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201209 Feb

 

mid size sedan comparo

 

Looking to upgrade from your hatchback to a sedan? Confused by the sheer number of choices? We simplify the debate.

 

Not so long ago, the Indian passenger car market didn’t afford quite the same number of choices. Things have changed however, and the big beneficiary of this is you, the customer. Depending on your needs, preferences and tastes, there’s sure to be a car for you.

The mid-size sedan market today is crowded by a surfeit of choices, but here, we’ve handpicked five of the best and put them head to head. We’ve evaluated them across a number of parameters, to help you on your way to making a final decision.

These five cars include the stalwart of the mid-size category, the Honda City, the new challenger to the crown, the Hyundai Verna, the sharp-looking and sharp-driving Ford Fiesta, The sober VW Vento and the latest kid on the block, the Nissan Sunny.

 

Style and Build

The five cars on test here follow the same template: they’re all three-box sedans, with a transversely installed engine and front-wheel drive. They all use similar suspension set-ups, consisting of McPherson struts up front and torsion-beam rear axles. The Vento’s rear suspension does differ somewhat, with a trailing arm instead of a conventional torsion beam.

Now, given this ‘formula’ which is the best?

On the looks and styling front, you have to give it to the Verna. Hyundai’s new Fluidic architecture comes together beautifully, and the car is stunning to behold, both in pictures and in the flesh. The strong crease which runs along the length of the car, rising from the headlamps through to the rear, defines the length and tipped-forward design, making the new Hyundai Verna look racy even when standing still.

The Honda City still manages to look good, although it’s a design which is 4 years old now. The angular, geometric approach still appears contemporary, and in many ways, the proportions continue to inspire designers today. Its best angle is when viewed from the front three-quarters. There’s no single defining crease or curve in the design; it manages to remain neutral and non-offensive in a most Japanese way.

The Ford Fiesta by comparison, sparks a debate from the moment somebody lays eyes on it. Ford’s Kinetic Design philosophy marries aggressive lines and shapes with soft curves. Study the new Fiesta’s face, and while the huge dagger-shaped headlights are the most prominent part of the design, you’ll also notice the softly rounded front fenders, sober trapezoidal grille and the demure fog lamps. Follow the design around to the rear, and the new Fiesta’s stance appears a little ungainly. The tail-lights don’t look very 21st century either, to be honest.

The Volkswagen Vento, like the Fiesta, is a another car which has grown into a sedan from a hatchback. The Vento shares a lot with its smaller sibling Polo, and this is evident from the off, especially from the front. The Vento looks identical to the Polo, save for the round fog lamps. The sturdy and stoic design flows to the rear of the car as well, and the tail lamps are simple and square cut. Remove the big VW badge from the nose, and the Vento’s three-box silhouette would be extremely generic.

Which brings us to the Nissan Sunny. The Sunny too shares much of its basic architecture with its Micra sibling, but to look, the two cars appear entirely different. The Sunny instead borrows cues from the bigger Teana saloon, and this is evident in the grille, headlamps and tail lights, which all bear a strong resemblance to the Teana. The Sunny however, doesn’t have the same panache as the bigger Teana, and in this illustrious company, doesn’t manage to win any beauty pageants.

 

Living in them

Of course, once past the exterior, just how beautiful are these cars on the inside? And how comfortable are they to drive and sit in?

Ergonomically, the Sunny surprisingly seems to have the best seating position, with good seats and a comfortable reach to the controls. By comparison, the Hyundai Verna’s deep footwell and ample dashboard means that finding the optimum driving position is a bit of a challenge. After adjusting the seat for the best reach to the pedal, you’ll find the steering wheel to close to you. Conversely, if you adjust your seat to reach the steering wheel, the pedals will be a stretch away. The Honda City, VW Vento and Ford Fiesta all manage to help you find a good driving position. The Vento is the only car in this quintet whose steering wheel adjusts for both rake and reach, which is to say that you can tilt the steering wheel to the angle of your choice, and then push-pull the ’wheel to the right distance for your arms.

The Sunny, Fiesta and City all have 1.5-litre petrol engines, whereas the Vento and the Verna have 1.6-litre engines. On paper, it’s the Verna which boasts of the highest power output, at 123 PS, followed by in descending order, the City (118 PS), Fiesta (109 PS), Vento (105 PS) and the Sunny (99 PS). However, our test is not about rated power outputs, but about how these figures translate to drivability on the road. It’s an evenly-matched battle here, with each of these engines having their own strengths and quirks.

Of the lot, the Honda City’s VTEC seems to be the smoothest, with a free-revving nature which is simply delightful at the upper reaches of the rev band. The City pulls very strongly, with the power building in a linear fashion. That said, you do have to rev the engine quite a lot, but once spinning, the City seems the strongest performer of the lot.

The Sunny boasts excellent drivability, with well-matched gear ratios which make the best of the power available. It’s not a high-revving engine however, and it’s best to use this engine’s mid-range power to motor along briskly.

The Fiesta uses Ford’s new Ti-VCT motor, which boasts direct injection and variable camshaft timing. This helps the Fiesta to the best fuel efficiency figures, at 17 kpl combined, but for someone brought up on strong Ford engines, you miss the urgent and prompt response to commands from your right foot. This car requires a completely different approach to getting the best out of it.

The Vento and the Verna both make full use of their capacity advantage, with the ability to pick up comfortably from higher revs. With a full load of 5 passengers, luggage in the boot and the AC on, it’s the Vento which feels the most sprightly however, with a strong bottom end. The Vento’s 1.6-litre unit isn’t the smoothest however, and although there are no vibrations filtering into the cabin, the engine note tends to get a bit gravelly, and you can feel a hint of a roughness beneath your right foot.

