Sure, everyone knows, as the various broadsheets have publicized, the global economic condition is still far from being colourful. To say that the whole of Europe is struggling would be a gross understatement. And, while America may see some light at the end of the tunnel, they’re still keeping both fingers and toes crossed to ensure that they can maintain, and build on, the current momentum. And, while India was able to buck the trend during the global economic slowdown, things have been far from ideal more recently. Due to the ill effects of inflation, high interest rates, high petrol prices, and let’s not even talk about governance issues, growth in India is expected to drop below the 7% level – with car sales following a similar trend.
And while small cars are still the mainstay of the Indian car market, it’s this segment that seems to have been the hardest hit as first time buyers are thinking twice before putting their money down. A recent auto industry report indicated that small cars have dropped below 50% of new car sales, while SUV sales are growing by over 30%. What this indicates is that, as the Indian market matures, car buyers want more from their vehicles – and that’s where the mid-sized cars come in. The C segment consists of the smaller mid-sized cars in the 8-11 lakh range, while the D segment consists of slightly larger mid-segment sedans in the 12-18 lakh range.
So, we’ve assembled a collection of the best of the C and D segments to see how much fun you can have while being sensible at the same time. Till a few years ago, if you would have told me that your main criteria for zeroing-in on a car is the outright purchase price and its fuel efficiency, I would have called you sane and moved on to suggesting a Maruti or a Hyundai. Today, the trends are changing and the buying public isn’t shy of experimenting. That’s why we’ve lined up a collection of cars from a range of manufacturers with the aim of finding the ones that please the most – and to judge if the fun that they offer is justified by their overall value.
So, ladies and gentleman, for the first time in our 5-year-and-some-months history, autoX is going blatantly sane – well, sort of – and doing a shoot-out based on practical parameters. The four reviewers – Dhruv, Ishan, Jared and I – put our thinking caps on and awarded points for quality (10 points), comfort (10 points), refinement (10 points), design & style (10 points), engine & transmission (10 points), ride & handling (10 points), value for money (20 points), and, because a car has to have je ne sais quoi (a certain something) to get into our hearts, we rate the cars on X-Factor (20 points) too!
So, we had the ingredients ready – 10 cars (5 in the C segment, and 5 in the D segment), some very empty, unrestricted roads, testing equipment, measuring tapes and humans of all body shapes – from short (Prithvi), to fat (our circulation guy), to tall (me), to bald (Ishan), and we also threw in an orangutan (Jared) for good measure – then we put our driving shoes on.
Style over Substance
Everything that’s sexy comes from Italy – and that’s a fact. For proof of that, just look at Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ducati, MV Agusta, Aprilia, and Monica Bellucci. Fiat’s Linea too – we all agree – is one of the most appealing cars on the road. But, let’s not talk about looks and style just yet, because there are more pressing issues at hand. For one, Fiat is currently present in India through the Tata dealer network, and this doesn’t do its brand value any favours.
In India, the Fiat name is ubiquitous with the 1100 (read Premier Padmini). And Fiat, as a leading European automaker, has been trying to build an independent image in the country ever since. So, in a bid once again to rebuild its image and revive its brand, Fiat is now setting up lifestyle cafes to communicate its Italian heritage. It’s also introduced updated versions of the Linea and Punto. What we have here is a Linea powered by a 1,368cc petrol engine, producing 88bhp, and priced at a very competitive 7.8 lakhs (ex-showroom) – making it the most affordable car in the test.
Last year, Jared made a trip to Himachal in a Linea powered by a 1.6 litre T-Jet engine, and he completed the journey back from Manali to Delhi in record time. So, it was no surprise that he lunged for the keys of the Linea as soon as it arrived. But, without that extra 24bhp, it obviously wasn’t quite as exciting as he remembered because he returned the keys shortly thereafter. You see, the 1.4 litre engine is dull and uninspiring – the power delivery is linear, but there just isn’t enough power for the taking. It takes an eternity to get moving and is hard to live with – even in the city. The handling, on the other hand, is as good as ever and the chassis comes alive when you push your right foot deeper into the footwell. The steering too is involving and responds well to your inputs. On the whole, the Linea certainly feels planted on the road and it’s one of the few cars here that would be right at home on a winding road – albeit a downhill stretch. Nevertheless, the increase in ride height for 2012 hasn’t hampered handling or road holding.
