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Diesel dynamos

The Jetta is efficient, solidly built, comfortable and a good drive. But so is its cousin, the Skoda Laura. Or does the larger Sonata diesel from Hyundai offer better value?

Under the hood

With not one line common between VW’s Jetta and Skoda’s Laura, it’s really difficult to tell that these two are practically identical under the skin. The Jetta is the more conservative of the two designs. In contrast the nose of the Laura is more stylised and substantial. The Hyundai is more the large American-targeted saloon. Almost 5-m long, the Sonata is much longer than the Laura and the Jetta.

All three cars have independently sprung wheels, discs brakes on all four wheels and ABS as standard. The trio also has diesel engines that displace almost two litres. But that’s where the similarities to the Hyundai end. The Sonata has four-valve cylinder heads and Variable Geometry Turbo that put out a considerable amount of boost allowing it to make a very healthy 140bhp. The VW and the Skoda have identical motors that differ in only the minutest details and both just about crest the 100bhp barrier.

Inside story

The Jetta’s interiors are the most conservative of this bunch. Despite some nice touches like the beautifully crafted and chrome-ringed instrument cluster, the red digital display and the lovely ball head gear lever, the interior feels a tad boring. In contrast, the Laura’s dash which blends appeal and excitement in equal measure has been designed for customers of a different profile, not just a basic hatchback audience.

Compared to these two, the Sonata’s dash feels distinctly downmarket. You do get a two-tone interior and the dash has a nice sweep to it, but things like the instruments, door handles, air con controls, gear lever knob are built of poor quality plastic.

However, space and comfort are what you seek, this is the car to be driven in. The Sonata easily has the most width, there’s acres of legroom here and the rear seat is comfy enough to give an Accord a complex. There is plenty of thigh support, the backrest is inclined perfectly and even a third passenger will be very comfortable here.

Driver’s deal

If you had to pick a car from this bunch solely on its dynamic qualities, it would be the Volkswagen. The Skoda may have the same suspension and chassis as the Jetta, but the VW’s set-up is slightly superior. It rolls very little, there is no pitching at the nose and the well-weighted and strong brakes keep panic stops at bay.

The steering is very accurate and though feedback from the electric system is not great, the precision it delivers makes up for this. What VW has compromised on is a perfect ride. You do feel a lot of the bumps on the road and there is a lot of suspension and road noise too.

The Laura in contrast has the more comfortable and pliant ride, despite riding on tyres of the same size. The difference isn’t huge, but the Skoda does absorb a lot more of the bumps on the same stretch of road.

And that’s a small advantage for the Skoda as all these cars will primarily used for urban travel. The steering feels a touch more disconnected than the Jetta as the Laura pitches a little more and the brakes are more grabby. It feels just as composed and comfortable in a corner though. It is really close.

The Sonata’s forte is that it only rides well. Pretty absorbent at low speeds, it handles bumps with aplomb. With its long wheelbase and 60 profile rubber, the suspension is quite silent too. However at higher speeds, the suspension feels loose and though directional stability is decent even at speed, this is a car that almost shies away from corners. The car rolls a lot on the soft suspension and generally is no fun to drive fast.

With almost identical 100-odd bhp engines under the hood, performance is similar on both cars. The Skoda is the lighter car and the one that has the shorter gearing and that makes it quicker off the line. 0-100 takes 11.5 seconds to the VW’s 12.14 sec and the gap only gets larger as you go faster. However, the Skoda is the more tractable in city traffic and the Jetta has the better gearbox. The 140bhp common-rail Sonata trumps these cars in a number of ways as the engine is considerably smoother, the six-speed box and extra power allowing it to nudge a genuine 200kph.

Final verdict

If you want to be chauffeur-driven in the city and want a lot of space along with a comfy ride, the Sonata has it all. Quality levels, however, are far below par among this lot, as it doesn’t feel as solidly put together as its German-engineered rivals.

The Jetta is the no-nonsense product here what with its good solid engineering and high quality interiors. It steers and brakes well, the clutch is light and the gearbox is just a joy. Performance and fuel economy are good too.

Possibly because it is the underdog here, the Skoda seems to be the one trying harder to please. There is more character to the design, the interiors have more flair to them, the rear seat is marginally more comfortable, the car is slightly faster and equipment levels are slightly better though it is dearer by Rs 60,000. The Laura seems to go that extra mile in almost every area. In the final analysis that is what gives it an edge, the smallest, tiniest edge.

spec check

VW Jetta 1.9 TDI

Price: Rs 14.22 lakh
Top speed: 186kph
0-100kph: 12.14sec
Engine: 4 cylinders, in-line, 1876cc
Installation: Front, transverse, front-wheel drive
Power: 103.5bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 25.5kgm at 1900rpm
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Wheelbase: 2578mm
Tyre size: 205/55 R16

Skoda Laura PD 1.9 TDI

Price: 14.87 lakh
Top speed: 185kph
0-100kph: 11.54sec
Engine: 4 cylinders, in-line, 1876cc
Installation: Front, transverse, front-wheel drive
Power: 104bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 25.5kgm at 1900rpm
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Wheelbase: 2578mm
Tyre size: 205/55 R16

Hyundai Sonata Embera CRDI

Price: 13.77 lakh
Top speed: 203kph
0-100kph: 11.55sec
Engine: 4 cylind-ers, in-line, 1991cc
Installation: Front, transverse, front-wheel drive
Power: 142bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 33kgm at 2000-2680rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 2730mm
Tyre size: 215/60 R16

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