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Hyundai Verna Diesel - Bring on the road

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Stand ten feet away from the Hyundai Verna, squint slightly, and bingo, it looks like a distant cousin of the Maserati Quattroporte. Okay, okay, before you ridicule me, let me change that to Fiat Punto. Seriously, a bit of a snout-stretch would have added a great degree of character to this machine. To be fair on the car, the Verna looks much better in metal and plastic than in pixels. And a close look would tell you why Hyundai took that seemingly retro decision to sell both the Accent and the Verna side by side.

To begin with, it is longer, wider and taller enough to transport it to another segment altogether. Taller is the operative word here, since it means brand new cabin architecture that makes getting in and out easier while providing a more commanding driving position. Brilliant. It was so good that I couldn’t help but compare it with the ergonomics of the Toyota Corolla while I was driving it. Therein lies the clincher – there are no diesel Corollas or Civics yet. Ditto Optras. That means the only serious competition for this machine comes from the Skoda Octavia TDi, and that costs a whopping Rs 3 lakh more. Ford Fiesta TDCi? Well, it looks like the good old Accent CRDi can take on the all-conquering Ford since this one seems to have a much more potent heart. Yes, the powertrain – that is where the real action is when it comes to the new Hyundai Verna CRDi.

On the flank of the CRDi Verna, there is a little badge with three alphabets – VGT, short for variable geometry turbo. Now, one way to tell you that VGT makes immense sense is to give you a complete lecture on how it works. Please allow me to take the easy way out and tell you that Porsche uses a variable geometry turbocharger for their 911 Turbo. Now you get the point, right? Essentially, turbochargers are driven by exhaust gases and a variable geometry turbocharger ensures that power delivery is smooth through the rev range by demanding less exhaust gases to turn the turbine vanes at slower speeds. This eliminates the biggest worry of automotive engineers since the advent of the turbocharger itself – the dreaded turbo lag. A smoother and more linear power output is the result, and that coupled with the traits of a common rail direct injection diesel unit, makes the engine almost comparable to petrol engines with similar displacement. In the case of the Verna, the 1493cc diesel is more powerful at 110 bhp and much torquier at 24 kgm, compared to the 103 bhp and 14.9 kgm developed by a bigger 1599cc gasoline engine. And mind you, all that torque is available between 1900 and 2750 rpm, which makes it extremely driveable in day-to-day life.   Instant feedback from the VGT came when I decided to drop some colleagues at a suburban railway station. The place was crowded and I am certain that there were people crawling over the Verna’s bonnet trying to cross the road. Classic situation to test the driveability of a diesel? You bet. The Verna inched along with the tachometer riding a shade below the 1000 rpm mark and there was no engine knocking or similar maladies associated with traditional turbocharged diesels.

On more open roads and at respectable speeds, the car does not really feel like a diesel. You know that lumpy feeling associated with front wheel drive diesels, right? Floor the pedal and the Verna lifts its nose and pulls away cleanly. Sure, it does not rev its heart out like a petrol and you do have to stick to a narrower powerband as compared to a petrol powered car. Thankfully the gearing is spot on and that means you sink your teeth into the meaty spread of torque and stay there till you run out of gears (for which you will need a runwayequivalent of a road).

The numbers look good too. How does a sub-5 second 60 kph run sound to you? Actually the car stopped the clock at 4.8 seconds over repeated attempts. The gearshift is extremely positive too (the best Hyundai ‘box we have ever tried this side of the new Sonata?) and you can find third gear in sufficient enough time to touch 100 kph (10.7 seconds). A slouch of a Volvo FH12 driver to contend with? Well, the Verna just takes a deep breath and manages a 80-120 kph pass in barely 7.6 seconds – better than what many a petrol car can manage.   One area where a petrol powerpack still takes the pants off a diesel, any diesel, is in the area of refinement. And direct injection diesels, generically speaking, are noisy to begin with. Bigger explosions inside the chamber are good for complete combustion and hence better fuel efficiency as well as power – but hey, a series of bigger explosions make quite a racket too. Things get better as the engine warms up  and you don’t notice the drone in higher gears.

On the dynamics front, the biggest difference between the petrol and diesel Verna lies in the steering. The diesel feels heavier (naturally) and I cannot understand why Hyundai has not calibrated it differently. Heavier steering feel also means distinctly less feedback and that is not a good thing when your steered wheels are fed with copious amounts of torque. The overall result is a car that needs concentration from the driver – especially while powering down ghat roads since you will be dealing with torque steer which promotes severe understeer in front-wheel driven diesels.

In the handling department, Hyundai have outdone themselves and prove that they are quite good at producing inert cars. Perfectly understandable going by the buyer profile of the Verna. Ride quality on bad road surfaces felt surprisingly good for a Hyundai, but only a longer stint with the car will tell us whether it will work over a period of time.

In short, this is a diesel that can be fun to drive and one that can stretch a litre to 15 kpl on a regular basis (21 kpl on highways). Hyundai offers ABS as an option and it is, of course, worth every penny. What the Verna is not is extreme value for money. As said before, Hyundai has positioned its diesel a notch above the Fiesta diesel and a few notches below the oil-burning Octavia, and ahem, has stated that the Rs 7,72,000 (ex-showroom Mumbai) price tag is an introductory offer. We recommend a buy, but would have been pushing even more for its cause if Hyundai had offered ABS and airbags as standard equipment. As for a Maserati snout, we may have to wait for the facelift to happen.