And the 2012 Linea looks as lovely as ever. The shapely front end and the elegant rear, coupled with the gorgeous tail lamp cluster, gives it an up-market look. But, the interior is where it all starts to go wrong once again. As one of my colleagues said in an SMS, “this is an ergonomic disaster.” Interior space is quite good, but the design and layout of the controls leaves a lot to be desired. And the quality of materials isn’t a patch on its rivals. Yes, having the lowest sticker price does help it, but those gains are offset by the abysmal resale value. The T-Jet would have been massively entertaining yes – but, as is, the Fiat struggles to match its more refined rivals.
|Engine||1,368CC / In-line 4 / 16 Valves|
|Power||88Bhp @ 6000Rpm|
|Torque||115Nm @ 4500Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 7.81 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||9.75/20|
Really Is A CAAAR
Nissan didn’t exactly have a roaring start in the Indian market. The Teana and X-Trail were merely specs on the sales charts and it took an eternity for Nissan to take a proper crack at the Indian automotive scenario – with the Micra. And I must confess, we all love the Micra – which has done reasonably well for Nissan considering its developing dealer network. And, to expand its portfolio and reach an even wider audience, an entry level sedan was an obvious addition. There was much speculations that a 3-box version of the Micra was on its way from Nissan.
And while the Sunny is built on the same platform as the Micra, and shares a lot of its components, what Nissan have managed to do with the body is nothing short of astounding. It’s built on Nissan’s V platform, which stands for ‘Versatile’ – and that’s self evident because the Sunny looks nothing like the Micra from the outside. You have to admit, though, that it’s not exactly a looker. The whole car looks bloated – like a fat kid on anemic legs.
But this is a deliberate trade-off, because the space you get on the inside of the Sunny – especially the rear leg room – is phenomenal. It’s simply mind boggling that a car built on a small car platform can offer Honda Accord rivaling rear leg room. The rest of the interior is a bit dreary though, as it’s a sea of grey. Yes, the climate control pod is funky and space age, but, with most of the controls carried over from the Micra, the Sunny finds itself outclassed in this company.
And the 1,461cc diesel engine, which is very spritely in the Micra, is just about adequate for a car of this size. While it revs eagerly all the way to the redline, the turbo lag is quite pronounced before 1800rpm and the engine just seems a little too loud at idle. The gear lever slots nicely into gear, but the throws seem a little long. Drive the Sunny eagerly, and it just seems to want to rap you on the knuckles and send you to the Principal’s office. The brakes have little or no feel, and the Sunny just seems to unravel if pushed hard. Drive it less enthusiastically, though, and it starts to make a lot of sense. The area where the Sunny shines is in the way it drives over bumps. The chassis is so well engineered that you just glide over bumps and very little is filtered down into the cabin.
So, it rides incredibly well, has light steering, and offers an effortless drive while allowing you acres of space in the rear to stretch your legs. It also offers AC vents in the rear. So, this would be very much the choice of the thinking man who values space and comfort. But, if you have even an ounce of petrol (or diesel) in your veins, then this isn’t the car for you. A two-tone interior, and a little more character from behind the wheel would see the Sunny score higher – but, as is, you would pick it only for its ride and roominess.
|Engine||1,461CC / In-line 4 / 8 Valves|
|Power||85Bhp @ 3750Rpm|
|Torque||200Nm @ 2000Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 8.78 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||9.75/20|
The Rapid comes to you from a blue chip brand in the Indian auto space – Skoda. The Skoda brand is well established, and enjoys a strong reputation in India. The Laura and Superb are amazing machines that we all completely adore. The Fabia, too, we think has the potential to become a hot-hatch. In fact, with the 1.6 litre petrol engine, the Fabia is actually quite a spritely little car. The Superb has done very well in the upper D-segment, and the Laura is still dancing elegantly against its rivals. There was a spot to be filled, though – that of an entry level sedan – which the Rapid fills nicely now.
