An advanced new Hyundai Verna

I first drove the Hyundai Verna sedan on a long and very beautiful drive through South Korea in 1999. It was a lovely drive along the Pacific west coast and then across the beautiful mountains of the Korean peninsula. Their Santro hatchback had been launched a year earlier and the Verna saloon soon followed in India as the Accent. Hyundai became the second largest auto company in India in 18 years and is now the sixth largest auto company in the world.

The Verna had become Hyundai’s top selling model with sales of 8.8 million cars in 66 countries. Now a very advanced fifth generation Verna has just been launched with the clear intention of wresting market leadership from the Honda City and the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz. All new cars have to be the best in features and the most attractive in their launch pricing and the Verna offers just that.

It is the styling that first grabs the eye, with a huge chrome grille between the slinky swept-back projector headlights, LED running lights and fog lights with chrome surrounds. Then you will see the shiny diamond cut 5-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels supporting a delicately sculpted side profile and the neat rear styling below the `shark fin’ antenna on the sporty rear sloping roof. A thin long strip of chrome below the windows also adds a classy touch. It also has a slightly longer wheel base for extra legroom and stands a wee bit taller to give a sense of good interior space. This extra space has not surprisingly reduced the generous boot space.

But the Verna offers much more than good looks. It offers more than a dozen class-leading features for performance, safety, convenience and comfort including perforated leatherette seats and rear A/C vents to keep all the passengers cool. Moreover the A/C compressor is specially coated to combat bacteria and keep the air fresh and odour free. Needless to say the Verna offers every available electronic gadget that a buyer could desire — keyless entry, push button start, a big touchscreen to access navigation, a rear camera and easy connectivity for music, voice, data, et cetera. Many of these have also been voice activated for the very first time in this segment. The two-tone beige and black dashboard is similar to many competitors but looks and feels good. The electronic keys in your pocket not only allow keyless entry into your car but will automatically open the boot when you’re close, making it easier to

unload your shopping.

But the Verna is first a car and it comes with a new advanced high strength steel platform that is stronger, lighter and stiffer. The suspension systems have also been tweaked to provide greater control with comfort, while two peppy new 1600 cc petrol and diesel engines aided by new 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions offer superlative performances with exceptional fuel efficiency. The top end variants offer an electronic sunroof and cruise control that are both rather unnecessary luxuries in our driving conditions.

Hyundai has a wide range of small and medium sized cars and SUVs but its larger saloons like the Elantra and Sonata have not been very successful while the Verna has faced huge competition. But this model should get them to lead the pack of executive sedans until its rivals can come up with better alternatives. Competition is great as it makes the customer the king.

The author is the region’s most celebrated automobile columnist