To understand the giant strides Hyundai has made in the car making business, you simply need to park the old Verna alongside the new one. If you cover the badge, it’s hard to believe that both cars come from the same company and are just a generation apart. The bland and anonymous looks of the old car have made way for a bolder and more assertive shape that marks a confident new Hyundai set out to forge its own distinct identity.
The latest Verna is the seventh generation and is built on a completely new platform (internal code: RB) which took around five years and US$ 180 million (Rs 810 crore) to develop. The chassis is much stiffer than before and has been optimized for better crash worthiness to meet the increasingly stringent standards in Europe and the US. The suspension follows the tried and trusted layout of MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle in the rear. However, the sub-frame has been made more rigid and lighter which will be an advantage on our bad roads. With the new Verna, Hyundai has moved to an electrically powered steering with a column-mounted motor, which is the trend these days.
The new Verna looks impressive from any angle and sports Hyundai’s new ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design which in essence is a mix of sharply sculpted and flowing lines. The hexagonal grille is now an obvious Hyundai signature but it’s the L-shaped fog-lamps stretching outwards in the bumper that is a brilliant design detail. The hawk-like headlamps and the ‘power bulge’ on the hood all add up to make the new Verna look pretty distinctive and stand out in a segment where quite a few of its rivals have flair and character too.
Few cars look great in side profile but the new Verna is one of them. The heavily creased character line which swoops upwards from the front wheel arch into the rear tail-lights, slicing through the door handles along the way, looks simply brilliant. The swooping roofline and sharply raked C-pillar have reduced overall height by 13mm but they give the new Verna a coupe’-like profile and a more hunkered-down stance. Also, the flowing shape along with the generous 2570mm wheelbase (70mm more than the older car) makes this Hyundai saloon look longer than it actually is. Move over to the rear and the Verna continues to impress with its chiseled lines and pointy tail-lights which extend far into the flanks. Panel gaps are consistent and there’s a quality feel you immediately perceive when you tug on the meaty pull-type door handles.
NOT JUST SKIN-DEEP
The feeling of quality extends to the insides as well and though the new Verna’s interiors don’t quite have the solid, built- to-last feel of a Vento, they feel much richer and better finished than all its rivals. The interior design isn’t as cutting edge as the exterior but the dashboard is nicely sculpted with a subtle indent on the top, which looks nice but isn’t very useful. In fact, the storage space in the cabin isn’t too generous. The cubbyholes in the centre console are big enough but the door pockets are slim and glove box not particularly big. We’ve been spoiled by the Etios! The switchgear feels good and while the Middle East spec cars we drove came with mechanically controlled air-flow adjusters, the top-spec India model will get full electronic adjustment. Also, the high gloss plastic in the centre console is likely to be replaced with a wood finish for the India and features like parking sensors, a USB port and a Bluetooth system will be offered too.
The front seats are quite comfy and have ample travel to suite really tall people and there’s fantastic legroom in the rear too. However, like with the previous Verna, the seat is too low and this compromises under-thigh support. Also, the high beltline means in the rear, the cabin doesn’t feel as airy as in the older car. Also, the corners of the rear seat are rounded off excessively which again leaves you with little thigh support. It’s because of this that the Verna rear seat, despite the generous legroom, isn’t as comfy as the one in the Vento or City. Hyundai says the Indian Verna will have a redesigned rear seat and hence we reserve our final judgement until we test the local model. What’s good is the flat floor which makes it easier for the middle passenger to sit and the 465-litre boot is pretty generous too.
What comes as a surprise is the wide range of engines for the Verna. The Indian Verna will get two petrols and two diesels and the good thing is that none of these engines are carried over from the previous Verna. Instead, Hyundai has plonked its latest Gamma petrol and U2 diesel motors under the hood. The pair of petrol and diesels both come with 1.4 and 1.6-litre capacities with different power outputs. The 1.4 90bhp diesel is the same unit as in the Hyuandi i20 and hence the heavier Verna won’t be as quick as the hatch. But this base diesel motor is economical, refined and will do the job for everyday driving once you learn work around its considerable turbo-lag. However, its’ the 1.6 diesel which pumps out 126bhp and 26.5kgm of torque which promises to be the cracker. The previous Verna with the older 110 bhp 1.5 diesel motor set a benchmark but the new 1.6 VGT engine should eclipse every other diesel, including our current favourite the Vento, in a straight drag.
Hyundai’s new generation Gamma petrol twin-cam, 16-valve motor comes with continuously variable valve timing and, as a result, power and torque outputs are pretty healthy. The 1.4 delivers 106.5bhp, which is very impressive for a small capacity motor, while the 1.6 Gamma dishes out 122bhp to make it the most powerful engine in its class. But the proof of this pudding is in the driving and a 300-plus kilometer drive across the UAE was enough to tell us if all those Korean horses under the hood were genuine or not. Sadly, our test car was fitted only with a fours peed automatic transmission which was certain to blunt the performance a fair bit.
Fire the engine and it idles pretty quietly and doesn’t vibrate like the ageing Alpha II mill in the old Verna. Snick the spindly gear lever into D, prod the throttle pedal and the Verna leaps forward quite eagerly. Engine response at low revs is pretty good and the mild traffic we encountered leaving and returning back to Dubai highlighted the tractable nature of the engine. However, pile on the revs and the 1.6 Gamma’s engine eagerness fades quite quickly. The mid-range is adequate but at high revs, this motor struggles quite a bit and feels strained and thrashy. No doubt. The auto ‘box, which was quite slow-witted and even jerky at times, highlighted the Verna’s lack of top-end poke, but clearly this is an engine that doesn’t like to be taken to the redline and feels best at moderate revs. Cruising with a light foot down one of the many eight-lane expressways in the UAE, the Verna felt very relaxed, the engine humming in the distance and most of the noise coming from the Kumho tyres. Mated to a six-speed transmission for the Indian market, performance will be far better but we doubt it will set a performance benchmark. Quite ironic then that you have to turn to Hyundai’s diesel engines if performance is what you are after.
On the long, smooth and arrow-straight roads that slice through the Arabian desert, you really don’t get much idea of the dynamic capability of a car. The suspension hardly gets a workout and there’s not much steering work to be done either. However, there are crosswinds which can unsettle the car but the Verna felt remarkably planted and the long wheelbase gave it a composure that promise to make it a good long-distance cruiser. Try as we did, we could not find any bad roads and relied on speed breakers to give the suspension a workout. However, it was hard to judge how good the ride quality really is and the true test will be on Indian roads.
The steering is quite light but still had pretty good feel around the centre position but it doesn’t weight up consistently and at times feels disconnected from the road like many EPS units. However, that won’t bother typical owners who will be looking for an effortless steering feel and light controls for an easy commute.
UPPING THE GAME
With the new Verna, there’s no doubt that Hyundai has made a quantum leap forward. True, it may not be dynamically accomplished or as exciting to drive as the upcoming new Fiesta and it still lacks the solid feel of its European rivals. But the way the new Verna blends practicality, quality and value in a package that is more upmarket and stylish than before makes it good enough to disrupt the established order of the Honda City and Vento.