Of course, you realize very quickly that this is really a Volkswagen Vento with a Skoda grille. But, it’s a Vento that’s more competitively priced, and that’s precisely why it’s been eating into the sales of the Vento ever since it was launched late last year. It has the same underpinnings of course, which means that the diesel version, which we have here, has the gutsy 1.6 litre turbocharged CRDi mill that puts out 105 horsepower and 250Nm of torque. Skoda seems to have played with the gearing a little bit, however, which renders first gear completely useless. The Rapid, contrary to its name, has virtually no grunt in first at all. Change up and things improve thankfully – and, by the time you get to third gear, you’re really flying down the road thanks to the very refined diesel under the hood. Once you have the engine in its powerband, it’s very responsive indeed. In true Skoda fashion, it also has a gear-shift indicator to tell you when to change up just in case you get carried away with the torque and power.
And the Rapid certainly goes where you point it, but the ride-and-handling compromise seems to have been altered a little too much in favour of a compliant ride. What you’re actually left with is a car that’s a little skittish on the road, with wheel control issues on a rough surface. On the whole, though, the Rapid is very composed – but you do get the sense that the Vento is a little more refined.
On the inside, you do get a lot of comfort and space. Even with a 6-feet tall driver, there’s enough legroom for another tall person to sit directly behind in comfort. And the two-tone dashboard is great in concept, but the brown is a little dreary in reality. The quality of plastics is good, and the features on our test car included climate control and rear AC vents. But, you just can’t help wondering that, for a little bit extra, you could get better refinement from its sibling – the Volkswagen Vento. And, at 9.2 lakhs (ex-showroom) for the Rapid, you’re certainly paying enough for that refinement. With the Skoda, however, you do get a trusted badge and the value that brings in the resale market.
|Engine||1,598CC / In-line 4 / 16 Valves|
|Power||103Bhp @ 4400Rpm|
|Torque||250Nm @ 1500-2500Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 9.19 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||10/20|
Bluest of Them All
Well, if the Skoda rapid comes to you from a blue chip brand in India, the City comes to you from the bluest of them all – Honda. And while Honda may have been struggling off late – stemming from the lack of a diesel engine, and exacerbated by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, as well as the floods in Thailand, both of which led to production disruptions throughout last year – the ‘H’ on the hood still has a sheen of its own.
In an effort to stay with the competition, Honda revealed an updated version of the City at the end of last year, and also revised prices to make it better value for money. But there’s no getting away from the fact that the lack of a diesel engine is truly hurting the Honda brand. Nevertheless, the City retains its 1.5 litre 116bhp petrol unit. Unfortunately, our test car came with the automatic transmission. Yes, it does add tremendously to the convenience factor – especially in our crowded cities. But, it quite simply kills the drivability of the engine. And the transmission doesn’t really listen to your inputs via the paddles on the steering either – instead, it continues to do whatever it feels like. As a result, the engine feels almost like a 1.3 litre unit that’s being stressed for no apparent reason.
The City does ride very well however – soaking in the undulations and potholes with supreme ease. The ride height has been raised for the 2012 model, and while this probably helps on most of our undulating roads, it doesn’t do much to assist while cornering – and you feel the car sliding away from under you. Plus, the very artificial feedback from the steering doesn’t help matters either. The handling, for a usual point-A-to-point-B sort of commute is perfect – it feels lithe and light on its toes. But show it some corners, and the City gets nervous. There just isn’t enough mechanical grip from the chassis, and the steering is vague in the way it commutes with the driver.
What you do get with the City, however, is class leading cabin quality and levels of refinement. And the latest avatar of the City is the most sorted of all. It still looks fine, has very well appointed interiors, and the quality is among the best in the industry. It’s sufficiently spacious, and the seats offer just the right amount of support in the right places. The Honda City is the kind of car that you can’t really go wrong with – it’s a safe bet, as its blue-chip badge indicates.
|Engine||1,497CC / In-line 4 / 16 Valves|
|Power||116Bhp @ 6600Rpm|
|Torque||146Nm @ 4800Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 10.22 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||10.5/20|
Okay, I don’t know where to start with the Verna, because it’s managed to transform itself from a dreary old hag into such a stunning young woman that it’s difficult not to be seduced by it. The Fluidic design theme works wonders, and all Hyundai cars now look stylish – Hyundai and stylish didn’t quite go together until very recently!
