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.
NEXT PAGE: Hyundai Elantra >>
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)
NEXT PAGE: Skoda Laura >>
The Laura has been around for quite a while now, but surprisingly doesn’t feel that dated at all. In this lot, the Laura looks like a very mature product. Nothing out of the way happening anywhere on the car and the design feels a little held back, but the overall proportions and stance of the car really make it attractive. The tall flat sides and the tall boot give it a solid, almost tank-like appearance, which is actually very much in line with the way the car is built. It feels like a car made to stand the test of time and we’re sure, if you were to get one now, not only would it hold itself together for the next decade or so, it still wouldn’t look too much like something from a bygone era. The interiors too carry over the feeling of solidness that the exteriors have and exude a sense of functionality. Everything you need is there and features wise, it will stand toe-to-toe with every other car in this class.
Now of course, for the sake of this comparison, we were forced to choose the 110PS car (as opposed to the 140PS one), as this was the only diesel Laura offered with a manual transmission. That being said, this engine is by no means a weakling and lugs this Czech brute around with a fair bit of ease. But where the Skoda excels really is its handling ability. The steering is weighted beautifully and the suspension is perfectly set up to deliver loads of grip while going around corners and no matter what the speed, you always feel perfectly in control. And while this meant-for-cornering suspension set-up does feel a little stiff while going over bumps, the ride is surprisingly not hard enough to really make the drivers or the passengers too uncomfortable. So while you might find it acceptable to be driven around while you’re in the back seat, the Laura is at its best when you kick the chauffeur out and get behind the wheel.
Honestly, the Laura of our choice is the one having the 140PS / 320Nm engine with the DSG gearbox, and given those options, we’d say that this is the car we’d most like to have as it does everything absolutely brilliantly, but at about Rs 19 lakh, it is way out of this league.
0 – 100km/h: 11.44sec
Overall fuel efficiency: 11.75kmpl
Price: Rs 16.34 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi)
NEXT PAGE: Volkswagen Jetta >>
Right off the bat, let me just tell you that the Jetta is easily our favourite car to drive, and by we, I mean almost all the staffers here at ZigWheels. Technically, both the Laura and Jetta are built on the same platform, and as such, share a similar feeling of solidity in the way they’ve been built. But the Jetta seems to sacrifice a wafting ride quality for outright handling prowess. The ride is quite stiff, but not jarring, mind you.
But let’s just say you won’t be singing praises about it after an hour long drive on a pothole riddled road. However, if you’re someone who simply loves driving and you happen to come across smooth twisty tarmac, you’ll absolutely have the time of your life, even if your passengers are cursing you for causing them a strong case of motion sickness. The feedback from the chassis and steering is absolutely bang on and the car absolutely loves to carve up corners like an overeager chef carving up the dinner roast. And the 2.0-litre TDI engine is an absolute gem as well. With 140PS of power and 320Nm of torque on tap, it’s not just the straight line acceleration that impresses, but also the way the Jetta shoots out of corners when you step on the gas.
But there are a couple of more trade-offs apart from the sometimes annoyingly stiff ride quality. While you do have all the necessary safety features (and some more) and electrically adjustable everything, the lack of automatic climate control feels like a rather strange omission.
Even though the touchscreen entertainment misses out on those most basic of all connectivity options – a 3.5mm line-in jack and a standard USB-in. And then there’s the price – at a whopping Rs 18.37 lakh ex-showroom, it is the most expensive one here. If your permanent place is behind the wheel and a great driving experience is absolutely paramount to you, then by all means, this is the car for you. But all the back-benchers will need to look elsewhere.
0 – 100km/h: 10.71sec
Overall fuel efficiency: 14.6kmpl
Price: Rs 18.37 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi)
NEXT PAGE: Chevrolet Cruze >>
The Cruze is somewhat of a mystery in this lot. It is somewhat difficult to peg this car’s appeal down to a few specifics. On paper at least, it is the most powerful one here, with its new revised 2.0 TCDi engine pumping out 166PS of power and an incredible 380Nm of torque. And with numbers like these, you’d expect the Cruze to decimate everything at least in a straight line. But “on-paper” and “the real world” are not necessarily the best of friends and that mind-blowing performance you’d expect never manages to come about.
