Game changers of the year

Mahindra Verito Vibe Ironically for a year that has seen sales plummeting, we have also witnessed the launch of two highly successful cars - Honda Amaze and Ford EcoSport. There is also a third car that created a lot of buzz in the industry, but hasn't got as much attention as Japanese and American vehicles. We are talking about the Mahindra Verito Vibe. You might look at the three and wonder what brings such disparate machines on a common platform. The answer really is simple: they have successfully broken the traditional segment brackets and have merged the hatchback, sedan and even crossover markets in terms of price.

Capitalising on Indian excise rules that tax cars measuring under four metres less harshly, the three companies came up with products that stretched this benefit to the maximum. One became a mini SUV, another became a sedan from a hatchback and the third became a compact sedan from a full-grown sedan, allowing their makers to attach tags of below Rs 6 lakh to them.

The ploy is set to change the dynamics of the car industry. Nalin Kapoor, group head (marketing), Hyundai India, says, "Hyundai is researching and for sure we will take out new products in this sub 4-metre segment. Everyone wants to be a part of this class where the government offers concession. In return, we take on the challenge of producing world-class cars at an affordable price."

Like Hyundai, other companies too will consider the sheer saleability in this segment. Already since its launch in April, the Amaze has closed in on its main competitor, Maruti's Swift Dzire. Honda sold 22,368 units between launch and July (the tested Swift sold 64,508 in the same period). The Verito Vibe, launched in June, has notched up sales of 2,586 units in two months. The figures for the EcoSport have left automakers drooling. The company said it got over 30,000 bookings within 17 days of its launch on June 26. In July, the EcoSport sold 4,715 units, jumping over the erstwhile segment leader, Renault's Duster, which sold 3,089 units that month. Ford, overwhelmed by the demand, has already halted bookings for some EcoSports variants.

Other companies are planning to jump in. But the three vehicles are alreading reaping the benefit of being first movers. Honda's Amaze is a sedan created out of the company's Brio hatchback. Kudos to the car maker for ensuring that the boot doesn't look like an afterthought hammered into the rear. Mahindra's Verito Vibe may not be a new product, but by making it a notch back, or, as the manufacturer would like to call it, a compact sedan, the ungainly boxy look has been improved. But more than that, it is for the first time that a sedan has metamorphosed into a compact vehicle and, therefore, retains the big-car feel. Mahindra has also redesigned the rear windshield, giving it a more avant-garde slant and high-mounted rear lamps that double up as the D-pillar.

The Ford EcoSport just elevates the level of cool. Never has there been an affordable car that offers so much. True, Ford made us all wait for over a year for its compact SUV, and sure thousands are cursing the company for months-long delivery periods, but just take a look at the Ecosport and the frustration is worth it. It has that love-it-or-hate-it imposing front grille and tough yet civilised crossover looks and is replete with modern features.

Honda is known to make the best engines in the world and the 1.2 I-VTEC petrol engine is a silent yet stellar performer. But the true gem is the 1.5i-DTEC diesel heart which accelerates in a calm linear fashion without power surges. It is responsive in slow traffic. But it can get a bit noisy. Being a family sedan, Honda has ensured that the Amaze's wheelbase is 60mm longer, creating precious legroom space for the rear passengers which the Brio lacked. It comes with all the needed comfort, infotainment and safety features but built wise it feels light as paper.

Many may confuse the Verito Vibe for a hatchback due to its slanting rear but it has ample seating for five adults - this is segment-leading space. Its 300-litre boot is more than what many sedans offer. It only comes with a 1.5-litre diesel engine, which might not sound impressive in terms of power with just 65 horses to show, but it is one of the most fuel-efficient engines.

EcoSport has a lot of things going for it. It has a highly advanced 1-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, a fuel-efficient 1.5-litre diesel engine, deceptively spacious rear legroom and the best driver's seat in the segment with contours to give your spine a near-perfect support. And don't forget its voice command that takes care of all the controls.

No brainer this. Everyone wants the EcoSport. No wonder there are more wants and lesser deliveries - delivery periods are now up to nine months. But what if you want a car right now and not next year? Then obviously, it has to be the Amaze. You will get less cabin space compared with the Verito Vibe, but as a total package, the Honda has a more powerful and fuel efficient engine and is more contemporary. As a product, Verito Vibe is not a bad buy, it's just that its dated looks go against it even though it is a practical car.