Hyundai has always stated that it considered India as one of its most important markets, and the fact that the Korean giant is the second largest passenger car manufacturer in India speaks of that commitment to our land. The trend started with the erstwhile Santro, which sent shivers down Maruti’s spine. And then Hyundai kept launching one attack after another in the form of the Accent, i10 and the i20. True, the Elantra – despite being an excellent car – didn’t quite take off in the Indian market, and neither did the Sonata do anything to worry the Honda Accord, but Hyundai’s intent for the market was right. And the company’s new design philosophy is doing wonders across the globe.
The Verna is, by far, the most stylish car in the C-segment, inside and out – it also has the most equipment. It may not be as spacious as the Sunny or the Rapid, but the seats offer good support. Plus, it’s got 4 engine options in two fuel types, and two gearbox choices across 10 variants. Never before in the Indian sedan segment was the consumer so spoilt for choice with just one model!
Our test car came with the 1.6 litre petrol engine, which was as smooth as silk. This motor is so refined that it’s almost in Honda territory, and the 126 horses are extremely accessible through a manual gearbox that’s a breeze to operate. The only place where the Verna loses out, like all Hyundai’s, is in the steering feel department – it simply has none. Also, high speed stability could be better as well. But, other than those few issues, the drivetrain is extremely refined. On the inside, the quality of some of the items – such as a fake wood trim – could be a little better. That apart, though, it has a very bright and airy cabin – and one that’s designed such that everything falls easily to hand for the driver. Our test car, at 10.3 lakhs (ex-showroom), came with Bluetooth & iPod connectivity, climate control, keyless entry and start, a reverse camera built into the rear view mirror, and a gear shift indicator.
Hyundai has, traditionally, enjoyed a very strong reputation in the used car market with its popular models. In fact, the Santro – despite being more than 10 years old – still commands a premium over some other rivals, and so is the case with i10 and Accent. It stands to reason, then, that the Verna should have great residual value as well. All of which means that not only does the Verna beat out its rivals in the C-segment, but it takes the fight to some larger D-segment cars as well.
|Engine||1,591CC / In-line 4 / 16 Valves|
|Power||121Bhp @ 6300Rpm|
|Torque||155Nm @ 4200Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 10.30 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||13.75/20|
Old Steed Aging Nicely
Now, here’s a car that become more than just a little long in the tooth. But that’s okay, you say, because it’s a Honda. Well, the truth is that it would have been okay a few years ago, when the Honda brand still wielded some sort of black magic on the Indian consumer. The brand used to be so aspirational that when the Civic was launched a few years ago, it was the equivalent of the Pussycat Dolls. But the Civic is now a generation old, and the latest generation hasn’t exactly been met with adoring praise in the American market thus far.
With that said, surprisingly, the Civic that we have here still has a lot going for it. As we’ve discussed before, the Honda brand value means high residual values and that helps it in the value-for-money stakes. The low maintenance costs almost offset the lack of a diesel engine (notice how I said almost). But what really makes the Civic a great place to spend time in are the high quality interiors. The cockpit layout of the Civic still retains a great deal of novelty, even after all this time. And it’s incredibly functional too. The driver is certainly made to feel right at home in the Civic – the seating position is awesome, and the layout is just spot-on. And, it’s pretty good in the back as well. The colours are pleasing, and the flat floor gives it a bit of a living room feel in the rear. Plus, you can control some of the basic stereo functions from the rear as well. And, incidentally, the stereo sounds pretty good too.
At the front, the steering wheel is not only a joy to hold, but the pointy front end responds well to your inputs. What lets the Civic down, though, is the way it drives. The suspension bottoms out over anything that’s bigger than a pebble, and the brakes are as wooden as they come. Even its brilliantly rev-happy 1.8 litre engine can’t save the day for it. The automatic transmission behaves like a confused puppy in the company of more accomplished boxes here, and the outright zest of the 130 horses just can’t be felt. Had the test car been a manual, maybe – just maybe – we could have enjoyed the Civic a wee bit more, but this one just didn’t quite get us excited.
