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Hyundai Accent CRDi vs Fiat Petra 1.9 D - Diesel extremes


I have been driving a diesel car for a month now, and guess what, I am not bored yet. The car in question is the Hyundai Accent CRDi – not another spanking new test car, but a specimen that has done more than 22,000 km and one that stopped smelling new long time back. I commuted with it, blasted across to Pimpri in two hours flat, spilled coffee in it, gunned it to Ahmedabad and back, spilled more coffee and as I write, it is parked downstairs in my lot. 

This CRDi has become part of my life, and let me tell you, I am going to miss the car when the good people at Hyundai’s PR department read this report and get to know that the car has been with the same shameless journo for all these days. You see, the Accent came to Motoring for a quick comparison with the then new Fiat Petra diesel some time back. I don’t know whether the month long fling with the common-rail Accent has coloured my thoughts or not, as I try to unveil the comparison plot for you. 

Let us get the facts straight – the Petra diesel is cheaper than the Accent CRDi – way cheaper, and apart from the crumbling fortunes of Fiat in India, there are not many arguments against the Petra. Alright, the Fiat does not have common-rail direct injection nor does it offer the same league of performance, but it does have some strengths. It offers class-leading ride quality, comparable (if not better) build, drive-by-wire throttle and manages to stretch a litre as well as the Accent CRDi. Well almost. Looks like there is only a very thin line between the two cars, right? Let us explore further.

As a prospective diesel sedan buyer, what are you looking for? Lots of car for your money, and lots of savings when you buy and run it, you say. Then, I am sorry, you are reading the wrong article, since all the car you need is the Tata Indigo. So there, you need something more; maybe you want to make a statement and perhaps you want a degree of refinement in the process. Read on if you agree.   Styling
The Petra with its ‘hatch-with-a-boot’ look is not exactly the Paris Hilton equivalent of cars and the Accent scores (despite that unfortunate and permanent smile) by offering ‘born-to-be-a-sedan’ kind of looks. I personally prefer the ‘notchback’ Viva, but that is another story. But then, Accents are all over the place and I am sure your boss and your neighbour drive one. While thanks to certain developments in Turin and Indian dealers with attitude problems, three-box Fiats are a rarity. In case you didn’t know, the Siena tag is now deleted and the Petra petrol and diesel options have somewhat established that they are ‘new’ cars from the Fiat stable. In short, you pay less for the Petra and get more exclusivity. Things sure are looking good.
Petra D: *** 1/2
Accent CRDi: *** 1/2

Now we are dealing with varying scales of cheap plastics – from reasonably good finishes to atrociously bad surfaces. The Accent interior is contemporary and will remain so for some time to come, despite the dull grey plastics being used. The Petra interior has gone from avant garde to stale during the localisation process and the fake wood trim is eminently forgettable. The instrument console that wraps around the driver works better than the back-to-the-firewall school of thought as seen in the Accent. The Petra gets good upholstery and the air-conditioning is the best in the industry. The Accent seats are not bad either and proves good for longer drives, while the air-conditioning is a notch below that of the Petra. Overall, the Accent interior is a more ergonomic and comfortable place to be in – even if that means you will be travelling in an appliance. A well made one, at that.
Petra D: ** 1/2
Accent CRDi: *** 1/2

Engine and performance
Now we come to the real reason why anyone would buy one of these automobiles. At idle speeds, the normally aspirated Petra diesel is calmer, while the three-cylinder engine under the Accent’s hood feels as if it will vibrate itself to destruction. But once the engine warms up, common-rail diesel technology shines through and suddenly you have a diesel car that does not feel or move like a diesel. It won’t hold a candle to similar capacity petrol powerpacks yet, still the Accent CRDi has changed the game a great deal. More importantly, the CRDi is more involving to drive – you do have to change gears every now and then, even then you love the free flowing torque of the Detroit Diesel-derived engine that makes overtaking manoeuvres a breeze.   Actually, you don’t need to be a genius to understand these engines – just leafing through the brochures is enough. Despite the bigger displacement (1910cc), the Fiat motor develops only 62 bhp at 4500 rpm while the 1493cc CRDi unit of the Accent is good for 81 bhp at 4000 rpm. The difference is whopping on the torque front too – the Fiat having to cope with just 12.2 kgm at 2500 rpm, the Korean car getting 19.1 kgm as early as 2200 rpm. All that torque and power makes the Accent a quicker and faster automobile, that
too – this is the important bit – without losing much on the fuel efficiency front. There is more. Both engines can cruise happily at a steady 120 kph on the highways but the CRDi engine has that relaxed, almost indestructible feel about it, as if it will stay at 120 kph for days on end without batting an eyelid.

If you are ready to forget performance (most diesel buyers don’t really care) both these cars can return 15 kpl on a regular basis and raise that to an insane 21 kpl on careful highway driving as the Petra D proved in our tests.
Petra D:*** 1/2
Accent D:*****

Ride and handling
The Petra offers the better ride, and that too, by a very wide margin. This is the car to thrash through the potholed roads of ours, and without fear of breaking something. Fiat has understood developing economies better, it looks like. The Accent offers a decent ride over good roads but does not instil courage in you when the going gets tough. That said, we found rear seat passengers of the Accent a happier lot on our long road trips. What the Accent loses to Petra on ride, it more than makes up on the handling front – its neutral handling has an edge over the... er, edgy hatch-derived dynamics of the Petra. You do have to watch out a great deal of torque steer with the Accent though, especially when you point the nose of the car through a series of corners.
Petra D:****
Accent CRDi: *** 1/2

If economy is what you are looking for, then the cheaper car here, the Petra, makes ample sense, but if refinement and performance is your cup of tea then the CRDi is worth every penny you spend on it. By now, you know what matters to me more in a car – the CRDi stayed with me for over a month and the Petra, for a week. Go figure!
Petra D:*** 1/2
Accent CRDi: ****