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With the Chevrolet Cruze and the Renault Fluence recently getting upgrades and the Hyundai Elantra re-entering the segment, competition is definitely heating up among executive saloons.

The thing is, no matter how you look at the situation, there’s no real loser here! Interesting, isn’t it? This particular segment has grown immensely in the past year alone, but sadly, we can’t bring all of them together for you, so we’ll compare three of the newbies to a tried and true warrior.

Looks
Let’s start with the basics. The Elantra is the newest one here and it looks the part, with those fluidic design cues stretched over a longer car than the Verna. It’s gorgeous side to back, elegant and fresh. The Cruze just got a facelift, sure, but there are no changes on the outside that you would notice. But then again, the Cruze was always a sharp looking car with its angular headlamps, creased hood and the split, Chevy grille up front. The Fluence is all about unique French flair that will make heads turn, no matter where you are. The Laura, on the other hand, does show its age among the newcomers, at least visually – those shapely headlamps and the front clip haven’t seen a change in a few years now. That’s not to say it’s not a good looking car, just the familiarity thing.

Interiors
This is about personal taste more than anything else. Personally, we prefer the all-black treatment on the Cruze because it lends the car a more premium feel. But, at the same time, it also makes the interior feel a little claustrophobic, but there’s no real dearth of space, so that can easily be overlooked.

The Fluence interior may not look ultra-hot and its ergonomics are not beginner-friendly but once you get to used to it, you will find that it has everything you need, and is extremely comfortable too.

The Elantra and the Laura both come with dual-tone, airy interiors that are quite inviting, but we’d have to go with the one on the Elantra if asked to choose simply because it is laid out better. The Laura still makes do with a single DIN audio system while the others get double DIN units with steering mounted controls as well. In terms of sheer space though, the Elantra comes out on top because, while it’s about the same length as the others, it has a longer wheelbase, thus liberating more room. So, it’s a close match between the Cruze and the Elantra.

Performance
Just by looking at the numbers, the Elantra may seem severely outclassed, but real world tests suggest otherwise. The Elantra diesel is powered by a 126 bhp, 1.6 litre diesel engine, the same one found under the hood of the Verna. Where it’s more than adequate in the Verna, in a heavier car, the engine may seem a little strained. But once on the move, there are absolutely no problems. Turbo lag can irritate only if you’re stuck in the wrong gear or are too low in the rev range. The Fluence also comes with a smaller engine, but the lag is not as apparent as its earlier avatar. In fact, it’s quite a stonking engine now, performing superbly and is good on fuel too. The other two are powered by 2- litre units which seem far more comfortable powering large chassis than the smaller peers. This being the top of the line, Laura comes with 140 bhp, so you’re quick to take off from stop lights; it’s great to use in city traffic. There is a 110 bhp version which seems a little inadequate after driving the more powerful version.

The Cruze is definitely the straight-line king, with the new, revised powerplant that makes a lot more power and a revised six-speed transmission to go with it as well. Elantra’s smaller engine comes into its own when we speak of mileage though, and it’s in the league of the extremely efficient Laura, delivering around 16 kmpl despite the hard driving. The Laura didn’t dip below 15, the Fluence below 14, while the Cruze stayed solid at 13 kmpl. Mind you, these figures were under hard driving, so they will be bettered in normal driving.

Ride and handling
The older Laura leaves the others in its wake here, with sure-footed and nimble handling that you expect out of smaller, lighter cars. It’s the definite winner in the corners and will leave even the more powerful Cruze behind when you arrive at the twisties. The only downside is that the bumps filter into the cabin quite often. More often than not, it’s just noise, but sometimes, the actual impact also makes its way through and that can be a little unnerving. The Fluence may not be as great a handler, but it has the best suspension in the business, soaking up anything the road throws at it with aplomb.

The Elantra handles like a typical Hyundai, that is to say, low-speed ride is fantastic, with the suspension absorbing the bumps, but because it’s a little softly sprung at the rear, it’s best to keep the pace on the lower side, though it’s a **** of an improvement from the Verna. The Cruze, we feel, offers a happy medium: not as sporty a handler as the Laura, but at the same time, doesn’t scare you from nudging the edges on the speedometer.

Verdict
So, what will it be, then? One of the newcomers or the Laura? Well, the updated Cruze has us grinning from ear to ear. The powerful engine is a hoot to drive and the balanced ride quality is great in the city as well on the open roads. The Elantra definitely has a lot going for it, apart from fantastic looks: the engine is great, save for the little turbo lag. And the Fluence is breathing down its neck.

Specsheet

Chevrolet Cruze
Price (ex-Delhi) Rs13.85-15.67 lakh
KItna deti hai? 13.6 kpl
Fuel tank: 60 litres
Fuel tank good for: Over 700 km
Engine: 1998cc inline four-cylinder with turbocharger
Power: 164 bhp @ 3800 rpm
Torque: 38.74 [email protected] 2000 rpm
Suspension:(Front) MacPherson Strut, (Rear) Torsion beam
Good for a family of five: Yes
Dimensions in feet:Length/Width/Height 15.08/4.84/5.86

Skoda Laura

Price (ex-Delhi) Rs14.48-18.97 lakh

Kitna deti hai? 15.4 kpl

Fuel tank: 55 litres

Fuel tank good for: 847 km

Engine: 1968cc inline four-cylinder with turbocharger

Power: 140 bhp @ 4000 rpm

Torque: 32.6 [email protected] 1750-2500 rpm

Suspension:(Front) MacPherson Strut, (Rear) Torsion beam

Good for a family of five: Yes

Dimensions in feet: Length/Width/Height 14.99/5.8/4.87

Hyundai Elantra

Price (ex-Delhi) Rs13-15 lakh, estimated

KItna deti hai? 16.3 kpl

Fuel tank: 56 litres

Fuel tank good for: 913 km

Engine: 1582cc inline four-cylinder with turbocharger

Power: 128 bhp @ 4000 rpm

Torque: 26.5 [email protected] 1900-2750 rpm

Suspension:(Front) MacPherson Strut, (Rear) Torsion beam

Good for a family of five: Yes

Dimensions in feet: Length/Width/Height 14.86/5.82/4.82

Renault Fluence

Price: Rs15.20 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)

Kitna deti hai: 20.4 kmpl, Arai test

Fuel tank: 60 litres

Tanking-up good for: Over 1,000 km

Engine: 1461cc four-cylinder, turbo-diesel

Power: 110PS

Torque: 240Nm

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Dimensions in feet: (LxWxH) 15.15 x 5.94 x 4.88

Boot space: 530 litres

http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report_as-hyundai-elantra-takes-on-rivals-the-customer-is-the-winner_1720205
 

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This class is so competitive that no matter what you choose you end up with a decent vehicle. It really boils down to styling and pricing for me.
 
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