Talk about a turnaround in just five years. Maruti Suzuki has gone from being an also ran in the mid-size sedan segment(with its unremarkable SX4 earlier) to being the best-seller. In fact over the last year or so Maruti has been keen to take its current midsize sedan offering, the Ciaz, more premium by selling it via Nexa dealers rather than the traditional Maruti ones.
Talking about premium, Hyundai’s Verna is a posh product in its own right and is directly under the firing line of the Ciaz. The Verna is no pushover. With its exhaustive features list, four engine options and a dealer network second only to Maruti, the Verna poses the strongest challenge to the Ciaz in this segment. To keep this civil between the two, we’ve taken the automatic petrol version for this comparison.
Maruti updated the Ciaz in late 2018 with new headlamps, a prominent grille as well as a new bumper on the front end. The car looks upmarket and classy. However, the Ciaz is a design that won’t excite many but neither will it offend many. It is also marginally longer than the Verna and this helps it look a sub-segment bigger than the Verna.
The Verna though has the more head turning design. The fluidic design language works wonders with the huge grille upfront and the sharp lamps look cool too. The short and stubby boot makes the Verna look sporty as well and the sharp rear lamps give it plenty of visual flair too. The Verna from a distance will remind you of a premium German luxury brands offering. Which one are we talking about? You can figure that in the comments below. Overall, it’s between choosing a sporty design and a more neutral one.
While some buyers will appreciate the low-slung, sporty front seats of the Verna others will enjoy the better under-thighs support on the Ciaz’s front seats. What everyone will enjoy though are the cooled front seats of the Verna, which should help you keep your cool on a hot and summery day. This is the only car in its segment to offer this feature.
Maruti has offered an overtly beige cabin with faux wood on the dashboard with the Ciaz. This helps the cabin feel bright and airy. If you like plenty of kit, then the Verna will be the better car of choice. It gets a sunroof, 1GB storage on the stereo, cooled front seats as added advantages over the Ciaz. The Verna also has the better interior quality of these two.
The Ciaz’s big advantage though is in the rear seats. You get acres of knee and headroom, enough to make it feel a class bigger. In fact, if you want a car to be chauffer driven, the Ciaz is brilliant value. The Verna has limited legroom at the back, but the sloping roofline also means that headroom can be an issue for someone over six feet. The boot capacity of both these cars is similar, with the Ciaz having a very marginal edge.
Engine, performance and gearbox
On the brochure, the Verna has the advantage. It gets a 1.6-litre petrol engine with around 124bhp. The Ciaz gets a 1.5-litre petrol with 104bhp. The Ciaz also gets mild hybrid-tech in the form of an additional battery pack, which aids fuel economy by a bit. The Verna also gets a six-speed automatic to the four-speed on the Ciaz.
On the road, this power and cubic capacity advantage is immediately visible. The Verna offers brisk progress and the six-speed unit is a quick shifting unit. The sixth gear gives the engine better flexibility. When you are doing speeds in excess of 100kph on the highway, the engine is spinning at a relatively low 1,700-1,800 rpm, making the cabin a calm place to be in.
The Ciaz in comparison feels laboured when pushing hard. The four speeds on the car simply can’t match the Verna for slick shifts. It also feels jerky when you demand quick power. When on the highway you are doing speeds in excess of 100kph, the engine is buzzing at a busy 2,200-2,300rpm, making the cabin a rather buzzy place to be in. Unlike the Verna, there is no provision to shift gears manually, though you can take the Ciaz into a lower second and first gear where it will hold these gears.
Ride and handling
The Ciaz has more compliance over badly patched up roads. Damping is excellent and you take it over a bumpy road without being jolted around the cabin. In short, it has the more comfortable ride, especially at slower city speeds. The downside of this soft suspension set up though is in the fact that the steering is devoid of feel and feels vague around the dead centre position. The Ciaz also needs better tyres. The current setup simply feels skittish to say the least, as speeds build up.
Keener drivers will prefer the Verna’s sharp handling and agility. The steering is sharp, communicative and very precise unlike the lumpy steering on the Ciaz. The taut suspension setup means that the Verna goes around corners like a leaned up athlete and there is hardly any hint of body roll. However, some of the sharper crevices on the road can enter the cabin once in a while thanks to the stiff setup. That said, stability on the highway is excellent and grip levels from the tyres are good too.
Both these cars are as different as chalk and cheese. The Verna offers an opulent cabin and the essential ‘feel good’ factor, that’s important to buyers in this segment. It is also the better car to drive thanks to a more communicative chassis and the six speed automatic. The Ciaz only comes with a four-speed automatic but its best party trick is its roomy rear seat, which can beat more expensive cars for sheer space. So, if you will be sitting in the backseat all day long, then buy the Ciaz, for everything else, the Verna beats it in this automatic petrol comparison.