Update: Read our Volkswagen Ameo comprehensive first drive review
Volkswagen’s compact sedan, the Ameo, has been a long time coming. This is partly because making a compact sedan, with all its inherent compromises, pushed the German company to the wall. Would the sub-four-metre Indian Compact Sedan (or ICS as it was known then) be too much of a compromise? Would the company have to lower its standards to make such a car, would it be a real VW? Once the project got the go ahead, engineers admitted that getting a no-compromise VW car ready for the market in a short span of a year was particularly challenging too. They had to make it robust, dynamically up to the mark and this had to be done with a competitive target price in mind.
The Ameo, however, is now finally here and promises to bring a breath of fresh air to the segment. What’s interesting is that compact sub-four-meter sedans continue to dominate sales. An incredible 82 percent of all mid-sized sedans sold today still come from the compact class and from the look of things, the segment is set to grow further still. But can the Ameo steal market share from the current class leaders Maruti and Honda? Maruti’s Dzire currently leads the pack with an average of 20,000 cars sold every month and this is followed by the Honda’s Amaze at a healthy 4,500 or so. But Maruti is continuously upgrading the Dzire, and the Amaze is about to get a major facelift. How well will the Ameo stand up to the competition and what will it be like when not under the arc lights of the motor show?
Vertical boot lid doesn't look attractive especially when viewed from the side.
These and other questions fill my mind as I wait for the Ameo to roll off the trailer. The first glimpse I get is from the front, and slightly to the left. The Polo/Vento-like nose is quite familiar and the abundant metal and chrome garnishing on the nose looks great. I particularly like the new cut line or ledge in the bumper that catches the light superbly and the slight chin and bulging wheel arches work nicely too. It helps to no end that the Polo has always been a really attractive-looking car, and what’s nice is that the looks haven’t faded. The nose still looks super fresh and the now more compact boot looks quite convincing from this angle too. The shoulder line extends back nicely, the beltline is unbroken and the hint of chrome on the door handles brings some much needed bling and sophistication.
VW Ameo comprehensive photo gallery
Walk over to the side though and the rear looks quite abrupt or chopped. Volkswagen has used the shorter 2456mm wheelbase of the Polo rather than that of the longer 2552mm Vento, but even that hasn’t allowed for much of a boot. And the roofline looks a bit constrained rather than free-flowing.
Volkswagen’s designers have tried to make the best of a difficult situation. There’s an attractive-looking mini spoiler incorporated in the boot lid, a nice play of surfaces is used to try and break up the tall mass at the rear, and the all-new tail-lights that pop out are attractive in their own right. Still, there’s no hiding from the fact that the Honda Amaze and Tata Zest look much more balanced.
While wheels on this car are oversized, the production car will get 15-inch alloys.
The top-spec variant of the compact sedan will also get more appropriate 15-inch wheels, the ones on this car look oversized. And boot space is a decent 330 litres, sufficient for two large bags and a couple of small ones. It isn’t the car with the most space though; the Honda Amaze and Hyundai Xcent have much larger boots that measure 400 and 407 litres, respectively. However, boot space on the Ameo can be augmented by flipping the rear seat down, something this segment lacks.
Where the Ameo looks to win over customers is from the front seat. The dash is similar to the Polo and the Ameo gets VW’s brilliantly finished steering wheel, gear lever and door pads. And other bits like the beautifully designed instrument panel and the ‘metal’-lined central console look fantastic in relation to what is currently available on other cars in this class. What VW is also banking on is giving customers a bit more in terms of features. All versions will get dual front airbags and anti-lock brakes as standard. And other first-in-segment features include cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, static cornering lights and a touchscreen with Mirrorlink that can replicate your phone’s screen. VW also says that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are on the way. And higher versions will get automatic climate control, a rear air-con vent, a rear parking camera, electronically adjustable rear view mirrors, steering adjust for both rake and reach and even a cooled glovebox.
Whereas front seat comfort is the same as that on the Polo, space in the rear is a bit better because VW has been able to make changes to the rear seat. The seat base is angled up a bit, which is nice, and the backrest feels a bit more relaxed, so you are reasonably comfortable. Legroom, though marginally better than in the Polo, still remains an issue, and that’s especially true if there are a couple of tall passengers sitting up front.
It has the most sophisticated interior in its class and will be feature-rich too.
What VW is also banking on is the attractive nature of its smooth and punchy 1.5 diesel, that will put out a strong 89bhp in a state of tune similar to that found on the Polo. And Ameo will also get another ace up its sleeve, the rapid-shifting DSG twin-clutch automatic. The other engine the Ameo will be powered by is the 73bhp, 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol. The 1.2 TSI is an option, but that’s only likely to come much later in the life of the car.
VW will launch the Ameo towards the middle of the year. Prices are expected to start at Rs 5.5 lakh for the base petrol and go all the way up to Rs 9.5 lakh for the fully-loaded diesel automatic. VW says it will also likely offer a really attractive warranty and service package to sweeten the deal even further. It may not have the most attractive rear and the space in the back isn’t great either, but the Ameo is likely to hold an advantage when it comes to build quality, fit-finish and sophistication. It has a strong set of engines, the DSG gearbox and 1.5 diesel are likely to be a great combo and it’s likely to be one of the nicest cars in its class to drive too. It will need to be, especially if it has to go up against the likes of the Swift Dzire, Honda Amaze, Tata Zest, Hyundai Xcent and Ford Aspire.