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Full Throttle

Volkswagen hopes to score with the Vento

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Volkswagen unveiled its Polobased Vento saloon

When the Volkswagen unveiled its Polobased Vento saloon, we got to see and understand all that the German car maker is trying to do against established competition.

It was an uplifting experience - when Volkswagen pulled the wraps off its second all-Indian model, the Vento. The way the Vento crawled up the near-vertical face of the DLF Centre at Connaught Place, it was the German automaker's subtle but telling message to rivals that it is gunning for mind space, market share and leadership of the C-segment market. The hint was obvious and pointed straight at the Japanese car makers - of both the established as well as the interested kind such as Honda and Toyota.

The former rules the premium end of the C-segment with its City, while Toyota is aiming to enter it later in the year with its Etios saloon. Variety sure is the spice of life, but to have Volkswagen come and spice it up with a truly tasty dish is something which would be worth savouring, unless of course, you are a Honda or Toyota aficionado. The key factor that can work in Vento's favour is its availability. It will hit the market from October this year, with a choice of petrol or diesel propulsions. This is an area where VW scores early gains, since the diesel engine for the City does not seem to be a possibility, even though it's well known that a 1. 5-litre DTCI oil-burning engine is under development at Honda's skunkworks in Japan. Toyota should have both a petrol and diesel powerplant for the Etios, but the Vento will be first on all counts. The Vento's fourcylinder petrol and diesel engines will have a 1600 cc displacement though it would be foolhardy to expect the highly-acclaimed TSi unit to be there right at the outset.

Nevertheless, both petrol and diesel motors would have a max output of 105PS (at 5250 rpm and 4400 rpm respectively) but the diesel should torque louder - a whopping 250 Nm of twist force being dished out in the 1500-2500 rpm band. In contrast, the petrol motor delivers 153 Nm at 3800 rpm. One point that should be mentioned at this juncture is that the 1. 6-litre diesel engine is exactly the same that powers the Polo Cup race cars, so you can expect a brisk performance from the oil-burner with its torque doing the talking.

How both motors deliver drive to the front wheels is also slightly different, with the petrol mill being given the option of a 6-speed automatic when the basic transmission for both the engines remains a 5-speed manual.

The new Vento, also known as the Polo sedan in Russia, where it made its world debut a month ago, mirrors VW's approach to the emerging markets that are known for their rough roads. The suspension package allied to its robust monocoque platform (with partially zinc-coated surfaces) is the key to what the German boffins say will be classleading ride quality along with superior driving dynamics. And the ride height has been deliberately increased to make for optimum ground clearance. The Vento will be offered in two trim levels - Trendline and Highline with the former sporting 14" steel wheels and the latter having 15" alloys shod with the superior Apollo Acelere tyres. ABS comes as standard on the Highline version as do air bags for driver and front passenger while both trim levels feature disc brakes up front with drums at the rear to aid retardation.

Given that we have already spoken about the car's elegant looks (in the words of Walter d'Silva, VW's design and style boss - it is pure El Simplicita, or classic simplicity), in the flesh, it is evident that the VW family DNA is emphasised. Understated elegance pervades the length of this automobile, but then, it also highlights how close it is to the highly successful Honda City in form and proportion ! For most enlightened car buyers and users, it is about the touch-and-feel experience and here god surely resides in the details, the Vento having a few distinctive elements in its make-up.

While the interiors are close to what one finds in the Polo, there is more space and adjustment for the occupants given the lengthened wheelbase and the clever internal packaging. One interesting, but sensible, detail is the front passenger seat adjustability by the one in the rear seat to get more leg space. Both Trendline and Highline are equipped with loads of power-assisted gizmos, but what I particularly liked was the fitment of the dust and pollen filter as standard in the climate control setups of both models. I think this detail should now come in as a mandatory standard fitment in every car's air-con system.

The Vento is a major model for Volkswagen in India. And, along with the Polo, it will make for a great pair to enhance the VW brand in two segments of the country's car market that are very prolific given that the price points are under Rs 10 lakh. While the pricing wasn't divulged, it is hard not to factor in a price point - slightly lower than the City for the petrol version and a shade higher for the diesel one.

What will be most crucial is to see how the Japanese car makers react with the value and performance proposition related to the pricing of the City and Etios which will now determine how they tackle the Teutonic threat. In their actions and those of Volkswagen, I hope this segment sees a tectonic shift!

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