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The Yaris has taken the fight to the Honda City and the Hyundai Verna. Can it dethrone the leader and bring glory days back to Toyota?

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SUVs seem to be the flavour of the season. This mad love for cars on stilettos has rewritten rules in the auto industry for a while now. And with this love for SUVs, if there’s one segment that has taken the backseat, it is this, the mid-size sedans.

These sedans aren’t being looked at with the same vigour as they were half a decade back, and compact SUVs have been clocking in thrice the amount of units as this segment. But all is not lost, and carmakers are hopeful that this segment will bounce back after the infatuation for SUVs among Indians starts to fade away. And as a result, they’ve prepped their offerings to stand the fierce competition offered up by their Asian counterparts.

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Newest of the lot is this, the Toyota Yaris. A smaller Corolla, if you want to call it that. After the grand failure of the Etios, a homebred compact sedan, a first look at the Yaris will make you believe that Toyota seems to have learnt from their mistakes, and what it has offered now looks fairly premium for the segment.

They’ve done away with the bland styling and gone ahead with a face that looks like none other. There’s a huge grille finished in black that takes up most of the place at the front. And then there are swept-back headlamps that add zest to the styling.

In typical Toyota style, the lines that run the length of the car aren’t too sharp and the overall silhouette looks a bit bulbous. At the back, things are conventional and devoid of elements that will make you say, “Wow!” But having said that, there’s still nothing that you can find faults with.

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The Honda City, like most other Hondas, too, doesn’t shout out loud and subtle creases run the length of the car. Lots of chrome and a not-so-big grille will appeal to many, but still can’t be called path breaking in any way. Things are definitely sharper than at the Toyota, but still not as fancy as what the Koreans have to offer. The Verna, with this generation, has really set the benchmark quite high when it comes to styling.

The big hexagonal grille, swept-back headlamps and creases sharper than that of a bespoke suit. There’s no doubt that the Verna is the best looker of the lot and teaches the Japanese a lesson or two when it comes to styling.

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That stands true even for the way the cabin has been designed. The Verna, with its waterfall-themed layout and dual-tone dash, does have an edge over the others. What sets it apart, in terms of cabin layout, is that it gets a screen that blends in the styling seamlessly, while the Japs have opted for double-din aftermarket-like screens to take care of the entertainment.

While the Verna leaves you with nothing to complain, the Yaris falls a bit short when it comes to offering premium grade stuff in the cabin. Yeah, you can see an attempt to make things premium – faux leather finish for the dash and pseudo stitching all around – but give a closer look at things and you’ll know it isn’t all that well made.

The City doesn’t like pseudo things and has leather bits in the cabin. The materials used aren’t bad, but the design itself isn’t very appealing to the eye.

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All three sedans have quite similar specs on paper. The Yaris gets a 1.5-litre four-pot nat-asp petrol engine that makes 106bhp and 140Nm of torque. The City, on the other hand, makes 117bhp and 145Nm from its 1.5-litre four-pot mill. The most powerful of the lot is the Hyundai Verna, with its 1.6-litre engine churning out 121bhp and 151Nm of torque.

But these are just numbers, acceleration figures from our very scientific tests tell a bit of a different story. But before I tell you more, here’s the reason why the numbers on the spec sheet and the acceleration figures tell two different stories – the Yaris and the City have mated a CVT to the engine that, with a light foot on the throttle, tries to keep the engine running at the lowest rpm possible, and when you floor the pedal, keeps the engine at a constant 6,000rpm in a quest to harness all of the juice from the engine.

The Verna on the other hand, has a six-speed torque converter that is neither quick to change cogs, nor smart to preempt shifts. And a result, the City gets to triple digits speeds in 11 seconds, while the Verna takes a second longer. The slowest of the lot is the least powerful Yaris, with a time of 12.8 seconds to a hundred.

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But that’s only in a straight line. None of the three are very sporty and none love the winding road like the Vento or the Rapid. The Yaris, especially not, and that’s apparent in the way it understeers around corners. The steering isn’t too light, but still void of any feedback. There’s plenty of vagueness in the way the Yaris handles and you can feel the front wheels struggling to stick to lines as it goes around corners.

The City, too, is prone to understeer, but it manages to go around the mountain road with a bit more grace. This, too, gives no feedback to the driver through the steering. The Verna, with this generation, gets a bit more torsional rigidity and it pays dividends when it comes to handling. The Verna – I never thought I’ll say this – handles better than the City and the Yaris. It’s more surefooted around corners and it manages its weight slightly better than the rest. All three sedans are kind on your back, and do a good job of soaking up road irregularities.

The City and the Yaris are almost similar when it comes to tackling bad roads, and even here, the Verna has an edge, with a suspension that soaks up bumps in absolute silence, compared to the rest.

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While none of these are perfect sedans, and none will appeal to an enthusiast driver, they all have their strong points. And when it comes to creature comforts, all of them have you covered with auto AC, steering controls, and electric mirrors, among other things. The Verna offers ventilated seats that suit our climate well, whereas the Yaris offers electric driver’s seat adjust.

The Honda has taken a more conventional route by offering none of the above. This segment sees buyers whose focus is comfort, space and bang for the buck. The Toyota Yaris costs the most at Rs 16.8 lakh, while the Honda City is priced at Rs 16.2 lakh. And though the Verna loses out on backseat space, it does play the value card by retailing for Rs 14.8 lakh. All prices, on road, Mumbai.

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The Verna may not be an enthusiast’s first choice, but it does have an edge when it comes to exterior and interior styling, ride quality and pricing. Yeah, the torque isn’t the best choice and the rear seat is a bit cramped compared to the rest, but with the features it has to offer and the value it proposes, it does take the cake for me.

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