The Hyundai Xcent is joining a closely fought market segment.

The sub-four-metre entry sedan segment is a weirdly unique segment in the Indian market. It is a segment that was created to leverage the advantages offered by legislation which allowed for a lower tax incidence. And it is a segment where the buyers are willing participants in a clever marketing game that makes them believe that they are getting a sedan, while they are only buying the hatchback with a boot strapped on to the rear.

There have been many entrants in the past few years who have tried to ride the wave. None have been as successful as the Maruti Suzuki DZire, and more recently the Honda Amaze. There are more in the pipeline and the increased choice is welcome because despite the number of options there haven't been enough high quality compact sedans to choose from.

The first off the block marking the new wave of compact sedans is the Hyundai Xcent. Meant to refer back to the Accent, the first sedan from Hyundai Motor India, the new Xcent is the booted version of the Grand i10.

Design

Thankfully, the Xcent's design is not as unwieldy as its name. It is amongst the most cohesive, most acceptable redesign of a hatchback into a sedan. The Grand i10 was conceived with a planned compact sedan to follow, and it shows. There is no abruptness to the design especially at the rear. The roofline flows smoothly down to merge with the boot lid and the dimensions chosen for the sedan still seem proportionate,though the front of the car remains identical to the Grand i10.

There is no getting away from the overall cab-forward design of the front. Yet the design of the Xcent manages to achieve some balance. Some additional chrome elements in the bonnet grille and a similar chrome treatment to the tail-lamp combination, which refers to the hexagonal theme of Hyundai's new design language, are the only visible changes in the Xcent compared to the Grand i10. The boot now conceals 407 litres of storage space. The new 15-inch alloy wheels and chrome door handles in the Xcent add to the car's looks, though the wheel arches still don't get filled out sufficiently, because the ground clearance has been raised by about 5mm, to handle the expected increase in gross vehicle weight.

Cabin

No other compact sedan manages to leverage exterior footprint to interior space as well as the Honda Amaze. The Grand i10 has its limitations due to the lesser overall width compared to the Amaze and the DZire. But, the space in the cabin isn't bad and thanks to a tall roofline, it doesn't feel claustrophobic even at the rear. Legroom and shoulder room are identical to the Grand i10, though the Xcent's rear seat is said to have gotten a more relaxed backrest angle.

In typical Hyundai style, the Xcent's cabin gets a lot of equipment to boost its appeal. The overall layout and quality of materials used in the cabin remains identical to the Grand i10. But a few changes are evident like the automatic climate control panel that seems to have been borrowed from the i20. Depending on the variant, the Xcent also gets more equipment in the form of rear aircon vents, an electro chromic rear view mirror, a smart key and push button start/ stop, auto folding door mirrors and a reverse parking assist system. A few of these are segment first and together they make the Xcent quite an attractive package.

A brown, biege and dark grey colour theme runs through the cabin including the centre console and the seat fabric. The seats are comfy and the rear bench now has the option of a flip down centre armrest with cup holders. There is also the cooled glove box and the boot lid lamp, convenience features that are rare in this segment.

Performance

The Xcent is powered by the same 1.2-litre Kappa petrol and the 2nd generation, 1.1-litre U2 CRDi diesel engine. The 4-cylinder petrol engine has also been retained in the same state of tune as in the Grand i10. It is a dual VTVT unit (variable valve timing) and its refinement is already well known. The overall performance of this mill in the Xcent is very similar. Linear acceleration is not great, but there is enough power and torque available in the key rpm range to help the driver handle most situations in city and on the highway. The 3-cylinder diesel engine has been marginally retuned to give peak power and peak torque a small boost. That hasn't really made the 1,120cc engine any peppier than in the Grand i10. The engine does feel a bit underpowered on the highway and peak power tapers off fast after the 4,00 rpm mark. But while driving in city and with a considerable amount of low-end torque available on tap, the Xcent diesel feels just right. The engine is a bit buzzy on the highway, but surprisingly quiet for a 3-cylinder mill.

Both the engine versions are offered with 5-speed manual transmissions. The petrol engine version is also offered with a 4-speed automatic transmission. Gear ratios have been changed in the Xcent compared to the Grand i10.

NVH packaging (noise, vibration and harshness) is amongst the best in the segment, keeping the cabin quiet comfortable. Testing the Xcent on an already searing afternoon in Hyderabad showed that buyers will surely appreciate the rear aircon vent during the summer. Rated fuel efficiency numbers places it very close to the Amaze.

Handling

The Xcent's handling too is very similar to the Grand i10. The only difference in its on-road behaviour can be felt when it is pushed around corners. There is a bit more body roll than in the Grand i10, and the Xcent's slightly raised body stance and the softer rear suspension accentuates body roll. The steering feels well-weighted, though, being tuned for easy in-city maneuverability has robbed it of more feedback. For its segment, the Xcent's steering is precise enough. Suspension quality is good and just like the Grand i10, the Xcent's is also pliant and capable of soaking up bad roads well.

Bottomline

The Hyundai Xcent is joining a closely fought market segment. It stands a good chance of upsetting the apple cart, thanks to its excellent value-for-money package. The Xcent's perceived quality is also likely to be higher than the others in the segment. Hyundai has introduced the Xcent with special launch prices starting from Rs 4.7 lakh for the base petrol variant.

(This article was published on April 3, 2014)
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