The zero to 100km/h acceleration run clocks in at 11.51 seconds, which is pretty much dead even with the Elantra and the Laura (the 110PS one). This is all thanks to the tall gearing, which is good for reaching high top speeds, but rapid acceleration doesn’t seem to be the Cruze’s strongest suite, though you certainly wouldn’t think so each time you bury the throttle pedal. Handling wise, the Cruze pretty much holds its own and is rather fun to drive, but don’t expect it to compete with the likes of the Jetta and Laura in this department.
While the Cruze’s new engine does represent a significant improvement over the previous model, we think the essence of this car’s appeal is the way it looks. It might now have the funky curves and lines of the Elantra, but the Cruze certainly is a looker. There is a bit of muscle car happening in the overall proportions, giving it an undeniable American character and then there are the lines which are very euro-chic. Thanks to this, it manages to looks classy and aggressive at the same time, and if you happen to catch a glimpse of its intimidating front fascia closing on you in your rear-view mirror, it’ll instinctively make you want to put your foot down hard as well.
To top it off, even though the design is about three years old, the interiors still feel very fresh swathed in cool blue backlighting that seems to have come straight from Star Trek. The back seats? They’re generally very comfortable and there’s also adequate leg and head room in the back for any size passenger. Still, the Cruze doesn’t feel like a car designed for the chauffeur driven businessman. There’s a lot of youthful appeal and the place to be in this car is definitely in the front, not because of the way it drives, but simply because of the way it looks and feels from that vantage point.
0 – 100km/h: 11.56sec
Overall fuel efficiency: 11.75kmpl
Price: Rs 14.48 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi)
NEXT PAGE: Toyota Corolla Altis >>
Toyota Corolla Altis
There’s no denying the fact that the Corolla is the big daddy of the D-segment. It has been the wheels of choice for the mature car buyer year-on-year and nothing has really changed that, even though there have been more exciting cars that have come and gone in this class. Two years ago, the diesel variant came in, and that too has brought a good measure of success for Toyota. When you pitch it against this lot though, the lack of cubic capacity might seem a point of contention.
At 1.4 litres, it might have the smallest displacement here, but Toyota has tuned that D-4D engine and that six-speed gearbox to near perfection, lending it great tractability in almost every traffic situation. Of course, one does need to shift gears more often than some of its bigger engined competitors, but even the task of swapping cogs has received that typical Toyota treatment with slick and short shifts that are an absolute delight. To top it off, the smaller engine capacity combined with perfectly matched gear ratios lends the Corolla absolutely class-leading fuel economy of 14.2kmpl in the city and an almost unbelievable 24.3kmpl on the highway.
The Corolla has remained an unwavering proposition ever since it was launched all those years ago and now with this wonderfully efficient diesel motor, the car has become even more desirable. It has all the modern features and conveniences that are expected in this segment but where it falls short in our opinion is in its aesthetics. The looks are somewhat dated and even the design refreshments done to the car recently haven’t done enough to really make a stronger case in its favour.
But even though the design of both the exteriors and interiors might seem to be lacking in imagination, it is inoffensive enough to appeal to literally anybody in any age bracket. And it stops being an issue altogether when you start enjoying the stuff that the Corolla is the strongest at, which is back seat comfort. The ride is absolutely butter smooth and there’s ample room at the back. Pitted against the other five, it is the perfect choice for the rear bench customer who just wants a practical, no-nonsense way to get to work in a refined and comfortable manner with a professional taking care of the actual business of driving.
