It’s a stiff breeze blowing in from Wolfsburg (Germany) these days, and it carries with it the promise of the renewed vigour, vitality and velocity with which Volkswagen is finally addressing the Indian market. The newest indication of that is the Vento, a new sedan specifically designed for India. Vento means wind in Portuguese.
The sedan is based on the same platform as the recently introduced Polo hatchback. However, it would be incorrect to simply call the Vento a Polo with a boot. The platform was engineered from the start to accommodate a sedan and a hatch.
I like the look of the car. Very simple yet bold lines define what looks like a very European design sensibility. The car isn’t flashy or drop-dead gorgeous, yet it’s smart and executive-like in its stance. And will hold its own in comparison with the futuristic-looking Honda City and even the prettier Fiat Linea. The Vento has been launched in three petrol and two diesel variants. The key difference being that the petrol Vento has an automatic transmission option. The cars will be available on road in India from September.
I drove the Vento from Jaipur to Gurgaon a few days ago, and yes, I did get to test both the diesel and petrol avatars.
I started with the automatic petrol, and while the car felt taut, it lacked the rigid feel most German cars are known for. The suspension is planted and firm, yet the car feels a bit light on its feet, which was a tad disconcerting. The engine also revs a lot, but that doesn’t translate into raw power. The car gets up to speeds of 160 kmph fairly smoothly, but just takes some time getting there. It’s the quick throttle response that’s lacking. I suspect the manual with the same engine would be a lot more satisfying. So the problem lies with the Plain Jane 6-speed auto gearbox. VW hasn’t included the much touted DSG or dual-clutch automatic that’s found in its other cars such as the Jetta and Passat, and indeed even the European Polo. But that’s what happens when price becomes such an overarching consideration—which as we all know is the case in India. So I had to be satisfied with the regular auto box which, as I have already said, fails to impress.
I subsequently switched to the diesel with a 5-speed manual transmission. We were finally in business! This variant was more in line with what I expected from a VW sedan. Lots of low-end torque, and a much more satisfying and notchy gear-shift. A very fun, sporty and responsive car, the character of the diesel Vento was immediately different from the variant I had driven previously. The bigger relief for me was that the 1.6 litre diesel was way ahead in performance and character to the sluggish and indifferent 1.2 litre engine in the Polo hatch.
The interiors on the Vento are akin to the Polo’s. Very German, with straight lines and good plastics. You get an effective climate control system with the car but both that and its music system have a very boring and antiquated interface. The seats are good, but lack under-thigh support. The rear has decent leg room, and more importantly an AC vent for the rear passengers.
What’s not nice though is the lack of a USB or auxiliary port or any iPod compatibility whatsoever. And the lack of steering-mounted controls on even the top-end Highline trim also got my goat.
VW is likely to offer optional add-ons such as leather seats and a fancier music system in subsequent variants or limited editions that may come next year. There will also be more engine options being offered in the Vento a few years down the line, especially a more powerful diesel one that the company is currently developing.
The car also has a six-year anti-rust warranty, and drives in with 60% local content, which is why VW has been able to shock and surprise with attractive prices. I had always maintained that for any success, this car had to be priced below the Honda City. And VW has delivered. The petrol variants range from Rs6.99 lakh to Rs9.21 lakh, while the two diesel versions are priced at Rs7.99 lakh and Rs9.23 lakh.
So Honda should be very worried. It’s been a sluggish sales year for the company, which is continuing to miss out on most of the recent sales blitzkrieg we have been witnessing. The Vento will now hit Honda where it hurts most—its bread-and-butter model, the City. Others such as the Tata Indigo Manza and Ford Fiesta, as well as the Chevrolet Aveo, Hyundai Verna and Fiat’s Linea, will also feel the heat. So this will be the space to watch as the festive season approaches.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor (auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org