You still get glimpses into what made this car great in the past. Every now and then, you get a sense of true Japanese engineering and innovation, and the Civic is able to recapture some of its mystique from the past. But, to really build on its reputation for engineering, the Civic now does need to be more dynamically capable than it actually is.
|Engine||1,799CC / In-line 4 / 16 Valves|
|Power||130Bhp @ 6300Rpm|
|Torque||172Nm @ 4300Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 14.42 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||10/20|
Toyota Corolla Altis
Quality & Reliability
Toyota came up with the ‘Q Class’ tagline – Q being for Quality of course – when it was facing a great deal of pressure in the West in regards to the unintended acceleration debacle. As it turned out, most of the cases of wildly accelerating Toyota’s were more likely to have been a driver who had simply mistaken the throttle pedal for the brake, or, at best, a foot mat that had lodged itself in the wrong place – rather than a fault in the reliability and engineering of a car like the Corolla. You see, the Corolla has been the mainstay in its segment the world over for many years, and this is no different in India. So that’s a chunk of points on the VFM front already in the bag. After all, Toyota enjoys massive brand equity in India, and is a solid name in the used-car market. It’s also unimaginably reliable, and it’s well-priced too. Plus, unlike Honda, this one comes with the option of a diesel engine too.
But, luckily for us, our test car came with the phenomenally smooth 1.8 litre gem of an engine, mated to the equally smooth 6-speed manual gearbox. Frankly, no engine-transmission combination here could come even close to matching this one for refinement and drivability. The engine loves to rev, and that’s a good thing for enthusiast drivers like us. The gearbox has a positive feel to it and the shift action is smooth. You would actually shift through the gate more often than required simply because the engine is ever eager to rev its valves off – it’s just pure joy, this motor.
Had this test just been a drag race, sure the Corolla would have shaken some very good players. But this isn’t a drag race – this is a practical test, and the Corolla goes wrong in a few places. Though the Corolla can give tuition to other cars on how to do straight-line high-speed stability properly, it isn’t quite as inspiring when going around bends. There’s a lot of dive under braking, the steering doesn’t weigh up perfectly, and the pronounced body roll can raise blood pressure levels to your doctor’s discomfort. So, the handling may not be as uplifting, but the Corolla rides beautifully over anything that comes its way. The suspension is supple, which keeps the occupants comfortable in the wake of our roads. And the interior helps on that front too, as it’s massively spacious and comfortable – but not really up there in terms of quality. The design, too, looks so obviously to be from the last decade that the iPod generation would simply refuse to get in. Even the exterior styling is mediocre, at best.
So, the Corolla Altis was fine when it hit the market a few years ago, and it soldiers on. But that’s the problem – it simply soldiers on. The refreshed looks are essentially just middle-age cosmetic lifts, and the underpinnings remain largely unchanged. And the more modern competition has pounced, to put it plainly. But what really puts the Corolla at a disadvantage, more than its tacky interior, is the fact that it’s quite staid and emotionless – there’s no character. Functional yes, but interesting – no!
|Engine||1,798CC / In-line 4 / 16 Valves|
|Power||138Bhp @ 6400Rpm|
|Torque||173Nm @ 4000Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 13.92 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||12.25/20|
Je Ne Sais Quoi
In India, Renault hasn’t quite enjoyed the status it would have ideally wished for. After the 51:49 joint-venture with Mahindra in 2005, Renault launched the Logan in 2007. But after their not-so-rosy time in the Indian market, Renault and Mahindra ended their JV in 2010.
Now, Renault is back as an independent automaker and has introduced three models thus far: the Fluence, Koleos and Pulse – the third being a Nissan Micra in a party frock. The Fluence is the most interesting in the portfolio. The design of this French sedan is quirky, but in a good way. It looks hugely interesting – it’s comical from some angles, and strikingly gorgeous from some. The front is characterized by a funny grille section that grows on you, while the rear end gets beautifully shaped tail lamps. Let’s just say that the many contours make it an attractive car all around.
When the Fluence was dropped off at our office, and I drove it for a brief moment to check it for any faults, I slammed the door shut and entered the office completely fuming. The damn thing has no power, and has an on/off switch for a turbocharger – but that was just my initial impression after only 5 minutes of driving. As I spent more time with the Fluence, I started to really like it. The engine – though only a 1.5 litre, 104bhp affair, and quite rough & audible – warms up nicely once you get past 2000 revs, and really shows its strength between 2500-3500rpm. And the slick shifting gearbox makes piloting this car a modestly entertaining experience.
