At a time when petrol prices are constantly on the rise, it is safe to assume that people buying petrol cars these days won’t be travelling long distances on a daily basis. It would also be safe to assume that an automatic petrol car won’t have a chauffeur and will be owner-driven for most of the time. Throw in the flexibility a saloon has over a hatchback and you have the three cars here – all automatics, all petrols, and all under Rs 10 lakh.
Ever since its launch in 2009, the Honda City has pretty much been the default choice in this segment. Honda has updated it regularly and the car you see here has the latest facelift that brings with it a chrome grille and different alloy wheels. Honda even offers, at a cost, satellite navigation (which our car isn’t specced with) and a sunroof.
Ford’s Fiesta brings to this table a striking design, Ford’s renowned ride and handling expertise and some interesting features like voice-activated climate and audio controls.
Last, and the newest to this group, is the Renault Scala. It is easily the most spacious car here and has all the equipment you want and not much extra. Unlike the others here, the Scala uses a different kind of automatic transmission – a CVT – which promises better fuel efficiency, one of the criteria that the winner of this test will have to possess. Other winning qualities include practicality, ease of driving and, since you will be spending a lot of time stuck in traffic, comfortable, well equipped interiors. Let the games begin.
What are they like to drive?
The Honda City, with its 116bhp, is easily the most powerful here, the Scala has the least power at 98bhp and the Fiesta plonks itself in the middle with its 107bhp. But it’s the Scala that’s quickest to 100kph, taking 12.1sec due to it being the lightest of the lot. Also, its CVT gearbox functions in a way that keeps the engine running where it makes the meat of its power throughout the acceleration run. The Honda City uses its power advantage to breach the 100kph mark a scant 0.6sec after the Scala, while the Fiesta, despite its clever twin-clutch gearbox, takes a relatively long 13.8sec to go through the same run.
The Fiesta’s engine is surprisingly responsive and the clever gearbox makes full use of its six speeds to respond well to those part-throttle inputs that are so much a part of driving in traffic. The gearbox shifts gears smoothly and the engine is quiet at city speeds as well.
The Honda City, on the other hand, isn’t as smooth at shifting through its five gears, and power delivery is a bit abrupt initially, making it tricky to drive smoothly. It also does its best work when it’s revving near the redline, so you will occasionally wish you had more power at low speeds, for say, shooting into gaps in traffic. Of course, tugging at the shift paddles (it’s the only car here that has them) to downshift will help you get around this small problem.
The Scala is very responsive and proves able in the cut-and-thrust environment of urban traffic. The gearbox keeps the engine in the 1000-1500rpm band if you only use part throttle. There’s more performance on tap if you use more throttle, but this is accompanied by an increase in engine noise.
At higher speeds, it is the City that, thanks to its surfeit of power, feels the most at ease. Overtaking is easy and it’s an engine that begs to be revved hard to give you its best. The Scala makes a lot of noise getting to highway speeds, but once there, settles down to a reasonably quiet cruise. The Fiesta’s isn’t the quietest, but you’ll like its sporty noise.
Ride & handling
With our roads being the way they are, you want to be isolated from them as much as possible. And the best ride belongs to the Fiesta. It is beautifully absorbent and it takes lumpy tarmac and sharp edges with equal aplomb. And the best part is that it does all this without losing its high-speed composure, which is up there with the best cars from Europe. Fords have always been good in the ride and handling department and that’s how it is with this Fiesta. The City’s ride isn’t as resolved. At low speeds, poorly paved patches highlight the suspension, and it is noisier than the Fiesta’s. Go faster, however, and things improve.
The Scala competently absorbs rough sections and bad roads, thanks to its pliant suspension and tyres. Its ride quality may not be as nice as the Fiesta’s and there is some thumping from the suspension, but the high-profile tyres and suspension do a pretty good job of keeping the road surface at arm’s length. It must be said that sound insulation is not that great, and each time you hit a coarse patch you get a hollow humming sound from the wheel wells.
As for handling, it’s the Fiesta with its beautifully weighted, accurate steering and fantastic grip that will enthuse the enthusiast. It’s so good, the other two wouldn’t see which way a Fiesta went on a twisty road. The City, despite its decent body control and steering, simply runs out of grip when pushed hard, and the Scala doesn’t really like being pushed hard at all.
What’s a bit more important is how easy they are to drive in traffic and it’s the Renault, with its light steering and great visibility, that is especially easy to drive around in the city. It’s just that you have to watch out for that huge rear end when you are reversing. In the Fiesta, you sit lower and the high window line does impede your visibility a bit. Still, the large rear windscreen and big quarter glass means your view out back is quite good. The City feels the most compact of the three but it has one problem and that’s with the steeply raked windscreen that intrudes into your line of sight. It’s a problem most apparent when you are approaching junctions.
Equipment & safety
The cars we’ve tested here are all top-end variants, and to keep things simple, these are the variants we will look at here. All the essentials like air conditioning, power steering, steering tilt-adjustment, electrically adjustable rear-view mirrors and a rear windscreen defogger are available on all three. However, the Honda City doesn’t get automatic climate control as the other two do. Another surprising omission on the City is a CD player. All you get is a radio, and USB and aux-in ports. The other two cars get MP3 CD players with USB and aux-in ports.
