The C-segment is an aspiring class for the common man as owning a sedan in this range mirrors his success in his professional life and gives his status a leg up. It may sound a tad materialistic to measure success in terms of possessions, but that is reality - we look at a sedan owner with more respect than a hatch owner. And among sedans, you cannot discount Honda's City, a crowd favourite since its inception in 1998. It did lose out to Hyundai's Fluidic Verna for a while because of the Korean sedan's new, radical looks, but also because it did not offer a diesel option.
Honda rectified the situation with a diesel variant this year, and in no time regained its crown - only to have the country's number one carmaker, Maruti Suzuki, crashing its party with the Ciaz, which outsold the City in its debut month. But give it six months for a clearer market picture to emerge. Till then, let our tests decide which sedan is the one you should put your money on.
Between the three cars, it's the City that commands respect. When it comes to engineering, Honda is one of the most respected auto manufacturers. Also the City has stood the test of time and has firmly remained the most desirable sedan in the segment. It still looks very contemporary and the design cues appeal to both the young and mature buyers. The City's arrow-shot design makes it distinctive, though now the company insists the styling is called "Exciting H Design". Today, the sedan looks more grown up with its chunky chrome grille and a bumper that has been redone to give it a more edgy look.
The Verna, outstanding in terms of design when launched a couple of years ago, is now showing its age. Though it did receive an upgrade this year with strip LEDs on the head lamps and wider tyres fitted on 16-inch alloy wheels, I think it is time Hyundai brought in a new Verna.
The new kid on the block, the Ciaz, sticks to a more conservative design that does not wow you, but still makes you notice it. Maruti has taken a more German approach and given the Ciaz big swept-back head lamps and a huge S-logo smack in the middle of the chrome grille. It also has prominent creases running on the side. The rear looks like a Honda, almost liked a re-jigged version of the City. The multi-spoke alloy wheels make the sedan appear more premium than its rivals. Having chosen the safe option, Maruti should find that this actually works - the Ciaz and City share honours in this round.
> Ciaz: 4/5; City: 4/5; Verna: 3/5
The most fun vehicle to drive of the three is the Verna. It also has the most powerful engine. The 1.6-litre engine's maximum output of 126 bhp and 260 Nm of torque ensure it can sprint like there is no tomorrow. The Verna also boasts of having the best-in-class power output for petrol and diesel engines. If you love pace then this car is made for you. What makes it even more impressive is the absence of engine noise. The six-speed manual gear provides smooth shifting, and the stick slots in effortlessly. Though Hyundai has stiffened the Verna's suspension, some more could have been done to reduce the body roll. The steering wheel also provides reasonable feedback.
The City's 1.5-litre engine feels unrefined, and once the needle nears the 2000-rpm mark, the engine noise is audible in the cabin. Step on the gas, and the powerplant starts calculating when it would be a good time to start galloping. As a result, it leaves you patiently waiting for the power rush. The linear power supply can make your blood boil at times. To make matters worse, the gear stick feels crude and doesn't ease in as nicely as one would expect. One does feel disappointed because this is after all a Honda car.
The Ciaz is powered by the tried and tested 1.3 multi-jet engine sourced from Fiat. There is a slight initial lag, but it does not effect your daily commute. With 88 bhp, it won't paint the town red, but it is more than adequate and one really can't complain much. Maruti has also managed to completely mute the engine noise, keeping the cabin quiet. With the emphasis on comfort and refinement, the Ciaz isn't the sharpest handler, and the steering wheel feels vague. The gearbox too lacks precise shifting, like the one in the Swift.
> Ciaz: 3/5; City: 3/5; Verna: 4/5
Here's the score: Ciaz: 7/10; City: 7/10; Verna 7/10. This certainly requires adjudication. So let's see, all the three cars come loaded with features like climate control, leather seats, keyless entry and push-button start/stop, multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity and the lot.
The Verna was once the king of features and the most radical-looking sedan in the market. With age catching up, it needs a serious revamp. Its engine, though, is a gem and remains the most powerful. However, as a total package it falls behind the Ciaz and the City.
The Ciaz offers rear-parking sensors, a sun blind for the rear windscreen and a touchscreen entertainment system with satellite navigation. The cabin build and finish are decent, and the all-beige colour makes it look premium. The comfortable ride it provides means it is a practical car for the city. And don't forget, it has the biggest cabin space among the three, so passengers get more than enough breathing space.
The Honda City still looks very impressive and even though the diesel engine might not be the best in the business, it is still the car everyone wants to buy. The interiors aren't the most impressive and it is quite evident that Honda has cut corners here, but one can live with it. The seats definitely feel very comfortable and the cabin is spacious. It also handles decently wheel and the steering wheel feels quite sporty.
The City is still the car to beat in the segment because of Honda's reliability. It is more driver friendly and has consistently been upping the benchmark. The Ciaz comes close, but the Maruti badge still doesn't have the same weightage as Honda. The power-hungry Verna has the best engine, but age, alas, is its Achilles' heel. Honda City, Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, Hyundai Verna. There you have it. Arup Das is Features Editor at AutoX
MARUTI SUZUKI CIAZ
Engine: 1,248 cc
Power: 88.5 bhp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm @ 1,750 rpm
Mileage: 26.3 kmpl (ARAI)
Price: Rs 9.8 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
Power: 98 bhp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 200 Nm @ 1,750 rpm
Mileage: 26 kmpl (ARAI)
Price: Rs 11.05 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
HYUNDAI FLUIDIC VERNA
Engine: 1,582 cc
Power: 126 bhp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 260 Nm @ 1,900 rpm
Mileage: 22 kmpl (ARAI)
Price: Rs 11.01 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)