Comparison test: 2020 Honda City vs Hyundai Verna
Before we get to which of these two sedans is better, here's an eye-opening statistic: the executive sedan segment has reportedly dropped by over 50 per cent, and that's before we even get to March and the sales slump brought on the pandemic! It's no secret that overall car sales have been slipping, but it is telling that this segment has slipped the most. We'd reckon a big part of that is down to the fact that two of the three top-selling sedans were due for replacement.
Now that the new Honda City and Hyundai Verna are finally here, the double whammy of family sedans should wrestle some attention away from the headlining SUVs, yes? The tussle between the two models is an age-old story, and while the sales charts show the two models trading places over the years, with Maruti Suzuki's value-king Ciaz at the top, the Verna has bested the City in our reviews in the recent past. Is that all set to change now? A comprehensive head-to-head, with real-world performance and efficiency test figures, of both cars reveals all.
If one were to only go by pictures of the two cars, the City certainly looks more special. In its fifth-gen now, its styling has matured to the point where it looks like the next Honda up, the Civic. Between the low-set headlamps with their intricate LED detailing, relatively flat shoulder line, and slim, wide tail lights, the City looks like a proper sports sedan. But then you see it in person and realise that because of the height of the bulging hood, and vast vertical expanse of rear bumper, the 16-inch wheels can't quite carry that visual weight.
Parked next to the Verna, it becomes especially apparent that the extra 109mm in length that the City has, doesn't look fully proportionate. While a set of larger wheels will definitely fix that, for most, the modern styling will be more than welcome. To our eyes, the Verna carries itself more gracefully, with the dark-chrome grille aesthetic being a sweet switch-up from chrome. Sure, the headlights don't look as expensive and modern as the City's, but the tail lights do, so it's a toss either way.
Overall, the Verna ends up looking more athletic, with the only issue being that it's more familiar-looking than the all-new City. On the plus side, the Verna is also available in a Turbo variant, which differentiates itself quite nicely, with a gloss black grille and more aggressive bumpers front and rear.
If you like a clean, minimalistic (and symmetrical) dashboard, you'll absolutely love the layout on the new City. Set lower than the previous car's for better visibility, the sculpted steering wheel with vastly improved audio/cruise controls, digital instrumentation and rotary climate controls all feel like a massive step forward. These elements are also better executed and feel more premium than on the Verna.
The clicks when you turn the knurled climate control knobs, for example, feel perfectly weighted and deliberate, in comparison to the Verna's mushy action which makes setting half degrees a task on the move. But, and this is a huge but, the Verna's plastics, especially on the door pads, AC vents, steering mounted stalks and central tunnel feel more durable and less scratchy.
The Verna's dash layout may just be the more contemporary of the two, with its freestanding touchscreen having a more vivid and brighter display, though both systems are similarly snappy and easy to use. Both have more than adequate storage spaces around the cabin but the ones in the Verna end up being more usable, on account of my phone sliding around its perch in the City's central console and even flying out of it under hard acceleration. Not to mention the fact that the Verna also offers wireless phone charging. Both are pretty evenly matched in the length of their feature lists, with everything from connected tech (the City uses Amazon's Alexa remote capabilities), voice commands, electric sunroofs and the works. The Verna, in typical Hyundai fashion, goes a step further with wireless phone charging, and ventilated seats up front.
Speaking of seating, while both allow for a low driver's seat height and a full range of steering adjustment, the front seats on the City feel more supportive for my frame, though the Verna does offer a little something extra for the taller driver, with better under thigh support and a dead pedal.
In the rear of the cabin, the City has more room for your feet and for three adults, being a marginally wider car with the central console protruding less into legroom for the middle passenger. Honda's even made the front seats slimmer to make for a lot more knee clearance for rear passengers and this certainly does help the feeling of space.
But, ultimately, the Verna's rear seats have a longer base, or squab, and offer noticeably better under thigh support. Headroom in both is adequate for me but again taller passengers (over 6ft) may find the top of their heads brushing against the City's roof. Both can cut out some amount of harsh light on a sunny day with their manually retractable rear windshield sun shades. The City does have a marginally larger boot though, at 506-litres of cargo capacity, compared to the Verna's 480-litres.
In the top trims as tested, the two cars have six airbags each, as well as electronic stability control, tyre pressure monitoring systems, and parking cameras/sensors. The City offers LaneWatch, to monitor your blindspots on the far side of the car at any time, and the Verna's reverse camera can be set to remain on while driving. The City does have 3-point seatbelts all-around, and a headrest for the middle passenger.
Engine, performance and efficiency
While both cars offer 1.5-litre naturally aspirated twin-cam petrol engines with a manual or automatic gearbox, and 1.5-litre diesel engines, the Verna spreads the choice a lot further, also offering a diesel automatic variant and a sporty 1-litre turbo engine mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Having driven both sets of cars (except for the Verna diesel) within the same week and same test conditions, we also drove the petrol manual variants of the Verna and the City back-to-back, which helped give us a fair idea of how the cars stack up.