 

When it comes to handling, the Fiesta upholds Ford’s honour yet again. The short wheelbase and big wheels and tyres mean the Fiesta corners with a certain alacrity which is far removed from the others in this class. Turn-in is sharp, although not as sharp as the earlier Fiesta Classic, and it holds its line with determination, with huge levels of grip. This is a contest, and the Fiesta wins the handling battle by a huge margin. The other four are left scrapping for crumbs, but we have to rate them nonetheless. Of the lot, it’s the Sunny which feels the most secure and sure-footed, with good communication through the ’wheel. It has a neutral attitude and communicates the limits early on. The Vento feels tall on its springs, and this is because Volkswagen had to increase the ride height for Indian roads. This has caused the Vento feel slightly wishy-washy as a result, and takes away from the straight-line stability the car otherwise displays. The Honda City’s only chink in the armour has traditionally been its stiffly sprung set-up, with a hard edge to the ride. The skinny tyres do not help things either. Strangely though, of the lot it’s the Hyundai Verna which inspires the least confidence when driving hard, with a lot of weight transfer and body roll, and a distinct nervousness when braking from speed.

 

 

Picture-captions – dashboard and rear seat

The Verna carries over the same flair as the exterior over to the inside as well. The blue back-lighting appears very space age. The front seats are big and sumptuous. The Verna’s cabin comes well appointed with an integrated audio system, steering-mounted audio controls and Bluetooth connectivity. The dotted texture of the dashboard appears nice to touch, but the faux wood looks shiny and cheap.

The Vento is as sober inside as it is on the outside, with the same Polo-derived interior, with some chrome highlights and a two-tone finish to brighten things up. Volkswagen’s parts-bin approach to interior design, with the same-looking controls for all its cars, from the humble Polo to the Passat, means that costs are low, and the same quality standards are applicable for all. However, when you’re splashing out more money on a bigger car, you’d like some special treatment, wouldn’t you?

The Ford Fiesta’s surfeit of buttons appears extremely confusing. The voice-command tech for the music system and telephone isn’t glitch free. While appearing solidly built, the Fiesta’s interior doesn’t look classy.

The Honda City’s multi-toned dashboard with the orange back-lighting does look a little dated by comparison. The City is the only car in this bunch not to boast of climate control or a CD player. Instead, its audio system contains a USB port, with a slot to store a hard drive.

The Nissan Sunny utilises “greige” interiors, the Japanese company’s term for a mix of grey and beige. A round theme dominates the inside, from the centre console to the instrument panel to the glovebox.

 

Fuel efficiency:

In our mileage-obsessed country, fuel efficiency becomes an all-important decision-making or breaking factor. The Fiesta wins this crown, but only just, managing 17 kpl to the Nissan Sunny’s 16.95 kpl. There’s nothing in it, really. The once-champion Honda City has been demoted to third place, with a figure of 16.8 kpl. The Vento and Verna pay the price for their bigger engines, bringing up the rear with figures of 15.8 and 15.7 kpl respectively.

Features

Today, a car sells as much on its mechanical capability as it does on features, and so it’s a high-stakes game in this department, with each trying to out-do the other. On the safety front, each of these cars comes with ABS (anti-lock brakes) and EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) on even the base variants, except the Vento, which only has ABS on the higher Highline variant. The Honda City and Ford Fiesta boast of driver and front passenger airbags as standard across the range. The Nissan Sunny and Hyundai Verna both have a driver’s airbag on the base variant.

Climate control, music system, power steering, power windows are all available with these cars. There are certain differences to be noted however. The City for example only has a USB stereo, and does not have a slot for CDs. The Fiesta has fancy voice-activated control, but in our experience, the system still has too many glitches. It pairs with your phone through Bluetooth, but does not recognise your phonebook. It needs to be programmed individually for each number, which is impractical. Also, to control the audio system or climate control system, the user needs to be ‘trained’ in the correct sequence of commands, which is a tedious process and simply not worth the time.

The Nissan Sunny does have a CD player, but it does not have USB connectivity, just like the Vento.

 

Verdict

It is time. After a gruelling set of tests, we must now rate our five contenders on overall performance. There are other considerations too, like value for money, and subjective factors like looks and styling.

There’s little doubt that the Verna is the best looking of this lot, and so it safely secures the style crown. Similarly, there can be no ambiguity on who wins the handling battle: it’s the new Ford Fiesta, hands down. On the mileage front, the Sunny and the Fiesta are neck-and-neck.

We’ve already compared the features, and there’s not much to choose from among these cars. So we now roll out the most important deciding factor – price.

The new Ford Fiesta spans a range from Rs 8.3 – 9.53 lakh, ex-showroom, Kolkata, depending on the variant. The Honda City starts a little over 7 lakh rupees, going up to Rs 9.5 lakh for the highest version with a sunroof. The Vento spans Rs 7.05 – 8.3 lakh, while the Hyundai Verna ranges from Rs 7.76 lakh to Rs 9.08 lakh, all ex-showroom, Kolkata. This is where the Sunny delivers a killer blow, with the range starting at Rs 5.8 lakh, going up to Rs 7.8 lakh for the highest variant. The Sunny also boasts of the most spacious cabin, a big boot, good blend of ride and handling, and fuel efficiency which is just a teeny bit less than the class leader. It does not have Bluetooth connectivity or a USB port for the audio, but then we’re nit-picking.

That the Sunny is so well priced puts into perspective a lot of things, especially how grossly overpriced the competition appears to be.

At the price, Nissan has managed to build a car which is simply staggering value for money, while being an excellent vehicle in its own right.

 

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