Hyundai Verna: First Drive Review
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Hyundai’s all-new rival to the Honda City and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz is finally here! It is a looker but is the next gen Verna the class favourite?
With a combined market share of near 80 per cent it’s fairly clear that the Maruti Ciaz and the Honda City are the cars to beat in the C-segment, that is the mid-size sedan segment. The new Hyundai Verna is now longer, wider and wears a more sophisticated look than before. The story is not too different on the inside. Importantly, a completely new architecture under the skin also promises to solve one of our biggest critiques – loose dynamics. We headed to Kochi hoping to find out if this fifth generation of the Verna has the ability to be crowned top of the segment.
For me the first generation of Hyundai’s fluidic design cars left little room for its successors to improve upon. That said, the designers have still managed to come up with an attractive package that looks familiar and still fresh. This face isn’t new to the public eye and it first saw the light of day when the design was first revealed in China. In fact, it’s already on sale in Russia under the ‘Solaris’ badge. For India, the Verna features projector headlamps with daytime running LEDs and projector fog lamps that bracket that new larger front grill.
The shoulder accent runs just under the window line and reminds us of the Hyundai Elantra. And it should – the Verna and Elantra now ride on the same K2 platform. This means in addition to looking a little more mature it’s also a little larger than the outgoing model. The length has increased to 4440mm, that’s 65mm longer than before. Width has increased to 1729mm, which is an increase of 29mm, and the wheelbase has increased by 30mm, to 2600mm. But, despite the sharper rake of the roof, height remains identical at 1475mm.
That roof gently slopes down to the rear of the car and from a lower vantage point it’s almost like a notchback. The tail lights are similar to the Elantra in that they are also a three-unit design, but where the Elantra features circular LED elements, the Verna sports semi-circular units. The new bumper finishes off the rather mature new look with a chunky dose of flair.
The interiors of the Verna were always one of its strong points and the new car carries on the same levels of quality in materials and plastics. The design though is very similar to what we have seen on other newer Hyundais, so it lacks any novelty and this is a little let down for an all new car. Compare it to the older Verna, and this design makes it seem a bit tacky and garish. Also, the switches both on the dash and the steering wheels all have very positive actions and feel solid and well built.
The central console features a large 7-inch touchscreen display that is thankfully paired with buttons for the separate functions. And this makes the experience more fluid and less distracting than an all-touch-based system like in the Maruti Ciaz for example.
The front seats feature a nice soft cushioning with good lumbar and lateral support. The seats could have been a little longer to offer just a tad better underthigh support. As it stands they are not unsupportive but we would have like just a little more support. The front seats also adjust for a really generous amount of legroom at the front. In fact this car could make even a 6’5” auto journo like my colleague, Tushar, comfortably. Unfortunately, he wasn’t with us on the drive but trust that we will put this to the test when we road test the car shortly.
It’s also the first car to feature air-cooled seats in the segment, and in the hot and humid weather in Kochi they were a god-sent. Surprisingly, with the increase in dimensions the room in the rear seat doesn’t seem to have grown by much. There is sufficient legroom for full sized adults and sitting three abreast will also be a bit of a squeeze. It’s nowhere near as generous as the Ciaz or the City. Pampering here is by way of rear AC vents and a USB charger in all but the lowest E variant and that at least is a step in the right direction.
Technology, Features and Safety
The top end versions we drove featured everything from navigation to smartphone connectivity functions like Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink. It also now gets an electric sunroof in keeping up with the trends in the segment and adds another first with the hands-free boot lid that opens if you stand within three feet from it for over three seconds with the key in your pocket. This convenience feature is to help single shoppers whose hands are occupied with shopping bags. It also features a reverse parking camera and parking sensors but misses out on all-LED headlamps and rain-sensing wipers that are available in the Honda City as well. The top end variants also continue to get 6 airbags while dual airbags and ABS is standard across the range.
Another thoughtful feature is an app called Hyundai Auto Link that is standard in the top end SX(O) variants. This app was developed at Hyundai’s R&D centre in Hyderabad. The app pairs the car to your smart phone and gives you complete vehicular information from real time data like engine speed, engine load and braking habits, to other information that can be accessed from the comfort of your home as well like booking a service or checking up on your driving history or even storing your last parking location.
Engine and transmission
The Verna now come with just two engine options, petrol and diesel, and both are the more powerful 1.6-litre engines. The VTVT petrol makes 123PS of power and 151Nm of torque while the CRDi diesel makes 128PS and 260NM of torque. Manual and automatic transmissions are available with both engines and in the interest of better driveability and efficiency they are both 6-speed units.
