The executive luxury class for sedans in India is predominantly a diesel driven thrust. Don’t believe us, then SIAM statistics stating that about 63 percent of the cars sold in this category are diesels. Except for Honda, the rest of the manufacturers have got their oil burning engines out here. We at Indiandrives are comparing the long forgotten and due for a replacement Hyundai Sonata Transform in India along with the Skoda Laura in India and the Volkswagen Jetta in India. Of this, the latter two are related and are blood cousins with both now sharing the same engine and rolling off the same plant in Chakan. The Sonata Transform is a lost kid in this package and hence starts with a disadvantage. However without being biased, we pit it against the Skoda Laura (the highest selling car in this segment) and the Volkswagen Jetta.
As far as that department goes, none of the cars can be called as good lookers. This might change with the advent of the new Sonata in India however its launch is sometime away. The present one shows none of the Fluidic Concept language that its lower siblings so amply demonstrate. The chrome laced grille and the chunky fog lamps don’t ccut the mustard in this age of graceful lines. Its head lamp cluster is also more on the traditional lines and isn’t much of a difference from the Sonata Embera. The Sonata has been closely following the European culture however one feels that it looks more on the Japanese side compared to the others in this comparison. The Volkswagen Jetta is the one which isn’t seen much on the roads and hence warrants a second glance towards it. However its sobre looking face wouldn’t attract any attention thereon. The Skoda Laura is the all too famous car in this segment and we would be surprised if too many heads turn its way as well. Infact, it is one of the cars in this segment which has actually become ubiquitous with the huge sales that it rakes up for Skoda Auto India.
The 215/60 R-16 alloy wheel size for the Hyundai is standard fare while the ones in the Jetta and Laura are no different. We are actually shocked as to why manufacturers don’t bring in attractive alloy wheels to the equation. For this, the manufacturers have to say that the buyers in this segment actually want familiar looks and are not ready to go with radical designs. Point taken. That explains the somber looks for all three cars here. Out on the backside though, the Jetta is the most innovative with its circular elements tail lamps whereas the Laura has that traditional Skoda design which has been carried over from the first generation Laura in India. The Transform also doesn’t boast of a radical design for the rear. It however in its attempt to mimic the Accord looks much more American than the others. Its twin tail pipe configuration endows it with a sporty feel. The Germans however wash their hands off any show off in the exteriors and hence make do without any significant tail pipe protrusions.
Well, we hate to give it to the outgoing Jetta however it is the one which wins this beauty round and well it wasn’t a miss World contest but rather a Mrs World thing which was been conducted amongst this car. Take your choice from either the Sonata or Laura as they seem the same.
This is where every car differs and even the Laura and Jetta. First up is the Hyundai Sonata Transform in India with its seats which feel more like comfortable arm chairs. The layered leather seats are the epitome of comfort and needless to say, the interiors look way more upmarket than the earlier Sonata. The part wood part leather wrapped steering wheel may not be to every one’s liking however we at Indiandrives feel that it’s a nice touch. The visible surfaces feel soft to touch and hence impart the luxury feel which is very important in this class. Wood trim for the central console also feels the part. However the small fonts for the automatic climate control and its lack of intuitiveness make it a difficult piece to deal with. However the Sonata delights with its usage of space by providing many storage places as also cubby holes. The instrument cluster however is a neat feature and doesn’t take much figuring out. However like the start stop button which is given in the new Verna, the Transform doesn’t have one. It is said that the 2011 version which would be out shortly would feature this. Unfortunately only the driver gets an electric assist for this seat. Out at the rear, the Hyundai Sonata