In 1999, my stepfather finally upgraded from his Maruti 800 to a bigger car, the Indian car market had a swarm of new sedans available then and he chose the Hyundai Accent. The South Korean carmaker was relatively new, and at that time an unknown, entity in the Indian market. If I was to evaluate that car today, I’d say that it was not as exhilarating to drive as the Honda City, not as good-looking as the Mitsubishi Lancer and one could argue that it lacked the road presence of the Daewoo Cielo, Ford Escort and Opel Astra. Yet, the Accent was comfortable, easy to drive, spacious and of surprisingly good value. It outlasted and outsold each and every one of its rivals, both direct and indirect.
As Hyundai lifts the curtain on the latest generation of their mid-sized sedan, Verna, the fifth-generation offering in India (in some markets, Hyundai’s mid-sized has been around for six generations), it reminded me of the Accent from 1999. Truth be told, despite improvements over the years the Accent was not what one would call performance-oriented. The pick-up was mediocre and the handling was, to put it gently, not great.
Having a big car that one could sneak out at night was a cool thing for a young man in his early twenties, but you really did not want to hit a corner even at speeds as low as 40. The Accent taught me what understeer is, it’s what happens when you turn the steering and the car really does not follow. It wallowed in corners like a small yacht on heavy seas. During a media drive for the Accent CRDi, which was its diesel variant, in my early years as an automotive writer, I remember spinning across a highway outside Chiplun thanks to a combination of understeer, a loss of grip and my less than exemplary driving. I am still grateful to Bijoy Kumar Y, then of BS Motoring, for ensuring that I got my confidence back after that incident.
The reason I was swept over by the wave of nostalgia while driving the new Hyundai Verna was because it had come so far — Hyundai changed the name of the sedan to Verna with the second generation in 2006. The latest iteration can go fast, at least in its turbo avatar. And in corners, it is stable. Indeed it is an agile platform. And it is surprisingly loaded with features, on the higher specifications it has heated and ventilated seats, and a BOSE audio system. On the top specifications, it has Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). In addition, this new Verna is longer and wider than the outgoing model, significantly so, the additional 70mm of wheelbase is felt in the rear seats.
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Above its competition
Let us delve a bit more into the details of the vehicles’ performance. As I wrote in my previous column, the new Verna loses a diesel option, coming with a 115PS 1.5 litre naturally aspirated engine and a similar capacity with a new turbocharged option that delivers 160PS, both running on petrol. The former has a similar output to the Honda City and the 1.0 TSI variants of the Skoda Slavia and Volkswagen Virtus, but the turbocharged version is the most powerful sedan in its class with 10PS more power than the Skoda and Volkswagen.
Coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), the turbocharged Verna almost begs you to drive faster, even on an expressway. The naturally-aspirated version may not have the exhilarating performance of the DCT-Turbo but is a very sedate and comfortable city cruiser.
The additional space of the Verna, especially in the back seats is its trump card. And then there is ADAS, which, as I have written before, is a feature that is becoming more prevalent in cars. Hyundai only offers ADAS on the very top specifications of the Verna, the SX(O), on both engine options. The Turbo-DCT variant of the car has a version of ADAS with a few more features. While the refreshed Honda City offers ADAS across multiple specifications, the Japanese car is smaller than the new Verna. Crucially, the sedan’s main rivals, the Skoda-Volkswagen twins, do not feature ADAS and are slightly down on power as well.
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A fun car
Where this new product from Hyundai really shines through is its exterior design. The horizontal light bar at the lip of the bonnet and the vertical taillights, Hyundai’s ‘parametric’ design features across the sedan. This car does not just feel premium to drive, it looks the part, much like the Tucson SUV.
Hyundai has said that they are not considering bringing the larger Elantra sedan to India in the current generation because they feel the larger Verna covers all bases. That is a pity since now no options remain in the larger ‘executive’ sedan segment with the Toyota Corolla Altis, Honda Civic and Skoda Octavia all being withdrawn from the market. That being said, the enlarged Verna is as big as the Elantra from a decade ago.
This new sedan will have to combat a market problem, one created to a large degree by Hyundai themselves, the increasing ‘SUV-isation’ of the market thanks to the success of vehicles like the Creta and Venue, the former selling between 10,000-15,000 every month. According to the South Korean carmaker, 40 per cent of the overall Indian passenger vehicle market wants SUVs. Sedans account for just around 10 per cent of the over 3.5 million odd cars that are sold in India annually, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. That number would be even lower if it was not for the runaway success of the Maruti-Suzuki Dzire.
But with the aggressive pricing on the new Verna, the base model beginning for just Rs 10.9 lakh (ex-showroom) and the fully-loaded Turbo-DCT variant coming in at Rs 17.38 lakh (ex-showroom), Hyundai expects to sell between 3,000-4,000 units every month. With this car at least, Hyundai has retained the value proposition that the original Accent offered buyers. But unlike the original Accent, this Verna is an utter hoot to drive.
@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)