usual goodies although the audio system doesn’t feature a CD player at all. What it hides under the faceplate is a USB connector and an AUX input. Also the radio has 30 presets against the usual 6 in regular systems, a boon in Mumbai. The leather wrapped steering wheel is very nice to hold and comes with audio controls.
The city boasts the most spacious cabin. It is wide and the large greenhouse elevates the airy feel. the back seat too is the most comfortable although a little less on kneeroom compared to the Verna. If you’re willing to splurge some extra dough, you can go for the Exclusive edition that comes with high quality leather upholstery.
The Verna’s is a well designed cabin where style takes precedence. The two tone dash has nice textures while the centre console features wood finish. Everything is high quality and the ambience it creates is much better than the other two cars. The Verna immediately feels rich, and not just in the look and feel department but also in terms of equipments on offer. Apart from the regular affair, you can pick Bluetooth enabled audio system, four more airbags ( a total of six), keyless entry and a start/stop button. The steering wheel sports nice rocker switches for volume and channel controls and separate buttons for telephone and other menu controls. Then there are parking sensors at the rear and a rearview camera too. You can easily hook up your iPod/iPhone via a supplied cable and browse through the playlists from the audio system. Leather seats are a part of the option package on the SX variant as well.
The seats are comfortable and boast good support. The kneeroom at the back is the nicest although the seats lack underthigh support. The seats are also a bit lower owing to the coupe-like roofline and comparatively smaller greenhouse had our staff complaining about it feeling a bit… err, claustrophobic, especially compared to the City. Nevertheless, the Verna cabin is a nicer place to be and comes fully loaded with features to make life easier behind the wheel.
Let’s start with what this trio hides under the hood. While the Vento and Verna come with 1.6-litre powerplants (the Verna also has an entry-level 1.4-litre mill), the City makes do with a 1.5-litre engine. The Vento’s maximum power output of 105PS looks good on paper but is outclassed by 123PS and 118PS that the Verna and City produce respectively. Both Verna and City benefit from variable valve timing, which is VTVT as per Hyundai and VTEC in Honda speak.
The Vento’s engine feels tailored primarily for city driving and boasts good bottomend and midrange needed to potter around in the urban congestion. Its maximum torque of 153Nm is just 2Nm short of Verna’s but comes in at a lowly 3800rpm. It also makes its max power considerably lower at 5250rpm. This makes it great in the city, with minimal gear changes required and the Vento pulls effortlessly from 30kmph even in fourth gear. Where it starts lacking is towards the topend. The Vento starts panting after 140kmph and the speedo needle feels painstakingly slow approaching its upper reaches.
The Verna comes up as a better deal here. The engine feels the smoothest and the most silent of the lot. Maximum power is produced at 6300rpm while the max torque comes in at 4200rpm. Put your foot down and the Verna responds with linear acceleration right till the redline. Taller ratios in higher gears make it a bit more tractable and the Verna feels equally at home on the highway as in the city.
In terms of pure exhilaration, there is no beating the Honda and it is still the benchmark engine here. Armed with iVTEC, which has earned a cult status of sorts down here, the City’s engine loves to be revved. Its max power and torque are produced at a lofty 6600rpm and 4800rpm respectively but it is no dud at the bottom. It is the most free-revving of the three and offers the perfect compromise between bottomend grunt and topend surge. The City can take the slow moving bumper-to-bumpers and can reward you with thrills when you mash the accelerator. You can actually feel the iVTEC coming into play as you approach 4000rpm. It feels a little gruff at higher rpms compared to the Verna but that makes it that bit more exciting to drive. The gearbox is a delight to shift with its effortlessly short throws.
The ride and handling part is a mixed bag out here. The Hyundai is softly sprung and wafts over almost all kinds of surfaces. The Verna feels the most comfortable and cocoons occupants from the irregularities our roads are famous for. The ride tends to get a little bouncy at high speeds, especially when driving alone. This though has drastic effects on its handling. The Verna is no driver’s car and there is a lot of bodyroll around corners. The steering feels light and isn’t very talkative. The Verna comes with 195/55 tyres shod on larger 16-inch alloys, the widest in this test, and grip is pretty good even in the wet.
It’s a very close fight between the City and the Vento for the handling honours. The Vento sports a slightly more composed ride over low and high speeds while the slightly softer City isn’t far behind. However, the City’s steering feels much more communicative and weighs up nicely with speed. Coupled with the fun engine, the City is far more enjoyable to drive.
It’s getting much harder than I imagined to pick a winner in this test. The first time I saw the three cars together, I was confident the Verna would be a comfortable winner but driving the other two again reinstated the reasons why the respective benchmarks set by them are hard to beat. The Vento’s solid feel and overall ride quality as well as City’s gem of an engine and fun to drive character still hold their heads high as I reach the conclusion of this test. What the Verna brings to the table is a lot of features gift-wrapped in a designer package. There is a feel good factor on the inside that is further enhanced by its soft ride quality, which would keep majority of the owners happy.
The Vento Highline is the cheapest car here, at Rs 8.06 lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai. Rather than banking on VFM quotient, it goes the German way of relying on its solid build quality and sound engineering. It is the best bet if you want a no nonsense sedan with high levels of quality. The top-end Honda City V MT Exclusive will set you back by Rs 10.03 lakh while the Verna VTVT SX with option pack is priced at Rs 10.04 lakh. At this price point the Verna comes with features the City can only dream of and offers great value for money. From a common man’s point of view, I don’t see the Verna lacking in anything compared to the City. So has the reigning bestseller finally met its match? It sure has, in the Hyundai Verna.