By: Priyadarshan Bawikar
Call them D-segment saloons or executive sedans, there have been plenty of options here to choose from for the Indian car buyer who has arrived in life. But an old name has made a re-entry in this segment in a brand new guise and threatens to upset the order. So we pit the new Hyundai Elantra against the Volkswagen Jetta, Skoda Laura, Toyota Corolla Altis, Chevrolet Cruze and the Renault Fluence
The Elantra is back after an overly long hiatus and boy, is it all grown up! The original car itself was quite impressive for its time, so this new one has a lot of expectations to live up to. Of course, by itself, it has certainly met and even exceeded most of them, but where the previous car was pretty much in a segment of its own, things are quite different now and that D-segment (ie, cars which straddle the 15 to 18 lakh rupee segment) is positively choc-a-bloc with highly capable and rather desirable cars which have come to us literally from the four corners of the globe.
From France, we have the Renault Fluence, from Germany, the Volkswagen Jetta, neighbouring Czech Republic has sent us the Skoda Laura, all the way from the Americas (at least for namesake) it's the Chevrolet Cruze and from Japan we've got the Toyota Corolla - all of them primed and raring to have a go at the upstart Korean.
I'm going to say it right away - it is next to impossible to give a definitive verdict amongst this lot. They're all very alike in some regards, especially with respect to the kind of basic features they offer. But if you explore their character, it's almost like staring at a United Colours of Benetton advertisement. All of them make very strong cases for themselves and each of them will appease certain types of people (or so we'd like to imagine).
The fact of the matter is, if you were a teacher with six equal bright pupils in your class and you were asked to pick the 'best' one, you would practically be at a loss to answer that question with unambiguous veracity. All you would be able to do is take into account your biases and simply pick your favourite. So similarly, rather than comparing these cars on the usual criteria, we'll try to look at each one individually and see where its appeal lies. And for the basis of this comparison, we've lined up the top-of-the-range diesel models with manual gearboxes.
The newest one here and pretty much the reason why this comparison was conjured up, the Elantra is easily the most striking looking of the lot. The 'neo Fludic' design (as Hyundai calls it) has pretty much taken the automotive world (and we mean the whole world) by storm and has really changed the way we look at Korean cars. With copious curves and slashes, and those gorgeous lights (both at the front and rear) that stretch into the body work, the Elantra is one cool customer. And it's much the same story on the inside as well. All that curvy-slashy business works its way into the dashboard and gives the impression that this car drove straight from the designer's concept model to the showroom. If gadgets are what impress you most, then the Elantra's cockpit is like a latest generation smart phone. You get keyless entry, a start-stop button, a reversing camera integrated into the rear-view mirror and our personal favourite, air-conditioned seats, the ultimate accessory for driving in the tropics.
When it comes to the job of moving about, let's just say that the Elantra is not what you might call a "driver's car". The ultra-light steering, which is an absolute boon in city traffic feels rather disconnected if you show the car some aggressive corners. Even the suspension has been tuned for outright ride quality rather than tarmac tearing antics. The 1.6-litre CRDi engine is identical to the one in the new Verna, and it doesn't feel under-equipped for the task of pulling along the bigger Elantra. The six-speed gearbox is tuned to work rather well with this mill and affords the car decent driveability. But high speed blasts aren't this car's forte; it isn't designed for such shenanigans and is best enjoyed as a comfortable family car. Even the rear seats are an absolute delight to spend time in and you even get controls for the audio system integrated into the rear armrest - great for that chauffeur driven backseat businessman, not so hot if you've got a pair of jumpy kids in the back.
While one can nitpick about the lack of involvement in the driving experience, when you take into account the eye-catching design, the abundance of gadgets and features, the comfort levels, and when you factor in the not-so-steep price of Rs 14.85 lakh for the diesel SX manual model, as a complete package the Elantra is really hard to beat and really raises the bar in this segment.
0 - 100km/h: 11.56sec Overall fuel efficiency: 13.52kmpl Price: Rs 14.85 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi)