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Car buyers never had it so good

Sameer Kumar | September 06, 2003

Prospective car buyers have never had it so good in this country. Choice is proliferating, prices are down, and sellers are eager to deal. And all of this is especially true of the C-segment, where it's all out war.

Manufacturers seem to have a new credo -- 'We'll sell. Whatever it takes.' Which is a happy situation for buyers, of course.

Except for the Indigo, no new C-segment cars have been introduced in the last one year, but there have been variants galore.

And the two base model variants that seem to be going tooth and nail against each other are the Ford Ikon Flair and the Hyundai Accent GVS, both being the least expensive in their respective model ranges.

The Accent has always been a bestseller for Hyundai, and before the Indigo came along and displaced it from top slot, it was the largest selling car in its category.

And for good reason. The Accent is pleasant looking in a mild sort of way, which seems to go down well with the Indian buyer.

Inside, it's all grey plastics and sombre cloth upholstery -- cheerful is the last word you would associate with an Accent's interiors.

But that said, the interiors look fairly contemporary in a budget-spec sort of way, and the basics -- power steering, tachometer, power windows, aircon, and even a tiltable steering wheel -- are all there on the GVS.

The car is softly sprung, and its suspension -- independent, coil springs at front, and three-link, rigid axle with coil springs at back -- is set up for ride comfort more than anything else.

This, again, is a good thing because a cushy ride is perhaps more important than taut and sporty handling, for most buyers in this segment.

Of late, the Ikon has been struggling to hold its own against the Esteem/Indigo/Accent trio. One of my personal favourites, the Ikon 1.6 is a perky little performer, and for once, all the marketing hoopla ("josh," etc) is actually not far off the mark.

The earlier Ikon 1.3, with its old pushrod engine, was dull and sluggish, but the new 1.3 Nxt has changed things, and the smaller-engined Ikon is now actually fun to drive and much more fuel efficient than the bigger 'josh' machine. Stylewise, the 1.6 Sxi, with its alloys and sporty front end treatment, is top drawer.

Especially in bright, primary colours. Lesser Ikons, including the Flair, look tamer, more domestic.

The Ikon, like the Accent, is getting on in years now, and a comprehensive facelift (which has already happened to Accents in Europe) could work wonders. It hasn't started looking very frumpy yet, but there's certainly nothing new about the Ikon's "new edge" styling.

Not anymore. Luckily for Ford, other cars in this segment -- the Indigo, Esteem and Corsa -- aren't brilliant-looking either, so the Ikon's styling can still soldier on for the moment. Things are better inside.

For one, the doors open nice and wide, so getting in and out is not the pain it is on some other cars in this segment.

And though "lively truffle themed interiors" are little more than the Ford marketing department in overdrive, I would say the Flair's interiors do look brighter and more cheerful than the GVS', there is more legroom for back seat occupants, and the Ford's cabin is a happier place to be in, overall.

The Flair has all the basic luxury accoutrements which the GVS has (aircon, power windows etc), and both cars ride on 13-inch pressed steel wheels. Brakes are also similar -- discs at front, and drums at back.

However, the difference is in the way the Flair's chassis/suspension is set up. The Ikon is the best handling car in its segment, and at speed, feels much more composed than the Accent.

Ride comfort is not as good as on the Korean car, but the Ikon feels taut and firm at all times, the steering feels much more direct and connected, and the Flair can be cornered hard with confidence. Yes, it's the more involving car to drive.

In the engine department, the GVS makes do with Hyundai's older 1500 CC engine, rather than the newer DOHC 1600 CC unit which higher-end Accents are fitted with.

The 1500 CC mill, with its 92 horsepower, is no slug, and does a good job of propelling the GVS at a respectable pace -- if you are so inclined, speeds of up to 170 kph are possible. And at 12.5 kgm, the Accent's engine is 1.6 kgm up on the Ikon's 1300 CC ROCAM engine.

Torque apart, the junior josh (the 1.3 engine is assembled in India and the cost advantage is now passed on to the buyer) is also a full 22 horsepower down on the GVS, which seems a bit much, given that the latter's engine is only 200 CC larger.

However, despite the large deficit in power, the Ikon's engine feels punchy, accelerates with adequate verve, and the car does 160 kph without too much trouble.

Being a smaller power unit also means better fuel efficiency (12 kpl against the 10 that the Accent manages) than what the Accent can offer if you drive carefully.

Seems like a tough call, eh? Well, the Ikon Flair, at Rs 5.19 lakh ex-showroom Mumbai (and only 4.99 lakh, ex-showroom Thane) certainly looks attractive.

Compared with the Hyundai, the Ford has more room for back seat occupants, plastics and other trim materials used in its interiors feel better to the touch, its 70 horsepower makes for adequate motive power, and the chassis/suspension/steering combo is nice and communicative.

Much more so than the GVS' rather inert set-up. The Accent GVS, which costs Rs 5.84 lakh ex-showroom Mumbai, is not without its talents though.

It looks and feels like the bigger and plusher car, has a marginally more comfortable ride, and a bigger and substantially more powerful engine.

I would say the Flair is the better deal. It's perkier and more responsive than the bigger engined GVS, is as well equipped, handles much better, has more space at the back, and its top speed is only slightly lower.

Plus, the Flair is cheaper by around Rs 60,000. Makes sense, doesn't it? We have a premium Hyundai and a VFM (value for money) Ford at the bottom of the C-segment pit , and we are not complaining yet.



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