Vento…The Indian VW

Posted: December 15, 2010 in Car reviews
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Until just over a year ago, Honda had been ruling the market in all the segments it was present in India. All its models- City, Civic, Accord and CR-V used to top the sales charts year after year. But with the launch of new models like the Corolla Altis, Superb and the Fortuner, the long dominance of Honda in the luxury space seemed to come to an end. The only model that seemed unaffected by the proceedings was the City, the bread and butter of Honda in India.
City had been ruling the Midsize car segment in India for quite a long time. Launched way back in 1998, the car started the journey of Honda in India and has been the mainstay of Honda in India since then. Almost all car makers in India have tried dethroning Honda from that position, but had met with little success till now. Only SX4 had managed to challenge the reign of the City for a brief period after its launch, but Honda soon bounced back with a much improved City and later with a major facelift to ride over the SX4. New models sprung up quite regularly, but none could make an impact even up to what SX4 could achieve.
The latest addition to the long list of City wannabes and undoubtedly one of the most potential competitors is the Volkswagen Vento. Despite the production and supply constraints faced by VW and waiting of months to get hold of the car, it seems all set to snatch the crown from City, with a sales of 2413 units as against 3003 units of City in November. The days of City seem quite numbered.
But, is the new Vento really a potential competitor to the City, or will it meet with the same fate as the SX4 which was brushed aside by the City once the initial hype was over? Let’s find out.
From the outside, the car is just the same as its hatch sibling Polo at the front, with the changes in bumper, lower grille and fog lamps giving it no edge over the Polo in styling and failing to give a different image. All other parts are just the same as in the Polo till the B-pillar and seem quite familiar despite its premium, bold looks. It is after the B-pillar where the real difference surfaces, with the smooth curves flowing on to the boot of the car giving it the feel of a complete sedan and not like a hatch with a boot. Rather, it looks more like a sedan from which the boot was cut apart to create the Polo. The tailgate, though a touch too simple with the plain tail lamps, gels pretty well with the elegant front part and spreads an aura of class around the vehicle. Despite being lower than the City by 14mm, it has a higher ground clearance and gives a sleek and aerodynamic feel to the car.
Get inside the car and look around, it is hard to spot any difference between the Vento and the Polo, save the automatic climate control area, chrome insert on the steering wheel , a front centre armrest and leather wrapped steering and gear knob. The build quality and fit and finish of dashboard and trims is top class, just like the Polo and looks the most elegant and neat in its class. The bright and cheerful interiors also lend it a unique feel unlike its competitors, which have darker interior shades. But sharing parts with Polo definitely doesn’t help the appeal of the interiors as customers would definitely expect the interiors to be at least different from that of the cheaper Polo, if not of a better quality. Another notable deviation from the convention is the power window switch like boot opener, which not only helps you unlock the boot latch with just a mild touch, but also opens the boot wide unlike other cars, where the boot needs to be lifted up manually to open. The seats offer just enough support under the thighs and wraps around the passengers pretty well, giving amazing support to your back, which can be more than handy during long drives. But, on the other side, VW could have tweaked in a couple of features like Bluetooth or steering mounted audio controls to further enhance the value of the car.
Sit at the rear and the real difference in the interiors between the Polo and the Vento comes to the fore. The car is designed to satisfy the tastes of the chauffer driven Indian customer much more than any other car in its class. The standout bit is the front seat adjustment lever for the rear passenger, which was hitherto unseen in any car in India or probably anywhere. This clearly depicts the amount of thought that has gone into making the Vento and how to customize it for India. The rear aircon vents, though not extremely effective owing to their location, and the fragile but useful rear centre console cup holder are welcome additions. The only negative bits are the high floor bump, making it difficult for any fifth person to sit in the car, and the unmasked door area near the C-pillar that does not have any trim. Also the thigh support for the rear passengers could have been a bit better, even at the expense of a bit of rear legroom.
Turn on the ignition and the car comes to life like a drenched pup, shaking its body vigorously, as if to bring you back into reality, quite similar to the Polo. Depress the throttle in neutral and the car feels more than eager to blast itself forward but what really disturbs is the shake it produces. The 1.6 litre diesel motor is silent or good in NVH by no standards, and produces enough noise to scare anyone nearby; but definitely better compared to its petrol sibling. Slot in the gear, depress the pedal and the car leaps forward, and then you won’t find any more reasons to complain. The acceleration and pickup is nothing short of stunning, and the car zooms forward with no delay. The torque is good all throughout, with minimal turbo lag, and the tall gear ratios only complement it. It easily goes to 60kmph in second gear and to 100 in the third, and still begs for more throttle input, which is just fantastic. The only problem is with the gearshift. Though the gear is slick and with short throws, it is a bit difficult to slot it in place, which is slightly bothersome during rapid acceleration. The brakes were also good enough, bringing the car to a halt from 100kmph in quick time.
The drive was pretty smooth at low speeds with the car tackling small broken patches with supreme authority. Increase the speed a little bit and the car glides over the uneven surfaces, and gives the feeling of a soft suspension setup and rubber underneath. The car pretty much shows off its inability to damp at moderate speeds, and can become a bit bouncy as well. The ride also suffers on good roads as well, with the vertical movements in the car getting to the higher side tossing you around in your seat a bit too much, and coupled with the inputs felt on your legs, can be disturbing while cruising on wavy highways at high speeds. The softness of the suspension is quite evident especially at under passes, with the car pitching quite a lot on moving from sloppy road to plain road and vice versa.
On the handling front, the car is no head turner, nor bad by any standards. The steering feel around the centre and the crispness, are undoubtedly the best handling bits in the car. But it feels a bit elastic, coming back to centre rather quickly and the damping feels a bit too high as well, not close to comfort. But the steering feels quite linear during overtaking and won’t betray you with its response either. Crisp and sharp lane changes may cause the rear to go a bit off track, but not by a very wide margin to cause panic. There is slight kick to the steering as well after brisk lane changes, but definitely would not cause any major discomfort to the driver. The tyres also proved their worth in gripping the road quite well, holding their nerves during majority of the high speed turns and tending to give up only on the extreme ones which the car may be rarely subjected to in normal driving.
The car, on the whole is pretty decently loaded like the City, missing out only on a couple of bits like USB support and steering mounted controls; but what it lacks in features, it more than compensates by coming close to a lakh rupees cheaper than the City. The quality of the car interiors is absolutely top class and is in the league of the previous generation City, if not a level higher. The only areas requiring further improvement are the NVH and the softy suspension. But otherwise, the car offers amazing value for your money and with a diesel option available, it can very well signal the end of Honda City’s reign in the midsize segment, unless obviously, Honda goes for a drastic City revamp.

