What is it?
Tata’s idea to chop the boot off its Indigo sedan and create the Indigo CS may have caught a few scoffs when it happened, mostly because of the car’s awkward proportions, but the Indian company clearly had the last laugh, because just look at the compact sedan segment now. Just about everyone has a player in this game – Maruti, Hyundai, Honda, Ford and even Tata, once again, with the Zest. Volkswagen isn’t a company we expected to hop onto this bandwagon, to be perfectly honest. That’s because for a global company like VW to make a car for just one market (the compact sedan segment is unique to India) isn’t always a priority. However, in a show of commitment to our market, VW has taken the plunge and stepped out of its comfort zone and plunged headlong into the value-driven compact sedan segment with the VW Ameo.
It’s VW’s first product developed exclusively for the Indian market and it all came together in just two years. It’s based on the Polo hatchback (rather than the Vento sedan) because the shorter wheelbase and overall length was a better starting point for a ‘sub-four-metre limousine’ as VW calls it. From the nose right up to the rear doors, the car looks exactly the same and VW has also managed to retain the Polo’s rear quarter glass for a better sense of space. The only difference is that the roof is a little lower to give a better flow to the sedan shape. The tricky part was carefully judging the rake of the C-pillar. Making it too upright would result in a boxy silhouette whilst too much of an angle would make it look sleeker but end up making the boot too stubby. In fact, Tilo Klumpp, chief designer of the Ameo said that his first designs were that of a fastback until VW India’s product planners suggested he give more of a distinction to the all-important (for status) ‘third box.’
Designing the boot wasn’t easy either and designers had to find a balance between space and style. Shaving 35mm off the front bumper liberated that much more length at the rear for the designers to play with but, the end result isn’t quite appealing. The boot looks too truncated or chopped off and though VW has done well to give the boot multiple surfaces to break up the vertical mass and a spoiler to make it look longer, it all ends a bit abruptly. There is only so much that can be done when you use a Polo and turn it into something it was never orignally designed to be.
What’s it like on the inside?
It is, as expected, exactly the same as the Polo on the inside, and that’s a very good thing indeed. Material quality is just miles ahead of everything else in the segment, and though the design has been around for quite a while now, it’s restrained, and so it’s aged well, just like the exterior. Big, clear dials, a sporty flat-bottom steering wheel and well-crafted switchgear are the highlights here. The front seats are really nice and supportive, and though there’s no leather upholstery like you get on some rivals, the fabric quality is good enough to have come from a few segments up.
The rear seat is unchanged from the Polo, and that was never the hatchback’s strong point to begin with. Headroom and thigh support in the Ameo are not too bad, but legroom is a fair way short of what you get in most of the competition, and it's not too wide either. You also don't get a rear armrest, but what you do get instead is a rear AC vent, something that was exclusive to the Hyundai Xcent until now.
While on the topic of equipment, again, this is not something VW has been traditionally known for. In the Ameo, however, the carmaker has gone all out, to the point that it is just about the best equipped car in the class. Things like auto climate control, an electronic day-night rear view mirror, that rear AC vent, wing mirror indicators, a reversing camera and sensors are things we've seen before in the segment, but VW has thrown in some unique and really cool features for the Ameo. Automatic wipers, one touch, anti-pinch windows at all four doors, cruise control and window operation from the key fob are all great touches. And though the infotainment screen is a bit small, it is a touchscreen and features the likes of Bluetooth, USB, SD card reader and Mirror Link. And, as with all VW cars, two airbags and ABS are standard.
The 330-litre boot is 77 litres short of the segment best, but with the Polo as a starting point, that's as good as could have been expected. It's well shaped and the loading aperture is wide but it's interesting to see how VW has finally resorted to cost cutting - there's no cladding on the inside of the boot lid like in the Vento.
What’s it like to drive?
You'll be able to buy the Ameo with VW's improved 110hp 1.5-litre diesel engine by Diwali, with either a manual or a seven-speed DSG automatic no less, but for now, it's just the petrol with a manual gearbox. It's the Polo's 1.2-litre naturally aspirated three-cylinder motor that makes 74hp and 110Nm, and unfortunately, this is the Ameo's weak link. For a start, it's not refined, and it fires to life with a distinct three-cylinder thrum. It settles down at low revs, but the moment you open it up even slightly, the engine is quite audible. Then there's the performance itself. It feels good enough for this 1,069kg car, but that's about it. It isn't particularly strong at the bottom end or mid range and it doesn't enjoy being revved - feeling strained after 4,500rpm. In truth, it's good enough for ambling around town, and for many that will be enough, but the moment you ask any more of it, it feels out of its comfort zone. The 240kph max-speed reading on the speedo feels a bit redundant when it's given all it's got at just over 140kph.
It does, however, redeem itself in the ride department, with a suspension set up that feels as solid and sophisticated as it should on a German car. A good mix of compliance and firmness, the Ameo, on its 15-inch wheels, makes short work of most poor Indian roads, with only the occasional hard thunk coming in if you hit a sharp bump a little too fast.
As with the Polo and Vento, the handing isn't incredibly rewarding, but it's safe and predictable. The steering is not sharp like a Ford or a Honda, but it's not as limp as some recent Marutis either. It only feels a little loose at high expressway speeds, but that's forgivable considering how flat and securely the Ameo rides.
Should I buy one?
We have to talk about the price first because Volkswagen has really knocked it out of the park this time. Bucking its own trend of premium pricing, the Ameo costs Rs 5.24-7.06 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), which makes it one of the more affordable cars in the class! And that's all the more impressive when you see how much has been crammed into it. Then you factor in what has always earned VW its premium positioning - solid German build quality - and that's still there too. In fact, the places where costs have been cut are few and far between. Where it stumbles is the engine; the 1.2 MPI feels past its prime and doesn't have the performance or refinement of its competitors. The other area is practicality - whereas the Polo is a self-drive car, the Ameo is meant for families, and the rear seat and boot space should really have been better to properly fulfil this role. What it is though, is an incredible and unexpected value proposition that stands out for being solidly built and well equipped. It might just be worthwhile waiting for the diesel version that hits showrooms in the holiday season.
Volkswagen Ameo launched at Rs 5.24 lakh
Volkswagen Ameo compact sedan photo gallery