The Fluence is a big car, and it shows on the inside. There’s plenty of space, and the seats are supremely comfortable. The suspension is soft enough to handle the potholed Indian roads, while also being sufficiently rigid to aid responsive handling. The steering is light for city driving, and weighs up with speed in a way that’s confidence inspiring. When turning the wheel in anger, you experience safety understeer, but modulating the throttle negates it completely. It may not be as much fun as, say, the Cruze, but it sure isn’t a dull car.
The best bit about the Fluence though is its interior. It’s very peculiar, simplistic, and interesting – all at the same time. Yet, it’s massively irritating for anyone with… fingers. The buttons on the main fascia are small and difficult to fiddle around with, but the entire layout looks and feels very attractive. However, there is a secondary control unit just behind the steering wheel on the right, and it is very intuitive to use. We all thought that the Fluence was actually a lot of car for its price (at 14.4 lakhs), but the unimpressive history of Renault keeps it from being an instant superstar. Also, the Fluence is yet to prove its worth in the pre-owned car bazaar, and the fact that not a lot are seen on the road doesn’t make its case any stronger. All said and done, though, this is the perfect car here for comfort and style.
|Engine||1,461CC / In-line 4 / 8 Valves|
|Power||105Bhp @ 4000Rpm|
|Torque||240Nm @ 2000Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 14.40 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||10.25/20|
First, let me get this off my chest – I’ve often thought that VW didn’t really make the best looking cars in the business. All their products – the Passat, Jetta, Vento and Polo – are largely characterized by straight lines. Sure, the Passat has all the bling you could ask for in the headlamp cluster, but it’s almost to a fault. Having said that, you can’t quite call the Jetta and Vento bad looking, now can you? And the Polo is quite an attractive option in the small car segment, isn’t it? The thing is that, while those straight lines do result in a lack of drama, they also mean that the current flock of VW’s are the most likely to age the best over the years. The Jetta, for example, will look subtle, yet dynamic, even 10 years from now – whereas the Civic will start looking quite the opposite. Simplistic beauty, anyone? The Jetta’s design is highlighted by its confident and long-ish bonnet, which has a smart chin to add a dash of aggression – while the rear is tightly packaged and balances the overall design very well.
German cars have always been praised for their quality and the strength of their engineering. And, honestly, the Jetta justifies that claim – from its body panels, to the heaviness of its doors, which (yes, at the risk of being cliché) have a reassuring ‘thud’ when you shut them. All of this really makes you appreciate the quality that’s gone into producing this machine. And the same continues on the inside too. The Jetta is, by far, the most well built car here. The quality of materials used in the cabin are the best, and the layout of the instrument cluster, as well as the various buttons and knobs on the dash, offer a perfect ergonomic balance. However, in the past, we’ve also complained about the interior layout of cars in the VW family for being too similar, and we stand firm on that criticism – component sharing is all well and good, but there should be a conscious effort to design the interiors so as to provide a sense of individualism to the cars. From a functional point of view, however, the Jetta has plenty of space and the seats are very supportive for long distance travel.
From behind the wheel, driving the Jetta is a very digital experience. It’s a straight faced affair, and without much emotion – but the Jetta does the job without a fault. Yes, the clutch engages a little too high up in the pedal action – and yes again, the brakes are a little too sensitive when you first apply them. But, those few complaints aside, there are very few dynamic shortcomings with the Jetta. The ride is brilliant, and the handling is fairly neutral. But you just can’t get it to misbehave. It’s like being with a uniformed member of the German cavalry – no matter how much you tickle him, he still won’t budge. The Jetta just keeps gripping the tarmac till you appear to be on the verge on being suicidal, and there’s hardly any body-roll to speak of either. It may not be too involving to drive, but it certainly offers oodles of confidence in the most refined package of this entire shoot-out.
The 2.0 litre, common rail direct-injection motor has virtually no turbo lag, and that makes driving the Jetta around town extremely easy – a task made easier still by the silky smooth 6-speed manual gearbox. The only worry that we had was regarding its residual value in light of its fairly hefty price tag of 17 lakhs ex-showroom. But, that apart, and even though it won’t stir your soul, it’ll certainly serve you extremely well for as long as you desire.
|Engine||1,968CC / In-line 4 / 16 Valves|
|Power||138Bhp @ 4200Rpm|
|Torque||320Nm @ 1750-2500Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 17.06 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||9.5/20|
Your Cake & Eat It Too
The Chevy Cruze has always been a favourite here in office, but no one anticipated just how well the Cruze would do amongst this very diverse bunch of cars. There were some clues early on, when all four members of our jury seemed to gravitate towards the drivers’ seat of the Cruze all at the same time – even though it’s a diesel!
