So you want a saloon that symbolises your move up in life. Then the car you need should have looks that stand out, be comfortable when you’re in the back seat and fun to drive when take the wheel. Which of the Renault Fluence, the Volkswagen Jetta, the Skoda Laura, the Chevrolet Cruze and the Toyota Corolla is most worthy of your money?
Big, bigger, biggest
With a length of 4644mm, the Jetta is the longest car here and in a segment where size does matter, it comes to this fight with an advantage. The simple strokes give the Jetta a mature look , its unmistakable German-ness is appealing and as with other VWs its unlikely to look outdated any time soon.
The 2009 facelift Laura still looks neat. The lines are tidy, the raised headlights are attractive and the thick C-pillar adds muscle. Skoda got the styling right and testament to that is the Laura is still a big seller even though it’s a notchback and not a three-box ‘saloon’.
The Fluence brings some French flair to the mix and to its credit also looks the most distinct. The small grille, swept-back headlights, smooth belt line and large taillights work well, while the sleek roof and wheels that fill the arches nicely give the Fluence a strong stance.
The Fluence though can’t match the Cruze for sheer visual drama. An imposing split grille, kinked headlights, aggressive face and a perfectly arced roofline are very different, but styling at the rear is a bit generic. Generic is a word that best describes the Corolla’s design. Designed to please-all, it makes do with simple lines.
The Jetta and Laura feel the best built but the Corolla and Fluence aren’t bad either. However, the Cruze with its rather hollow thud on door-shut doesn’t feel as well put together.
All the cars here extend their exterior identity into their cabins. So while the Corolla dashboard looks a bit conservative, the Cruze’s is the sportiest of the lot. The Jetta and Laura cabins have the same air of indestructibility and you won’t confuse the Fluence interior for anything else.
The Corolla cabin is extremely user-friendly. Material quality is nice too and even the touchscreen interface for the audio system and telephony is easy to navigate through. However, the system looks too aftermarket and out of sync with the rest of the dash design.
The Cruze’s cockpit-themed dashboard that wraps itself around the front occupants looks good and the combination of black and light grey plastics and silver inserts on the centre console works well. However, fit and finish is not all too great and the plastics could be better.
The Laura and the Jetta both come from the VW Group where build quality comes above everything else. The Laura cabin feels special, all surfaces are good to the touch, and while frontal visibility is good, the Laura’s notchback shape limits the view out of the back.
Like the Laura, the Jetta’s cabin won’t win you over on design. However, this is a proper VW cabin, with fit and finish that’s hard to fault. Not to say that the Jetta doesn’t have its rough edges. The air-con dials look quite tacky and the button with the phone insignia on the steering wheel is a bit misleading – it doesn’t operate your phone, but simply puts the audio system on mute.
There are many such quirks in the Fluence cabin. For starters, the cruise control is activated by a switch between the front seats, but the buttons for its settings are on the steering. The steering-mounted controls themselves are on a stalk behind the wheel rather than on the boss itself. Also, the controls for the music system on the centre console are too small. However, their small size does help give the dashboard its minimalist look. Light-colour materials and a tasteful use of faux wood and silver trim add elegance to the otherwise simply styled dashboard. We also really like the easy-to-read digital speedometer and the soft feel on the top of the dash.
The Cruze isn’t the most comfortable at the back. The seats are nicely contoured and there is decent legroom too, but the coupé-like roofline compromises headroom. A lack of rear headroom is an issue in the low-roofed Fluence as well. But the Fluence’s long wheelbase (the longest here) also translates to great legroom, even with the front seats pushed all the way back. There is no shortage of space in the back of the Corolla either. The seats are well shaped and come with generous cushioning. Great packaging allows the Laura to boast good rear-seat space despite having the shortest wheelbase. The seat is comfy too and if anything, it’s the backrest that is slightly too upright. It’s much the same in the Jetta, though the additional legroom is the clincher here. The good seat comfort and space really add up to make the Jetta a comfy long-distance car.
Issue: 166 | June 2013
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