The new Hyundai Verna attempts to grab midsize market share from the capable trio of the Fiesta, City and the Aveo. OISEPH KALLIVAYALIL plays judgeLet's cut straight to the heart of the matter here. With an interior design that meets the needs of even the hardest-to-please buyer and every surface and switch made from top-notch materials, this Honda makes one feel like they own an expensive car. The well-shaped and supportive seats, a steering that adjusts for rake, a height-adjustable driver's seat and controls that fall easily to hand make it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The big glasshouse and the light fabrics and plastics all around give the City's cabin an airy feel.Not far behind is the Aveo's cabin. The dashboard is neat, except for the light colours at the base of the windscreen that reflect poorly in bright sunlight - this makes it hard to see the road. The steering wheel is a tad too large for our liking and the door pockets too narrow to be very useful. But these are only a few minor flaws. The front seats, though well bolstered, are too soft for long drives. The Ford's interiors do not look upmarket but have a solid, built-to-last feel in the way they operate and the splashes of silver plastic lighten the otherwise black dashboard. Like the Aveo, the Fiesta's rotary air con vents are effective and airflow can be directed any which way you want. The Aveo and Fiesta also share the American left-hand-drive configuration wiper controls on the right and turn indicators on the left, which is annoying and takes getting used to. The Verna's dashboard is bland but of decent quality. Bits like the storage box on the centre console may seem tacky, but overall there's not much to find fault with. This is the only car here with electronic climate control. Though you sit higher in the rear than in the Accent, the position is lower than the Aveo and the City. The Verna's low-set rear seats are too soft for long journeys but unlike the other cars, it comes with a headrest for the centre passenger too and has good legroom.
Powertrain, performanceThe Fiesta simply excels here. Though it has a lower 101 bhp against the Verna's 103 bhp, the Fiesta's engine has linear power delivery, which means fewer gearshifts in traffic - not that you would complain if you had to keep shifting gears. The superb gearbox will find you changing gears simply to enjoy the positive and accurate shift action. The Verna has a lighter, if less accurate, gearshift. The engine has relatively poor low-rpm response, so you have to keep the engine spinning fast to get the best out of it and this means a lot more gearshifting. On the highway, it is again the Fiesta that feels effortless while cruising or overtaking slower traffic. From rest, the Fiesta gets to 100kph in 11.66 seconds while the Verna takes 12.33 seconds, possibly due to the Verna's slightly higher kerb weight.With an engine putting out 102 bhp, the 1.6-litre Aveo stands exactly between the Fiesta and the Verna on paper, but on the road it feels light years behind both. Throttle response is poor, so driving in city traffic can get exasperating. This is compounded by a gearshift action that feels very much like stirring porridge. The Aveo shows its true colours out on the highway where it can maintain three-digit speeds without too much trouble. The City's engine is 100cc and 24bhp down on the Fiesta, but this isn't as bad as it sounds. Honda makes every one of its 77 horses work for their diet of petrol. The engine is adequately peppy for town use and the light and accurate gearshift makes it feel right at home on city streets. Once on the highway, however, you will start feeling the power deficit. Overtaking in the Honda City requires some planning and the low gearing makes it feel less relaxed at cruising speeds.
Ride and handlingThe Ford gets top marks here. The Fiesta rides and handles better than its competitors. The suspension soaks up bumps with minimal fuss and without throwing the car off the intended direction of travel. The low speed ride is good except when the car hits a sharp bump, which is when road shocks filter through. High-speed ride, however, is supremely composed and the Fiesta refuses to get ruffled by most road imperfections. The Verna's light steering, gearbox, controls and the good view of the road ahead make it very easy to pootle about in and around town. Hyundai has opted for a soft suspension set-up at the rear, so the low speed ride is even better than the Fiesta's. But as speeds increase, the Verna loses its composure; the steering doesn't offer enough feedback and the car doesn't feel nearly as secure as the Fiesta around corners or in a straight line. Even under hard braking, the Verna squirms around on its tyres. The Honda City's ride is not as good as the Verna's rear passengers get bumped around quite a bit and this doesn't improve with higher speeds. Honda has managed to kill all steering feedback, so driving the City feels almost Playstation-like and this can get unnerving during speed. What's clear is that the City prefers to be driven around in town rather than be a highway star. The Chevrolet Aveo's forte is the highway. Its decent low speed ride improves as speeds increase. However, it does have a hard edge to it, and it feels more so because you can hear the suspension absorbing bumps. It also feels more planted than the Honda City and Verna, but is nowhere near as composed as the Fiesta. Bumps that would hardly ruffle the Fiesta unsettle the Aveo. Its steering feedback is better than the Verna and the City, but not even close to the Fiesta.
Results of ownershipAt Rs 6.89 lakh, the top-of-the-line Aveo is the cheapest of the four models on test; this is with the ABS and airbag option box left unpicked. Add that, and the price shoots up by another Rs 47,371. For this price, you get power windows, mirrors, fog-lamps, alloy wheels and a decent sound system. Spare parts are on the expensive side and don't expect much by way of resale value. It comes with a two-year/40,000km warranty. The car with the best resale value is the Honda City. The City GXi comes with Honda's bulletproof reliability, but is the most expensive. It also comes up a bit short on standard equipment no alloy wheels and surprisingly, no anti-locking braking (ABS) or airbags on the options list. It has the same warranty as the Aveo.The Verna comes with Hyundai's huge service network as a backup and there is not too much that can go wrong with it. You get alloy wheels, fog lamps, electronic climate control and ABS is on the options list. Like most Hyundai products, it is fantastic value. It also comes with a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty. The Fiesta is the only one with leather seats and a six CD-changer as standard. Ford service is not the best, but it does come with a one-year unlimited warranty package.
Our verdictIf it is an out-and-out driver's car you are looking for, then look no further than the Fiesta. The good ride and handling combined with the responsive engine, superb gearshift and lots of feedback from the steering makes this a very rewarding car to drive fast something that's missing in all the other cars here. However, the Fiesta does fall short in a few key areas like the rear seats, which are comfortable, but could be better on passenger space. On the other hand, the Honda City is the most practical car here. It comes with Honda's bullet-proof reliability and is very easy to drive. However, it takes a hit due to the poor ride and sterile driving experience. It is also the most expensive midsizer here. The Aveo's handsome looks, great interiors and high seats make a great first impression. The ride and handling is decent too. But it loses out here due to the unrefined and unresponsive engine and the notchy gearbox things that will certainly turn off buyers. The Verna is the best compromise. It comes with decent levels of equipment at a reasonable price. Being a Hyundai, it should be quite reliable and should things go wrong, you will have Hyundai's vast service network at your service. Sure, it doesn't feel as well planted or composed as a Fiesta at speed but overall, the Verna comes across as money well spent indeed.