0 – 100km/h: 14.55sec
Overall fuel efficiency: 16.72kmpl
Price: Rs 15.38 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi)
NEXT PAGE: Renault Fluence >>
The Fluence is sort of an oddball here. First of all, it’s among the few French cars to make its way to India. Then there’s the way it looks. The styling might not have the futuristic lines of the Elantra or the aggressive stance of the Cruze, but it still manages to look different than every other car out there. Some might find the Fluence looks rather quirky, but we think it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, or extremely striking at the very least.
There’s something about its design that appeals to the fair sex and when we had all these cars over at the ZigWheels office, we found our women friends would almost always flock over this Frenchie. And this unique style carries over to the interiors as well. The two-tone black and white trim, the gigantic white backlit digital speedometer, the tachometer with its idiosyncratic yellow needle, the unique coloured and textured wood trim bits – all of them come together to form a cockpit that stands apart in this class and at the same time manages to be classy and attractive as well.
The way the car drives is no great shakes. The 1.5 DCi unit is just about adequate for the job, but isn’t the most refined mill here in any case. But this is something that won’t bother you once the windows are rolled up and you’re cruising along without pushing the engine hard. The handling too is sorted out enough to cope with every regular driving situation and the car won’t shirk too much from a bit of spirited cornering antics if you felt the need to do so.
Where the Fluence really shines however is the ride. It doesn’t have the wafty nature of the Corolla, but it generally manages to be very smooth while delivering a fair bit of feedback from the chassis itself. That correct mix of comfort and handling is a balance many car makers strive for, but generally don’t manage to achieve. And this is what Renault has nailed spot-on with the Fluence. At the end of the day, it’s a distinctive looking car that is well made, feels good to be in and does draw some attention to itself on the streets, making it quite desirable overall.
0 – 100km/h: 13.76sec
Overall fuel efficiency: 13.67kmpl
Price: Rs 15.20 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi)
NEXT PAGE: Verdict >>
The last word
As we’ve discussed in the start itself it is not the easiest task to choose which one of these six executive sedans is the best as a standard comparison of merits and demerits of each one doesn’t quite cut the mustard. After all, this is a segment that is rather an aspirational one where desire to get the auto that is close to one’s heart far outweighs the need of a car which performs the utilitarian function of getting one from point A to point B. More often than not, the choice here boils down to brand preference and an overall feelgood factor that one gets with the car of their choice, which is as subjective and as personal as one’s choice of favourite ice cream flavour. And while the dilemma here isn’t as confounding as walking into Baskin Robbins and having to choose one among 31 different flavours, the six cars here easily cater to a wide palette of tastes across the board and naming one amongst these as our favourite is more difficult than it looks.
Honestly, we would have loved to give it to the Volkswagen Jetta for the sheer ‘more-smiles-per-mile’ driving experience, while we shouldn’t really forget its sibling the Skoda Laura which offers everything that the German does but with a few more features and a lower price point. However the better tuned 140PS variant with the brilliant 6-speed DSG gearbox in the L&K trim that would’ve easily walked away with top honours here, but its prohibitively high price point really takes it out of contention and of course it wouldn’t be a fair comparison in any case. We really love the Chevy Cruze as well; it really offers a lot for your money’s worth, while we think the Renault Fluence should take home the ‘prettiest maiden of the fair’ award. But what this segment has always needed, the Toyota Corolla Altis has been providing in spades ever since it first stepped on to Indian shores – a refined, practical, feature rich package backed by Toyota’s unerring build quality that offers no-nonsense motoring, especially for those who prefer go about the business of driving while firmly planted on the rear seat.
Then does the upstart from Korea have what it takes to rock the boat and carve a place for itself in our hearts? The answer here is very much in the affirmative as the Hyundai Elantra manages to do everything that one expects of it and at the same time brings about a much needed breath of fresh air that had been long lost in this segment amongst the seriousness of the Germans and the practicality of the Japanese. It proves that panache, performance and equipment need not come for a pretty penny and with such an impressive overall package, the Elantra takes the top spot.