2020 Hyundai Verna | First drive review
With all the noise around SUVs you’d think manufacturers had all but given up on the traditional sedan. But, whether by design or sheer coincidence, C-segment sedans are seeing a sudden resurgence. I’d credit Skoda with renewing interest in the ‘car’ with its astonishingly well-priced Rapid Rider. Honda, whose meticulously laid out plans for the fifth generation City went flying out of the window with the lockdown, are now ready with their bread-and-butter sedan. And, as always, Hyundai is ready to respond to the competition with this update to the Verna.
Not the Turbo
So here’s what we do not have — a turbo engine! With things nowhere near normal Hyundai could only manage to get this one car to Pune, the 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol with the CVT automatic. Once this car has done the rounds of journos in Pune it will be swapped with the Verna Turbo doing the rounds in Mumbai, but at least full credit to Hyundai for registering, transporting and making sure we get our hands on test cars. It’s a lot more than can be said of many others.
Anyways, a nat-asp petrol is a welcome change from the norm. The variant we are testing is the new 1.5-litre petrol that makes 113.3bhp and 144Nm of torque. This is down on the old 1.6 petrol that made 121bhp and 155Nm, but of course if you want performance you’d look at the Turbo. The latter, while only 5bhp up on the power, not only has more torque (up by 28Nm) but it crucially peaks at 1500 and stays flat till 4000rpm, unlike the 1.5 MPI where peak torque comes in at 4500rpm. That means you have to whip the 1.5 motor to really get it moving and that’s where the limitations of the CVT gearbox are evident. Now this gearbox does makes a game attempt at simulating the shifts of a regular automatic with the rise and fall of revs during hard acceleration, as if actual gears are shifting. But this is a CVT and you cannot completely eliminate the rubber band effect, which driving enthusiasts aren’t going to be happy about.
That said, where this powertrain does shine is in refinement. The silence at idle is fantastic. At a relaxed cruise the engine is absolutely inaudible, plus there are zero vibrations filtering into the cabin. It also likes to rev, something that will be even more evident with the manual gearbox, though the CVT, I must say, is butter-smooth. The CVT also aids in good fuel efficiency, a claimed 18.45kmpl on the ARAI cycle.
A classic three-box shape
Looking at the Verna makes me happy. Not that this is the prettiest car on the road but a classical three-box is what we doodled in our school books; nobody ever scribbled out an SUV, at least not my generation. The Verna’s profile remains unchanged from the full model change that it received in 2017 where it grew 65mm in length and 35mm in wheelbase. What we have here is not a full model change and the K2-platform (shared with the Elantra) remains unchanged. What it does get is a significant nose job, with a striking bronze-coloured metalwork kind of effect on the wider grille. Blingy best describes it and this is another reason to check out the Verna Turbo cause that gets a blacked-out grille which looks far better, if you ask me. The bumpers are new as are the headlamps that have LED lighting and a new DRL signature that looks (sort of) like the McLaren logo. There’s a new design for the 16-inch rims while the rear gets new taillamp graphics. And that’s about it.
Upgraded interiors of the Hyundai Verna
On the inside the dash remains unchanged and to accommodate infotainment screen that has grown by an inch the designers have (smartly!) given it a floating effect. The 8-inch screen gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is mated to an Arkamys sound system and the best part is the seats are cooled. It gets Hyundai’s Blue Link connectivity suite wherein you can start and cool the car remotely, geo-fence it, track it and also connect the Concierge, get breakdown assist and more. There’s also more equipment like the wireless charger but because the architecture is the same you can’t fit a Max-sized iPhone on the charging pad — an ergonomic flaw that you’d not expect from Hyundai. Another irritant is the new digital cockpit that is too fussy, completely eliminates needles (no digital needles either) and gets fonts that remind me of old Casio calculators. The tacho graphics swing counter clockwise and you have to take your eyes off the road and really concentrate on the clocks to make out is being displayed. Which is probably why they’ve thoughtfully provided numerical readouts, but it is all in the thousandths. At idle it reads 0.6, at full revs it reads 6.3, this is just not intuitive.
Not very spacious at the back
The Turbo gets all-black interiors while the rest of the range makes do with a dual-tone finish. The latter is what the Verna needs because this cabin isn’t very spacious and the lighter beige does give it some sense of spaciousness, allied to the new sunroof (which is not panoramic). With the driver’s seat adjusted to how I like it there’s barely enough space for me to squeeze in at the back, the shoulder width makes three abreast a squeeze, the door aperture is narrow not helping ease of ingress-egress, and the headroom is just about enough. Behind the ’wheel though the Verna is very nice.
Surprisingly good ride and handling
On the driving front you immediately notice the upgrades to the suspension, which has an even more European feel to it in the firmness of the damping and the more precise rebound. The ride isn’t soft or squishy with the nose staying planted and not bouncing about on undulating roads. Floaty suspension is a thing of the past as far as Hyundai is concerned. The better rebound ensures that when you go over a bump the nose doesn’t pogo but immediately returns to its ride height and stays there. And even though the suspension has been firmed up the ride is actually very good, even better than the Skoda Rapid and far better at ironing out the small undulations and broken patches. Throw it round bumpy corners and the Verna has better composure and damps out mid-corner bumps with better sophistication and polish than the Rapid, which is a massive testament to just how much better Hyundai have got with their ride and handling.
The nose has very good bite along with sharp turn-in and tenacious resistance to understeer. There is a fair bit of body roll and pushing it hard you can feel the rear wanting to get away from you but it doesn’t do anything funny, the Bridgestone Ecopia 195/55 16-inch tyres gripping well.
What Hyundai now need to work on is the steering which, while precise and direct, is lacking in feel and feedback. So while the Verna actually grips really well, from behind the ’wheel you’re not grinning as much as you should. And another thing that needs looking into is the calibration of the ABS that kicks in too early when you hit a wet or gravelly patch. On dry roads the front disc and rear drum setup delivers good enough stopping distances and the top spec variants also get ESP along with six airbags.
Are sedans still relevant?
Yes! You sit nice and low, just how one should in a proper car. Sitting within the car and not on top of it makes you more keyed into the driving experience. Also no matter how hard the engineers try, the handling and dynamics of an SUV can never come close to proper cars. And with the Verna the ground clearance is also very good. The big wheel arch gaps do spoil the styling in profile but it does neutralise the one trump card of an SUV — the ability to get over big speed breakers without scraping its belly. And ultimately you save a good deal of cash with a car. This fully-loaded 1.5 petrol with the automatic costs Rs 13.84 lakh which is 2.3 lakh cheaper than the Creta with the same powertrain. The price gap widens by a lakh of rupees when you look at the turbo-petrol though the Verna gets the Venue’s 1.0 GDI motor, not the Creta’s larger 1.4. Now that’s the spec I can’t wait to drive — once our colleagues in Mumbai are done testing that car.