It cannot be sheer coincidence that South Korean carmaker Hyundai's updated new product in the compact sedan segment, Aura, hits the market barely a couple of months before segment leader Dzire gets its gigantic wings clipped. The market leader's decision to not play with small diesel engines in the BS VI era that begins in April is expected to have a profound impact on its sales. Already, Dzire is the country's bestselling car today at close to 2 lakh unit annual sales and a shade under 30 percent is diesel. Even otherwise, the Xcent needed a dose of inspiration. It was one of the weakest products in Hyundai's line up and it would not have helped the company's ego that it got beaten not only by Dzire but also Honda Amaze. The Aura seeks to set the record straight. Does it have enough?
Not quite the looker
One of Hyundai's strengths in the last few years has been the improvement in the design and styling aspects of its cars. The Verna, Elantra, Creta, i20 and its recent launch Venue, testify to that. While judging the looks of a car is tricky business-beauty after all lies in the eyes of the beholder, it would not be off the mark to say that the Aura does not quite belong to the same league as the cars mentioned above. Based on the new i10 Nios platform, it borrows much of its front design from the hatchback with minor tweaks to differentiate one from the other. These include a marginally smaller grille in the front satin grey surrounds for the normal and black for the sporty turbo petrol version and double boomerang DRLs instead of single in the hatchback.
At the back, the boot is has better proportions than the Xcent and seems well integrated with the rest of the car but the Z shaped LED tail lamps seem overdone. It looks best in a brighter shade of blue or red and when viewed from the front three quarter angle. The black C piller and the sloping roofline gives it a sense of the character. Restricted by the tax induced 4 metre length limit, all cars in the segment measure up more or less the same in size but the Aura is relatively narrower than both Dzire and Amaze. To an extent it robs the car of the road presence of the other two. We know Hyundai can do better.
More space and way more features
Interiors is where the Aura scores heavily against the others. It is more or less a copy of the i10 Nios with a few iterations in color theme for the dashboard and a sportier trim for the turbocharged petrol variant. It is quite simply the most loaded cabin with superior fit and finish. The 8" touch screen on the top end trims is a segment leader and though it misses out on the connectivity options of some of Hyundai's other new cars like the Venue and Elantra, it is still head and shoulders above the rest. The equipment list is long with leather wrapped steering wheel, cooled glove box, wireless charging, rear SC vents, cruise control, rear parking sensors with camera, dual airbags, ABS with EBD, Hyundai has left nothing to chance.
The seats at the front are large and comfortable but you may feel a bit constrained for space at the back. Though the wheelbase is more than the Xcent and hence offers more legroom at the back, it offers a bit less space than both Dzire and Amaze. The seats are also on the harder side and you may feel a bit jaded on a long drive at the back. Like other cars in this segment, this remains striclty a four seater. A third passenger at the back will be a liability. With a 400 litre boot, bigger than Dzire but smaller than Amaze, it offers decent luggage space. How much more can you extract from under 4 metre length, anyway.
Refined and sure footed
Aura comes with the tried and tested 1.2 litre petrol and diesel engines that have now been upgraded to meet the BS VI emission norms. On top of it, Hyundai has introduced a 1 litre turbocharged petrol engine as well. We got to drive the two petrol variants and were fairly impressed. The 1.2 litre version makes 83 PS power and 116 newton metre of torque mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. It is supremely refined with negligible NVH at idling or when accelerating. It is quick to move off the block and gear ratios are tuned largely for quick manoeuvres in the city. On the highway it pulls well till about 120 kph before slacking off. It also felt more sure footed than the Dzire and also boasts of significantly better build quality. This engine option also gets an AMT version.
The turbocharged engine is strictly for enthusiasts who love to gun their vehicles. With 100 horses worth of power, 175 NM of torque available on the tap, it is quite the rocket in this segment. Turbo lag is minimal and power surge from standstill is almost instantaneous. Unlike the naturally aspirated version though, this one does suffer from a bit of noise and harshness on the pedals and the steering wheel. The suspension on this version also felt a bit on the softer side and under hard acceleration and around corners, it does tend to understeer. Which is a bit tragic considering this could have been a perfect hot hatch. The performance also takes a toll on fuel economy. Hyundai claims an ARAI mileage of 20.5 kpl. We ended up getting less than half of that but we were not kind on the throttle. This version is meant for a bit of savagery after all.
There are people who buy a car and at least when it is new, want their neighbour to stare at it. Even if for a fleeting moment or two. There are others who value the practicality, drivability, features and value for money. If you belong to the first lot, Aura is not the car for you. If you are not, then it might just make the cut. Very early into its life, the Xcent became the car for the cabbies. Aura doesn't run that risk even though the company is offering CNG versions targeted specifically at the fleet segment. While it will definitely divide opinions on its exterior styling quotient and absolutely nobody can say it is a beauty pageant winner, the truckload of features and superior fit and finish and build quality almost does enough to tilt the scale in its favour. The 1 litre turbocharged engine also plugs the performance aspect the segment was lacking but priced at upwards of Rs 9 lakh (on road), it will be restricted to a niche set of customers. For the rest, the price band of Rs 5.8-7.9 lakh for manual petrol and Rs 7.06-8.05 for petrol automatic puts it right in the mix with the others. The diesels priced between Rs 7.74-9.04 for manual and Rs 8.24-9.23 lakh for automatic feels a tad expensive but these are the BS VI prices so the others, and in this case it only means the Amaze, will also become less affordable. This sets Aura well in the segment and while it is not the most compelling proposition overall, it should be able to ensnare the second spot while nudging ever closer to the market leader.