Transform can carry 3 passengers in ease. However the rear seats lose the fine touch which the front seats have built for themselves. In the process of becoming over comfortable, the rear seats don’t have enough of support for the lower back region. Hyundai has provided this car with a seat belt adjuster as well. The Volkswagen Jetta in India which is due for a major upgrade both in the exteriors as also interiors delights with its all black theme for the interiors. The steering wheel looks carried over from the Vento and Polo. However it has audio controls on it. The multi information display would stand out to be a novelty for people who haven’t been in a Volkswagen car before. The Audio system provided is a touch screen unit and it helps that it is easy to figure out the controls as well. The Jetta’s seats however take a bit of fidgeting before one can easily fit into them. The rear seats however are a bit more comfortable than the Sonata’s however even their back rest angle is a bit awkward. Fit and finish of materials is as per the usual Volkswagen standards and that means a very high quality is maintained overall. The Skoda Laura in India is a welcome relief from the Volkswagen Jetta. Its interiors would also make one believe that this is actually a Volkswagen unit car, which it actually is. The instrument cluster looks very much the same as the one on the Jetta however there is a slight difference with the thing that the ones on the Laura are a bit more easier to read whereas the one on the Jetta are more informative. The Skoda also comes better equipped than the Jetta and in this case, it gets more goodies like a powered driver and passenger seat, Bluetooth controls and stuff. The rear bench is also the more comfortable out of the two here. While Hyundai offers a remote control for the music system for the rear seat passengers, the other do make do without it. All the cars in this comparison get 60:40 split seating arrangement and this makes carrying luggage an easy chore. The boot space is also ample in all the three however the one in the Laura is a bit marred by the suspension intrusions. The Korean build quality however cannot be a patch on the quality of materials used for other two Germans.
The Laura’s interiors win one over with their overall feel and equipment. The Hyundai’s feel the most dated with the Jetta just about preceding it.
Handling and ride quality
Both the Skoda Laura and the Volkswagen Jetta share the same platform and hence share most of their underpinnings as well. However both have been setup in a different way as far as their ride and handling characteristics are concerned. It is the Jetta which turns out to be dynamically more competent than the Laura. The Laura gets a complex stiff suspension setup which boasts of having a lower triangular link with McPherson struts in the front and a rear axle which carries multi elements with transverse links numbering three. The Jetta’s suspension is also on the same line however it has been tuned more towards being comfortable rather than go outright for race track duties. While the Laura would skip a beat or two while going over a hump, the Jetta is more about calm composure. The Jetta is the more willing of the two while turning around in a corner. Best part is that the 16 inch wheels of the Jetta have a fatter section of tyres attached to them than the Laura or the Sonata. The Laura is no bad handler but then the Jetta edges it out a wee bit. Steering feel in both the cars is more on the linear side and there is no distinguishing between them on this count. The Hyundai Sonata is setup to be only comfortable. It has a ride quality in this party which no one can match and at the same time possess a handling trait which no other car would want to have and that is of reluctant behavior. Yes, the Sonata would ride well over potholes and carry its passengers in supreme comfort however point its nose towards a corner and the Sonata would shy away from it. The steering wheel is also typically Hyundai with its lack of feel. Infact, it’s a joke that most of the Hyundai cars across the world are boats save for the Genesis coupe found in North America.
Typically all the engines have a quiet characteristic here however the dated Hyundai engine makes lot of noise. It is only when it crosses speeds above 80 that the engine becomes really noisy. Out of the two cousins, it would be the Jetta which is noisier than the Laura.