The 1.6 CRDi engine is as powerful as the outgoing model but now puts out more torque at lower rpm. This means that even at low city speeds around 30kmph you can leave the transmission in say 3rd and it will pull away cleanly when you press the gas pedal. There’s just a gentle step up in acceleration when the turbo comes into its own at around 1700-1800rpm. And the great thing is that the engine doesn’t feel breathless below that point either.
It is a little clattery though and at just above idle and between 1100-1800 rpm at medium throttle inputs, it’s quite audible inside the cabin. In all other rev ranges the engine does quieten down to a much more bearable note. Hyundai is claiming that the diesel should return 24.75kmpl for the manual transmission and 21.02kmpl from the auto box. The previous generation Verna was rated at 23.9 kmpl for the manual, and 19.08 kmpl for the auto.
The 123PS petrol is undoubtedly the quieter of the two and considering that it has been tuned for better driveability in town it doesn’t like being rushed either. If calm and collected is your mood then it will reward you with smooth progress with as much as 130.5Nm of its 151Nm total available from as low as 1500rpm. In fact, with the 6-speed manual transmission we were even able to pull away (very slowly) from as low as 25kmph in sixth gear without so much as a complaint from either the engine or the transmission.
If you need to make rapid progress, for example when we had to make it back to the hotel before they shut the buffet, then you need to keep the petrol spinning over 3500-5000rpm which is this engine’s sweet spot. Hyundai is claiming 17.7kmpl for the manual and 15.92 kmpl for the automatic petrol. This is marginally higher than the Verna 4S’s 17.01 kmpl for the manual and 15.74 kmpl for the previous 4-speed auto.
We didn’t get a chance to drive the diesel manual but the 6-speed conventional torque converter automatic transmission was a pleasant surprise. Torque converter transmissions were called ‘slush boxes’ on account of their slow responsiveness and disconnected feeling at the throttle pedal. But I really liked this Hyundai iteration. It's responsive and quick and when driving around town and light or medium throttle inputs feel very direct and connected.
Only when you floor the pedal do you start to feel some slip and you can hear the transmission struggling to keep up with the engine revs. You can also switch the transmission into manual mode if you are in the mood for some spirited driving, where it will hold a selected gear, but we preferred to leave it in auto mode, which seems to make the most of the torque from the diesel engine and still gives you the buttery smooth gear changes that torque converter gear boxes are known for. A claimed mileage of over 21kmpl (diesel) makes it sound almost too good to be true.
Handling and ride quality
The one serious shortcoming in the old Verna was that it wasn’t a confident high speed machine. With the new K2 platform and changes to both the front and rear suspension setup, Hyundai has completely transformed the driving experience. The steering is still fairly light in town, making negotiating the tight traffic-filled street of Kochi a breeze, and when speeds increased out on the highway a nice reassuring weight enters the equation. The steering also feels quite direct and this really helps with letting you know what’s happening at the front wheels.
It’s very well behaved around corners too. The chassis stays fairly flat and though there is some roll when really pushed it’s always predictable and controlled. The brake pedal is quite firm and though it is very linear and has more than enough braking force we do wish it was a little lighter action.
Comfort hasn’t been compromised as the ride quality is still pliant. It's on the firm side but yet manages to absorb bumps and imperfections in the road. This is down to Hyundai doing a lot of work on the suspension. It's changed the setup of the McPherson linkages up front to limit the horizontal displacement that occurs when the front wheels go over sharp bumps and in the rear, the angle of the shocks have been changed to a more vertical design to better improve the backseat ride. It has worked.
With a range from Rs 7.99 – 12.39 lakh Hyundai has priced the new Verna very competitively, matching the diesel prices of the Maruti Ciaz and undercutting the Honda City entirely. Its feature set is likely to lure more people as it tops the electric sunroof with new segment-firsts like the hands-free boot lid and the air-cooled front seats. In this new avatar Hyundai has brought a refreshing maturity to the design of Verna.
The new dynamics have now found a great balance between good handling and great ride quality, solving one of the major gripes we had with the old car. The three year/unlimited kilometre warranty also makes it a very sensible purchase. The Verna’s one serious stumbling block, is the lack of room in the rear and will make it far from ideal for users who are looking at spending most of their time in the backseat. But even so, the 5th generation Verna seems perfectly poised to make mid-size sedan car-buyers head to Hyundai showrooms before signing on the dotted line.
Photography: Vikrant Date