  1. Ramnik Tiwana says:

    The hood opener is locked when the car door is closed as a safety measure. I’ve seen a lot of fatal accidents in which the hood of the car opened and hit the windshield at high speeds – The hood was not closed tightly.

  2. DRG says:

    I understand the best in class diesel is in Vento.
    What is the typical mileage we get in this car in city ?
    Are there locks for all doors in this car ?

    Since diesel etios is deferred by an year, I am looking out to buy a good diesel sedan. I feel dezire or manza is boring. Any alternatives in that price range ?

    • automate4u says:

      Sorry for the late reply DRG…
      You should get around 11-12 kmpl in city for petrol and around 18 for diesel
      There are no diesel sedans available in the range of Dzire or Manza other than Indigo…

      • DRG says:

        Thanks for the reply. In fact I test drove Verna diesel and just loved the driving feel. The car handles extremely well and felt just right for me in most of the ways. As i mentioned for fabia this has the lock issue which means the car can be opened from inside and I will not be able to drop my son to school comfortably. Also when i enquired about price of parts i feel that running costs of the car will be too much in my opinion. Generally I am a kind of very choosy and value conscious and looking for a vehicle that has low running costs and also upto my specs. [Not sure if I am asking for too much but choices in europe and US might have spoilt me].
        Because of many announcements of sedans like, Hyundai new verna, new fiesta and nissan i decided to wait and live with my sweet old wagon R – till a car comes in my way that meets most of my requirements.

      • DRG says:

        My apologies, what i spoke is on Vento and sorry for the BIG typo. I am yet to test drive the new verna. I’ll post my opinions on sedans i test drive till I choose one. Currently wagon R satisfies my need albeit a few years old.

      • automate4u says:

        yes the new fiesta can indeed be a great option for you…just wait for that…

  3. Joe mckane says:

    Well thought out critique. The vento could do well in any Market but I am not sure it can be priced more expensively than the 5 door Polo model, that is cynical marketing. Can’t cost more to manufacture surely?

    • automate4u says:

      Ya it shouldn’t cost much extra to manufacture than the Polo, but it can definitely command a premium over the Polo in India as VW is doing, due to the special liking of Indian customers to sedans(as a status symbol)

  4. automate4u says:

    Just another update…VW has overtaken Honda to become India’s largest luxury car maker. The chunk of the volumes came from Vento and Polo.

  5. Gaurav says:

    Nice article, covers almost all aspects. Good summary for any auto enthusiast.
    In addition, I would like to add a few observations(personal) for the above vehicle.
    Rightly said, pickup of the vehicle is awesome, but i somehow disagree with the quality of NVH mentioned in the review.
    I feel the NVH is at par, and the engine is quite silent (when compared to a diesel engine in the nearby segments) from inside. Although from outside irt gives a feel of a diesel car, but to a luxury car, does the outside noise matter that much. Second point to specify is the vibration level, the vehicle is stable enough during steep turns and the vibration level in side the vehicle (be it on floor, or steering or gears) are quite low.
    Another observation (not captured in the review) is regarding the hood opener. It is nonoperational, when the driver door is shut, although i couldn’t figure out the good reason for doing this, but it must not have been done without any reason.

    • automate4u says:

      thanks for your comments Gaurav…I agree with you that the engine noise percolating into the cabin is very much less than what you hear outside, but in a car that comes at around 10lakhs on road, I definitely feel it could have been better refined(I would rate cars like Verna better in this regard). Even I could not figure out a reason why the hood remains shut as long as driver door is opened…but yes, definitely there would be some logic.

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