But the City offers sunroof and paddleshifters, which are unique features among these cars. Honda also offers a touch-screen, voice guided navigation unit on a variant called the V(AVN). At a cost, of course.
The Scala is better equipped and comes standard with power windows, powered mirrors with electric fold function, automatic climate control, a trip computer and an air-recirculating fan for the rear seat. Other novelties include the keyless go function that lets you start the engine as long as you have the key in your pocket.
It’s the Fiesta that offers the most standard equipment though. It comes with Bluetooth phone connectivity and music streaming, steering-mounted audio controls, cruise control, a voice command system (that works pretty well), automatic climate control and automatic folding mirrors. We did miss paddle shifters on the Ford though – the engine and gearbox combo would be all the better if the car came with this feature.
All cars get dual front airbags and seatbelts for all passengers (the rear middle seats get a lap belt), including the centre passenger at the rear. Sadly, the City’s small, in-built rear headrests will provide no whiplash protection in the event of a rear impact. The Fiesta, Scala and City come with ABS and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) as well. Anti-theft immobilisers are standard too.
The Honda City feels the most premium of the lot. The plastics and even the shades of light brown used in the cabin look upmarket. Other neat touches are the dials that now get a cool blue backlighting,
and the chrome rings on the air-con controls. It’s also the most practical cabin, with plenty of cubbyholes and big door-pockets. The Fiesta’s dashboard is nicely textured with soft-touch materials, but some plastics lower down look shiny and cheap and some of the switchgear doesn’t feel premium either.
The Scala’s fit and finish is quite good, but we aren’t great fans of the acres of grey that Renault has clad the dashboard in. If it’s sheer space you want, look no further than the Scala – there’s acres of legroom and headroom. Adding to the feeling of space is the bright and airy cabin, which makes you feel like you are in a much bigger car. It’s not perfect though, and that’s because the rear seats lack thigh support. You can negate this to some extent by using all that legroom and stretching out, but its not the ideal solution. The City’s rear seats, on the other hand, are almost perfect. They have great thigh support, reasonably good legroom and headroom, and the raised floor under the front seats even acts as a footrest.
The rear seat is where the Fiesta falls a bit flat. Sure the seat itself is supportive and if you fit in easily, comfort is good. It’s just that the seats are low, legroom is poor and the all-black interiors make you feel a bit hemmed in. Move to the front seats, however, and it’s the Fiesta’s superbly snug seats that your back will take an instant liking to. You sit lower than the City and the Scala, but the driving position is just right, and you will find little to complain about. Get into the City after the Fiesta and you’ll immediately notice how much higher you sit. Also, you’ll realise the seat is built to accommodate wider frames and so is likely to be more comfy for a broader range of people.
You sit at a good height in the Scala too, but like the rear seats, tall people might find a slight lack of thigh support.
As for boot space, the City has the most, at 506 litres, and the Scala is a close second at 490 litres. The Fiesta has the smallest boot here by a considerable margin. It also has the narrowest boot opening.
Buying & owning
It’s the Fiesta that offers the most equipment. The Scala auto is available in mid-level RxL trim and top-end RxZ trim, priced at Rs 8.99 lakh and 9.89 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), respectively. The Fiesta too is available in two trims – Style and Titanium+ – at Rs 9.23 lakh and Rs 9.96 lakh, respectively. The Titanium+ is the one we would go for, considering it will give you that voice command system, Bluetooth connectivity and a stability program at less than the price of a top-end Scala.
The Honda City starts at Rs 9.22 lakh and goes on to Rs 10.59 lakh for the ‘V’ spec with the sunroof. The awkwardly named V (AVN) will cost you Rs 10.53 lakh but doesn’t have a sunroof. Go figure.
The Scala is the most fuel efficient of the trio. It returned 10.7kpl in the city and 16kpl on the highway. Compare that to the Fiesta’s 10.3kpl and 15.2kpl, respectively, and you’ll see a sizeable difference in how much you’ll spend on fuel as the kilometres pile up. However, it’s the City’s 9.5kpl in the city and 15.5kpl on the highway that is the lowest by a fair margin.
The Honda City is the safest, most hassle-free bet you can make here. Its interiors feel good, the seats are comfortable and it has the strongest engine here. Also, you can’t discount Honda’s legendary reliability and the huge peace of mind it brings. Then again, the City is generally expensive across the range and the variants that are well equipped cost considerably more than the Fiesta and the Scala.
The Scala is very spacious, well equipped, the most fuel efficient and is easy to drive. It sounds perfect, till you drive it for a bit and realise it’s missing a bit of excitement. The engine and gearbox aren’t a particularly engaging combination. It’s a car you buy with your head, and considering it’s going to be owner driven for the most part, this is quite a shortfall.
This is exactly why the Fiesta wins this test. Its brilliant combination of ride, handling and interesting design makes it stand out. Sure, the rear seats aren’t the most spacious and the boot isn’t the biggest here, but it’s hard to fault the rest of the package. There’s plenty of equipment, including some standout features like the voice control system, the engine and gearbox work well together and it’s reasonably fuel efficient as well. The best bit is that this is a car you’ll enjoy driving without the hassle of having to shift gears.