I am not here to tell you the merits of diesel cars vis-à-vis petrol ones, especially given the backdrop of fuel pricing policies. I am here to lay a burning issue to rest; an issue that’s threatening to tear the Internet apart, a debate that’s been clogging our telephone lines and inboxes. Is perennial favourite Volkswagen Vento TDI capable of holding its own against a more powerful and better loaded new Hyundai Verna CRDi? Has the winner in the sub-Rs 11 lakh C-segment diesel variant market changed? Well, if you aren't worked up yet, read on.
Let me tell you straight away, the Verna definitely looks the part. Three years down the line when there might be a new Honda City, a facelifted Volkswagen Vento and probably even a new Suzuki SX4, the Verna would still look fresh enough to stay in the game. The use of several layers, a strong light-catcher line, sculpted waistline and swoopy headlamps and tail lamps make it a very busy design. There is not just one element that catches your eye; there are several, which is good for slowing the ageing process. From the front, the new “fluidic design” is interesting enough and it’s only at the rear that you notice an ever-so-slight hint of the last-gen BMW 5 Series. The Volkswagen is more conservative than youthful. It looks well-proportioned and the nose is smart enough as a result of its Polo lineage. The large tail lamps and the manner in which the C-pillar curves in around the rear glass make it less edgy. One glance at the rear and you know that in just a year the Vento is starting to feel its age.
You won't waste any time in realising two facts — the Verna’s interiors feel as fresh as the exterior and there are more features too. Keyless entry and start-stop button? Check. Reversing camera mounted on automatically dimming rear view mirror and parking sensors? Check. Bluetooth system with aux-in/USB? Check. Audio controls on steering? Check. Electronically foldable outside mirrors? Check. Six airbags? Check. All these features, found on the top-end SX(O) aren’t available on the top-end Vento Highline which has just three redeeming features — a pair of air vents at the rear, a tilt and height adjustable steering and the now famous adjustable front-passenger seat that leaves more space for the occupant just behind. Despite the sloping roof at the rear, the Verna doesn’t feel short on headroom and there’s ample shoulder and legroom. The middle seat is also more useful for short trips, since the floor is flat unlike the one in the Vento where the central hump makes life a bit more difficult.
Both cars have it pretty good when it comes to the quality of the build. The Vento feels solid and should withstand abuse over years, while the Verna’s soft-touch plastics and use of surfaces is pleasing not just to the eye, but to your hands as well.
So far, the Vento has been the king-of-the-hill as far as performance diesels are concerned due to its 25.4 kgm of peak torque. But that might no longer be the case with the arrival of the Verna. Under the hood is a 1.6-litre diesel engine taking the place of the 1.5-litre motor that used to power the previous version. Producing 126 bhp of peak power and 26.5 kgm of peak torque from as low as 1,900 rpm, the Verna beats the 104 bhp Vento on paper.
Despite all those extra ponies, the Verna is only marginally quicker. The trot to 100 kmph comes up in 10.61 seconds, just 0.4 seconds quicker than the Vento. Even passing speeds are not too different — the 80-120 kmph run is dismissed in just 7.7 seconds in the Verna, with the Vento doing it in 8 seconds. The top speeds are identical at 190 kmph, so the differences clearly lie elsewhere. right?
They do. The Verna’s new-generation engine is far quieter and smoother than the Vento’s gravelly motor that gets boomy past 3,000 rpm. The Verna is also more efficient, delivering 16.1 kpl overall to the Vento’s 15.3 kpl. But the Vento revs higher and quicker, which makes it feel faster off the blocks. In the city, the lighter clutch of the Verna makes it easier on your left foot and the gearbox action of the six-speeder is slicker too.
Neither car can lay claim to being great fun to drive. The Verna’s suspension setup is more ride-oriented, so it uses spring ratings that make for a softer ride. It does ride with more suppleness, especially at low speeds, while the Vento doesn’t do too badly either. Both cars, however, have an annoying tendency to bottom out. The Vento will line its inner-wheel arches with tread marks, while the Verna will pitch and dive on bumps. However, it is the Vento that will inspire more confidence when pushed hard and has better high-speed stability too.
Around corners, the Vento has a better steering feel, compared to the Verna, but that doesn’t make it the leader in its class. The steering on the Verna diesel is better weighted than its petrol sibling, but it tends to let the tail step out once in a while, which can get very disconcerting. On a flat-surfaced corner, it will go into perpetual understeer, but throw in a bump mid-corner and it will point its nose in directions that can get unnerving. Braking is more reassuring in the Vento, while the Verna, despite using disc brakes all around, lacks feel and is difficult to modulate.
The Verna’s trump card is its price-to-performance-to-features ratio. That is exactly what most buyers in the premium C-segment tend to look at, and the Verna has more bases covered here. At Rs 10.53 lakh, the loaded SX (O) costs nearly a lakh more than the Vento TDI Highline at Rs 9.49 lakh. But there’s also the Verna SX without the extra airbags and some other features, at Rs 9.8 lakh (all prices ex-showroom, Mumbai). Considering all the factors, the Verna is what we would recommend — at least until the new Ford Fiesta diesel comes out. There, we pre-empted another flame-out war on the Internet now, didn't we?