Out of the trio, the Volkswagen Jetta acquits itself with a good ride quality while the Hyundai Sonata only looks forward to having a good ride and the Skoda Laura feels hemmed in between both.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
Both the Laura and the Jetta sport the same 2.0 liter diesel engine which was developed by Volkswagen as a replacement for their 1.9 liter PD engine. This new common rail engine is the only option now available in the Jetta whereas the Laura is also available with a detuned version of the same engine. For the sale of comparison, we have taken up the top variants from all the models listed here. The Laura also sells with a petrol motor. The Hyundai Sonata is available with a petrol and diesel motor. Since the Jetta doesn’t have a petrol motor, we have taken up the top end diesel variants of each car. Moreover since it is a diesel war, it is but natural that only diesel variants would be compared. The 2.0 liter CRDI engine of the Hyundai Sonata is the oldest one here. It makes 148 Bhp of power at 3800 rpm whereas the maximum torque rating comes in at 2000 rpm. It is however aligned with a 4 speed automatic transmission, the same one as found in the old Verna. However this Sonata can teach a thing or two to the more modern diesels from Volkswagen. It makes a linear attempt at power delivery which ensures that the Sonata is more driveable of the lot, even in traffic. But then the 4 speed automatic with its lethargic responses brings a halt to the party. The Sonata covers the quarter mile in 13 .1 second and achieves a top speed of 188 kmph. The Skoda Laura has got a more potent engine and the 2.0 liter CRDI engine makes 140 Bhp of power which is brought about at 4200 rpm as also torque of 320 Nm which comes into play from 1750 rpm. A 6 speed DSG or rather automatic box with dual clutch brings about gear changing duties. Needless to say, this powerful diesel takes the Laura from 0-100 kmph in only 10.2 seconds. The maximum speed of the Laura is higher than the Hyundai at 208 kmph. The Volkswagen Jetta also comes with the same engine however it is in a detuned status here. The engine here produces only 110 Bhp of power and a cool 250 Nm of torque. This engine in the Jetta enables it to cruise from 0-100 kmph in 12.9 seconds, just faster than the Sonata. Did we forget to say that the Jetta is only available with a 5 speed manual gearbox for the time being? This gearbox is one of the best that Volkswagen have ever come up with. The Jetta by the courtesy of its 5 speed manual transmission manages to reach a top speed which is similar to that of the Hyundai inspite of its lower power ratings.
All the three cars here come with enough of tractions aids and all wheel disc brakes throughout. The Hyundai however has a bit of pitch when braked hard whereas the other two have a good chassis control. ABS, EBD, ESP and traction control are for given in this cars. The Jetta courtesy its fatter tyres ensures fast and quick stopping times than the similarly specced Skoda Laura. “N” number of airbags, collapsible steering column and adjustable seat belts form the basis of the safety gadgets available in these cars. Fuel efficiency is however different in all these cars. The lower powered Jetta with the DSG box returned the best fuel efficiency. It returned 12.2 kmpl in the city and 16.5 kmpl on the highway. The Skoda Laura is the next champion returning a low 10.9 kmpl in city and 15.6 kmpl on the highway. The Hyundai Sonata inspite of its old bearings managed to return 11.4 kmpl in the city and 15.1 kmpl on the highway.
For the sheer ease of driving, the Hyundai wins hands down. However it is not always about the driveability. Holding onto that particular speed is also the key to easy cruising and the Hyundai just doesn’t manage to do that. It takes the DSG and manual gearbox of the German to overwhelm it in. So with its good power rating and fuel efficiency, Laura wins this bout followed by the Jetta and then the Hyundai.
In the beginning, we all were dead sure that the Hyundai would lose out on this competition considering that it is the more dated product of the lot here. However the Hyundai Sonata Transform in India did hold its ground here. It not only ensures that it is as spacious and comfortable as the other two here but it also offers features which, though not more than the others, is on the competitive side. It also has got fuel efficiency to boot for and being a Hyundai means spares and service is on the easier side. Downsides are that its looks are not upto the mark, engine as also the transmission combination are a bit dated and moreover, the handling is a definite no-no. Its price however is a steal over the others here. The Hyundai Sonata Transform price in India is Rs 15.7 lakhs. The Skoda Laura and Volkswagen Jetta are equally equipped and both are slightly more solidly built than the Sonata. Both have a good engine and gearbox combination. However the power delivery is a bit jerky on the Laura and it is a pain to be piloted in traffic with the all too sudden peak in power. The Jetta in the meanwhile with its detuned engine configuration is more on the better side. It is driveable enough and can keep pace with the Sonata for sure. It has got more sophisticated looks as well. It is available for a wee bit more price than the Skoda Laura. The Volkswagen Jetta price in India is Rs 18,04008 whereas the Skoda Laura price in India is Rs 17,88267. All these prices are ex-show room, Mumbai and for the top end variants. Our choice would be to go for the less powerful Jetta. But then Skoda and Volkswagen don’t have quite a reputation for aftersales and service part. So it would be wise to invest in the new Hyundai Sonata which would be just coming up your alley in a few months or maybe days time.