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Hyundai Verna India Review - A new Vernacular

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It was late evening when I drew up at the hotel parking lot in Kodaikanal. We had driven the petrol version of the new Hyundai Verna all the way from Coimbatore and by the time we finished with our photography and the mountain road sections, it was dark. The light from the instrument console gave off a sophisticated blue-and-white glow and it stood out as it was pitch dark outside. I got out of the car and reached out for the key, only to realise that the Verna comes with a start/stop button and the key wasn’t where you’d expect it to be. That’s when the silence struck me. Out in the hush of a hill-station evening, the Verna’s 1.6-litre engine was running and I couldn’t even hear it. So I double checked — yes, the tacho needle was hovering well above the zero mark and the car was as silent as one of those fancy electric vehicles. Impressive.

However, when you summon the 121.3 bhp and 15.8 kgm of torque, the 1,591 cc four-cylinder motor can sing. On the free stretches of road I encountered, the engine revved freely and the Verna effortlessly attained three-digit speeds and was happy to stay there. The five-speed manual gearbox shifts smoothly enough, but the dog-leg manoeuvre for shifting into reverse is a bit irritating (it’s the same with the Volkswagen Polo/Vento/Skoda Fabia). I found the bottom-end performance from the 1.6 petrol a little wanting, but if you use the electronic throttle control, it will reward you with genuine performance. The engine offers more output than the Honda City and I am sure the new Verna 1.6 can easily keep up with it. And with its dashing new looks, it has enough power to seduce people away from the futuristic-looking Honda. That apart, the Verna — when it’s launched this June or possibly even by May — will come loaded with a host of features never seen before in this segment. (Check www.bsmotoring.com for more information on the new Verna, including a list of powertrain options and features).

But there are no issues with bottom-end performance from the diesel engine. The four-cylinder 1,582 cc CRDi engine is the Verna’s ace in the pack. With 126.2 bhp at 4000 rpm and 26.5 kgm of torque between 1,900 and 2,750 rpm, the diesel Verna means serious business — enough to get the Volkswagen Vento TDI worried. Outright output apart, the motor features a variable geometry turbine, which allows it greater flexibility in performance. Coming down the mountain roads the next day, the Verna 1.6 CRDi feels just like an automatic. Keep it in third and the engine pulls cleanly, never mind where the tacho needle is. The prodigious torque and the variable geometry turbine combine to give a flawless performance — be it on the highway or the endless stop-go traffic we encountered while entering Coimbatore. There is a six-speed manual gearbox for transferring the power to the front wheels ; you might think that’s a bit of an excess, but it will help when you are cruising on the occasional broad highway in our country.

Though the Verna’s powertrains are sorted, the sore point is in the driving dynamics. To go with its coupe-like profile, you’d want the car to handle like a go-kart. But the Verna doesn’t like corners; it understeers, going wide when driven with enthusiasm. Perhaps Hyundai has compromised on the handling attributes with the aim of providing ride comfort. Similarly, the steering set-up is engineered more for comfort and ease of manoeuverability rather than driving precision and feedback. The steering wheel, though good to hold, does not offer feedback either — when speeds increase, you’d expect it to tighten up, but it remains vague. This is the only thing going against what promises to be a terrific all-round package as and when the new Verna gets launched. After all, there’s enough in this car for Hyundai not to be silent about. The writer was invited by Hyundai Motor India to test drive the new Verna