We told you Hyundai would be making a compact sedan version of the Grand i10; we told you it would be cheaper than both the Dzire and the Amaze, and we told you it would reprise the ‘Accent’ nameplate. Well, we’ve finally gotten behind the wheel of the new Hyundai Xcent to bring you a complete, in-depth road test of the latest challenger in the compact sedan market.
Compact sedans are not a new idea. Originally a Tata brainchild, it was a segment which Maruti made its very own with the new Swift Dzire, and Honda too has come to the party with its own sedan version of the Brio, called the Amaze. History lessons are always boring, but it gives us context and perspective.
Korea has been doing to the car industry what Japan did 50 years ago – make competitive products which offer more value and features at a lower price, with no compromise on quality. This ‘Korean-isation’ is something which has borne real fruit for the Indian customers, exemplified by Hyundai’s latest challenger – the Xcent compact sedan.
Design & Engineering
Using the Grand i10 platform, which has a longer wheelbase than the new i10 sold internationally, Hyundai’s designers have crafted a boot on the car. This has been achieved with some aplomb, and the Xcent looks like a nicely proportioned compact sedan, unlike Maruti’s Dzire, which is a sheer abomination in my opinion. Dimensionally, the Xcent just makes it within the 4-metre excise limit, measuring 3,995 mm from end to end.
From the front, the Xcent is indistinguishable from its smaller hatch brother, with the same headlights and fog lamps. Hyundai could have resorted to differently-shaped fog lamps to make the two cars distinct, but that would only increase inventory costs, not a good idea when you’re building a car to a price. However, what Hyundai has done, is give the Xcent chrome piping on the inner side of the hexagonal grille, which is absent on the Grand i10. This brightwork does add to the car’s looks, and is a touch that Indian customers will appreciate.
When viewed from the side, the Xcent has a nice stance, with well-balanced proportions. The C-pillar of the Xcent is less raked and extends further back than in the Grand i10, which liberates a smidgen more headroom. The tail lamps are simple square-shaped units, which retain the basic design theme as seen on the Grand i10 as well.
The Xcent’s underpinnings are tried and trusted independent McPherson struts for the front wheels, with a simple torsion beam rear axle. Hyundai engineers tell us they’ve tuned it slightly differently, to give the Xcent a big car feel, and we believe them. The Grand i10 itself is a competent package in the ride and handling department.
The new Hyundai Xcent is available with either a 1,120 cc three-cylinder diesel engine, or a 1,197 cc petrol engine, both mated to a five-speed manual transmission, although customers have the option of a 4-speed automatic with the petrol. There are three trim levels offered – Base, S and SX, with the option of ABS on both the S and SX variants. All told, the new Hyundai Xcent can be had in 12 different versions, which includes 5 diesel and 7 petrol variants.
Interiors & Comfort
The new Xcent looks and feels much better put together than the Honda Amaze, and even the Dzire. The same black and beige dual colour scheme is used in this car as on the Grand, and it works well. One small change is the inclusion of a cover for the cubby hole ahead of the gear lever in the Xcent, which isn’t there in the Grand i10. Press the cover and it opens to reveal the ports for USB and Aux-in for the stereo. It also houses a 12V socket. Bluetooth connectivity and steering-mounted audio controls are standard on the S and SX, along with the integrated music system.
The Xcent’s front seats are nice and accommodative and well-shaped. Even after driving for over an hour, I experienced no fatigue. The rear seat has received extra attention from Hyundai’s engineers. They’ve managed to push the seat back to increase rear leg room slightly. The backrest is also further reclined than in the Grand i10, which increases the feeling of comfort. Under-thigh support could have been a little better though. Also, the Xcent has a slightly narrower cabin compared to the Dzire, which means seating three people abreast in the rear seat will feel a bit of a squeeze.
The driver’s seat adjusts for height, and the S and SX trim versions have tilt-adjust steering as well, which makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position.
Given that Hyundai has been late to the compact sedan party, it has spent time refining its offering. Boot space is a key consideration for sedan buyers, and the Xcent simply blows away the Dzire with the amount of boot space on offer, which at 407 litres is nearly a third more than what the Dzire has. The Xcent’s boot is more commodious compared to the Honda Amaze as well. The loading sill is a little high, but the boot itself is perfectly rectangular with no intrusions into the boot area. The spare wheel and jack are stored under a flat felt-covered board, as is the norm. Our test car came with Hyundai’s much-hyped “diamond cut” alloy wheels in a 15-inch size, and the spare wheel was of the same size, but on a humble steel rim. Note though that the standard wheel size is 14 inches.
Cooled glovebox, rear AC vents and reverse camera are all segment-firsts.
Rear parking sensors are standard on the S and SX versions of the new Hyundai Xcent, with the SX getting the additional benefit of a reverse camera with a display in rear view mirror. In the SX variant, his inside mirror has an auto-dimming function as well.
One of the new Xcent’s USP is the provision rear AC vents, which is a segment first and a feature which is sure to draw customers into showrooms. Don’t forget the Indian penchant to be chauffer driven, and for the Indian hoi-polloi who couldn’t care to drive, these rear AC vents will surely tip customers towards the Xcent over the other offerings in the entry-level sedan market.
Performance & Handling
While Hyundai acknowledges that many customers for the new Xcent will be in the back seat, equally there will be those who will like to drive as well. When we tested the Grand i10 last year, we’d said that it felt among the most dynamically sorted Hyundai’s we’ve driven, and we’re happy to report that the Xcent follows in the same vein.