The appeal of the Cruze starts as you approach the car – it just looks right. The massive honeycomb grille and sharp headlamps lend an aggressive look, while the prominent shoulder line continues this theme along the length of the car. The rear, however, isn’t as cohesive – with its rounded tail lamps. But, that apart, the Cruze fits in very nicely indeed with the new-age, and brash looking (in a good way), Chevrolets. This is certainly one of the most individually styled sedans out there – let’s just say that it’s not shy about making a statement.
The best part of the visual appeal, however, is that it has the driving dynamics to back it up. Once you immerse yourself in the driver’s seat – you sit low in a cockpit that cocoons the driver – you feel as though you’re a part of the car. The highly supportive seats keep you glued in your seat, as you throw the Cruze around without any sense whatsoever that there’s a supposedly heavy diesel mill under the bonnet. The handling is immediate, and the steering has great feel as it responds perfectly to your inputs. The chassis is very neutral, and the Cruze corners completely flat – there isn’t even a hint of understeer, which completely defies the fact that this is a diesel engined front-wheel drive car.
The flip side of this is that, while the ride is compliant, you do feel the road undulations – although, they don’t really upset the car either. The Cruze is, however, lacking a few vital bits in company such as this. For starters, it doesn’t have a dead-pedal – a foot rest for your left foot – which is essential, or Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, which would be a nice option. And, the quality of the plastics aren’t quite on par with the likes of the Jetta and Civic. Plus, in the rear seat, the sloping roofline means that headroom is at a premium.
But, none of that matters when you get in the drivers’ seat and fire the 2.0 litre, 150bhp smile-inducing engine. Yes, the rev range is small in second gear, but that only means that you get to work the very sporty gearbox into third, which is where the Cruze really takes off. Add to that direct steering and fantastic on-road manners, and what you’re left with is a practical four-door sedan that has an almost coupe-like feel to it. The cherry on the cake is that you sit facing the same three-spoke steering wheel that you would find in the fire-breathing Chevrolet Camaro. Jokes apart, though, the real cherry on the cake is the fact that the top-of-the-line LTZ manual Cruze will cost you a relatively affordable 13.8 lakhs ex-showroom. It’s proof, then, that you can have your cake and eat it too – you can actually be sensible, and have fun at the same time.
|Engine||1,991CC / In-line 4 / 16 Valves|
|Power||148Bhp @ 4000Rpm|
|Torque||327Nm @ 2600Rpm|
|Price||Rs. 13.80 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi)|
|Value for Money||12.5/20|
We were all pretty excited going into this mega test. And, thankfully, the conclusions have been quite heartwarming.
First off, the overall quality, features, and dynamic abilities of the cars that we’ve assembled here are light years ahead of what we would have been able to choose from just a couple of years ago. The fact that the Indian consumer is so spoilt for choice is a good thing indeed. And no other car represents this better than the Hyundai Verna, which is a thoroughly modern package that’s offered in 10 different states of trim to fit all budgets and needs. However, our emphasis in this test was two-fold. Features and affordability was one, but character and a sense of driving pleasure was another. And no other car combined this better than the Chevrolet Cruze. It offers a value proposition that means you don’t have to break the bank to have fun behind the wheel – and that’s the most heartwarming thing of all.
That being said, the scores were incredibly close and the range of abilities of all these cars so varied that it was virtually impossible to discount any of the cars here. The Sunny offers tremendous space in its segment, while the Fiat stands for Italian style and flair. But, if it’s flair you’re after, the Renault is trumped by no one. On quality, Honda makes up some lost ground, but it’s the Jetta that offers a really well rounded quality product.
All in all, though, this test shows just how far mid-sized sedans have come – to the extent that they’re challenging their more premium and stately rivals. While the D segment itself is knocking on the doors of the entry level luxury cars. And amidst this fierce competition, it’s the Indian consumer who benefits – so choose wisely, because the ball’s in your court.