That's as good a place to start, as they are likely to be the volume models, given the category's penchance for petrol-power. Both the Verna and the City petrol feel very refined, with good insulation from engine sound at low revs, while the City's engine/exhaust sounds a little more urgent and pleasing as you head towards redline, a lofty 7,100rpm compared to just over 6,600rpm in the Verna. The City has a 6PS/1Nm power advantage here, with power coming in a few hundred revs later, and torque a few hundred revs earlier than the Verna. In city driving, you'll notice the slightly fatter torque curve, with the City seeming to have more responsive low-end performance, if not the more city-friendly gearing and more positive shift action.
In our roll-on tests, the City consistently posted figures between half a second to a second quicker than the Verna, with the gap growing to double the time in the 60-80kmph test in 5th gear! For the traffic-light warriors (are there any left?), the City blitzed the 0-100kmph dash in 9.8s, with the Verna far behind at 11.5s. Enthusiasts, take note, i-VTEC kicks in hard yo! You feel the City get a second wind as you wind it up past 6,000rpm and it'll put the biggest grin on your face when you realise what the motor's been hiding all along. It feels far smoother up around redline than before, and even compared to the Verna. But given the slightly lower gearing overall, even with the addition of the sixth ratio, the City sits at a high 3,000rpm at a steady 120kmph, with the Verna feeling more relaxed at those speeds. That difference translates to half a kmpl difference in our highway fuel efficiency tests at a steady 100kmph. But as we've seen with the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz petrol hybrid with its 5-speed manual, which sits at around the same revs at 120kmph as the City, highway efficiency takes a huge beating over longer trips when you want to sustain those higher speeds.
For the curious, perhaps contemplating the Verna Turbo automatic, that 3-cyl engine is no match for the refinement offered by the 4-cyl motors we've talked about. And thanks to its DCT gearbox and low launch revs, its 0-100kmph timing of 12.5s is no great shakes either. But it comes into its own in the city for obvious reasons, with roll-on times being a good couple of seconds quicker throughout, while posting an efficiency of 17.5kmpl on the highway.
In comparison, the City automatic with its CVT (with paddle shifters) is surprisingly capable, posting a time of 11.9s, and half a second quicker roll-on times than the Verna Turbo. Its intuitiveness at keeping the engine in the power aside (with very little of the dreaded rubberband effect), the performance figures and impressive highway economy of 19.3kmpl prove it just may be the best CVT we've ever tested. As for the other enthusiast's choice in the segment, the Rapid 1.0 TSI is exactly as quick to 100kmph as the City, with a time of 9.8s. But the Rapid's beefier mid-range will get a smile to your face quicker than the City can, where you do have to wait for the naturally-aspirated engine to hit its stride.
Ride and handling
While the City's new engine will certainly make you believe it's hiding some of its enthusiast genes, be very aware that the real reason it has a g-meter in the instrumentation is so the driver knows exactly when his passengers will get sick! There is a good amount of body roll and lean into corners, which feels more excessive than on the Verna. This is probably down to the sidewall flexing more, given its narrower section and thus the higher forces it transfers to the sidewall.
The reason the City still remains a better choice for the part-time enthusiast is because its steering is far better judged, with accurate weight and precision. In the Verna, for example, turn-in can feel extra sharp because of its lightness, and it takes deliberate and calculated inputs before you can judge what the Verna will do in a corner. In regular driving around town, you're likely to appreciate the quick rack on the Verna but on the highway, we feel the City remains more planted.
Of course, that's also down to the ride quality on the City, which offers far better control on the rebound, meaning it doesn't pogo back after a speedbreaker or dip in the road, something that the Verna can tend to do if you don't slow down enough. While neither can completely iron out bad roads (and micro-vibrations), the City definitely feels the most comfortable when sat in the back seat.
The City posts better braking performance too, with a more consistent feel from the pedal and shorter stopping distances despite the narrow rubber, coming to a halt from 100kmph in 40.6m/2.9s. While the rain gods decided to play spoilsport when it came time to test the Verna, with it posting a 47m/3.5s figure in the wet, even the Verna Turbo with disc brakes all around only managed a best of 45.8m/3.1s in the dry, which came as a big surprise to us. Rest assured, the tests will be redone to OD's standards when the cars are available again but we don't believe the Verna can close the gap to the City completely.
Taking price out of the equation, mainly since we don't know the City's pricing yet, is the City a better car than the Verna? From what we've seen, it would certainly seem to be, making trade-offs to the Verna in features, and cabin-feel to an extent, but making up for it with a more exciting and polished engine, gearbox, steering and brake package. Not to mention the better judged ride quality, and overall rear seat comfort despite the lack of under-thigh support. Are either for the enthusiast? The hardcore driver likely won't be satisfied, though the value-conscious will probably end up at the Hyundai showroom, with the top-end petrol manual priced at Rs 12.6 lakh, ex-showroom. Especially if Honda's pricing for the current-gen City (at Rs 13.3 lakh, ex-showroom), which will continue to be sold, is any yardstick. But for everyone else, the City would seem to be the car that does it all, while even setting benchmarks in certain areas. We really hope that Honda doesn't get carried away with the pricing. Now, the only thing left to see is if a sedan can truly sway attention away from high-riding SUVs and their panoramic sunroofs, but that's a comparison for another day.
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