Now don’t begin to think the Xcent will handle like a rally car, Hyundai’s involvement in the WRC notwithstanding. No sir, it won’t, but it does drive in an assured and confident manner which inspires confidence from behind the wheel. The steering wheel itself feels a little too large in the hand, and a smaller-diameter steering wheel would have felt more natural.
But the way the Xcent steers and brakes feels perfectly neutral. Our test route was mostly on absolutely flat expressway, but we did experience a brief section of twisty road, with some mid-corner bumps and unmarked speed-breakers, and on this surface the Xcent acquitted itself well. Grip levels are good, and while it doesn’t feel as exciting as a Dzire from behind the wheel, it does handle better than the Amaze, which can get tail-happy at times.
Both the petrol and diesel Xcent have their own unique characteristics, as expected. The low-rpm response from the petrol Xcent was very good, and it feels quite sprightly, something you will enjoy when driving in city traffic. Slight taps on the throttle are enough to close gaps in traffic. But the petrol motor also suffers from a flat mid-range and a weak top-end, so there is no point in really revving this engine like you might the i-VTEC in the petrol Amaze, for example. Hyundai has equipped the 1.2 Kappa petrol with VTVT, which is Hyundai-speak for variable valve timing, and while this helps matters, the Xcent petrol does not have the top-end urge of other cars in the segment.
The 1.1-litre U2 CRDi diesel is significantly altered from the same engine in the Grand i10. Now, the turbine housing for the turbocharger has been integrated into the exhaust manifold, and the turbo’s waste-gate is electronically controlled. This latter enhancement has allowed Hyundai to liberate an additional 20 Nm of torque from the motor. The Xcent diesel now has 180 Nm of torque as a result, with peak torque from as low as 1,750 rpm.
All of which gives the Xcent diesel great drivability. However, don’t expect the kind of response and acceleration you might get from either the Dzire or the Amaze. What is impressive is this motor’s smoothness. Despite being a three-cylinder powerplant, it is quite smooth and refined, with only a hint of vibrations at start up. The diesel Xcent lacks the burst of torque that one has become accustomed to with turbo-diesels of late, but that is not to say it lacks punch. It pulls smoothly and cleanly, and mid-range acceleration is very good. There is no point revving it to its 4,000 rpm redline, and you’re better off changing up at 3,000 rpm and surfing the wave of torque.
We did manage to do a top speed check though, and we’re quite impressed that the Xcent diesel came close to a true top speed of 160 km/h; not bad for a 1.1-litre engine. The petrol Xcent was a little lower of top speed.
Of the two, it is the diesel which feels more planted on the road at highway speeds, and this likely because of the slightly higher kerb weight.
Is the new Xcent "green" ? Quite.
Hyundai claims its new Xcent will manage 19.1 km/l for the petrol version and 24.4 km/l for the diesel. Amazingly, these figures are higher than those quoted for the Grand i10. Remember, these figures are as per testing carried out by ARAI. We did manage a brief real-world test in the Xcent diesel, and managed to come close to the 20 km/l mark on a highway run. This is an excellent figure, and should go a long way in keeping customers happy. The Xcent’s mileage figures for the petrol are on par with the Dzire, but better than the Honda Amaze. For the diesel Xcent though, while it is certified by ARAI to be more fuel efficient than the Dzire, it loses out to the Amaze. Hyundai hasn’t quoted figures for the 4-speed petrol automatic though, but expect that mileage figure to be on par again with the Dzire.
The new Xcent is available with 2 airbags as standard on the SX trim variant. ABS is offered as a Rs 25,000 cost option on the S and SX variants, and is worth the extra investment in my opinion. There is no option of airbags on either the Base or S variants. A rear defogger is standard on the S and SX, as far fog lamps. All versions of the new Hyundai Xcent come with an engine immobilizer and central locking as standard equipment.
It is good to see that Hyundai has not meted out step-motherly treatment to the Xcent in the safety department. In fact, Honda does offer ABS as standard on all diesel variants of the Amaze, which in a sense is testament to the fact that the diesel Amaze can tend to feel nose-heavily and tail-happy like we mentioned in our handling section.
The Xcent bests the Dzire by dint of offering ABS as a cost option on its mid-spec S variants though. All three cars only have airbags on their top trim levels.
After spending a day with the new Hyundai Xcent, I can honestly say that this is a car which does most things well, some brilliantly, and none of them bad. Hyundai’s studious approach to offering the best value and maximum features is a welcome attitude. It speaks of the company’s depth of understanding of the Indian car buyer’s psyche and customer commitment.
The new Hyundai Xcent offers the most boot space, has the best interiors in its class, has segment first features like rear parking sensors, cooled glovebox and rear AC vents.
I’ve thought long and hard about what to fault in this car, and I can’t really find anything negative to say. It is better looking than its competition, too. If there had to be a grouse, then it would have to be with wanting more power, but then that is something I have always been guilty of. In any case, the Xcent never feels underpowered or wheezy, either.
Lastly, when you bring the price into the equation, the Hyundai Xcent unequivocally stamps its authority as the class of the field. At Rs 50,000 less than an amaze, variant to variant, and about Rs 30,000 less than the Dzire, it is money saved that you cannot ignore.
Maruti may have developed and consolidated the compact sedan market (although Tata invented it), and Honda has brought a credible product into the mix, but Hyundai truly has played its best game here. Given Hyundai’s great market penetration into even smaller towns and cities, and a production line which can service the demand, there is no reason why it can’t wrest the best-seller crown from Maruti.
Maruti-Suzuki Swift Dzire, Honda Amaze