If you’re seeking for a practical small sedan, a new entrant from the country of hyper-fast autobahns and beer gardens, or ‘Biergarten,’ as the locals call them, is on its way.
The Volkswagen Ameo, which goes on sale next month, is the long-awaited conclusion of VW’s attempt to break into the burgeoning compact sedan sector. The Ameo, which is essentially a booted version of the Polo, is the first Volkswagen model created specifically for the Indian market, and the company has made no bones about it.
The Ameo appears to tick most of the appropriate boxes on paper, and it certainly looks and feels the part. But, beyond the obvious, how does it perform on the road, and, more significantly, is it a viable replacement for the current crop of compact sedans? A quick drive down the picturesque route to Wai suggests it’s possible.
If you like the Polo’s sharp, clean lines, you’ll probably like what Volkswagen has done with the Ameo. In fact, VW spent roughly two years developing this car, which may seem excessive given that the Ameo appears very identical to the Polo from the front to the back doors. The three-box form is only visible once you’ve passed the back doors.
The biggest issue for Volkswagen was fitting a bootlid onto the Polo, which is already a very spacious hatchback that barely fits under the key 4-meter line. To add additional sheet metal above the back overhang, VW had to come up with some pretty dramatic solutions, like chopping 35mm off the front bumper. In addition, the rear portion of the roofline has been changed to improve design flow into the rear glass. According to veteran VW designer Tilo Klumpp, whose first sketches were of a fastback, the Ameo could have turned out to be a slightly different vehicle. Volkswagen India executives, on the other hand, were only interested in ordering the more popular three-box variant.
With its beautifully formed front end, taut shoulder lines, and flared wheel arches, the Ameo emanates traditional VW style elements. It’s called Blue Silk if you’re curious about the colour. For a more streamlined appearance, it even has those many sharp creases right at the bottom. However, it falls short of being outstanding where it matters most, namely at the back. The Polo-like taillights are nicely formed and attractive, as is the tastefully designed spoiler, but the absence of muscle on the rear bumper is too noticeable to be overlooked. The Ameo’s boot is a little too stubby, and the end result just doesn’t cut it. Like most small sedans that have had their rear ends cut-short to leverage on sub-4 metre excise benefits, the Ameo’s boot is a bit too stubby, and the end result simply doesn’t cut it.
When it comes to interior quality and the “feel good” aspect, compact sedans rarely deliver. The Ameo, on the other hand, is unique. To begin with, it has the same inside as the Polo and the Vento, which means everything is incredibly accurate. Everything is really Germanic.
The Ameo might be considered top-of-the-line for the price, with well-integrated screens and high-quality materials throughout the interior. The Ameo’s cabin may appear drab when compared to the Hyundai Xcent or Ford Aspire, but the VW is hard to beat when it comes to quality and fit and finish of plastics. The dual-tone black and beige upholstery, nicely crafted steering wheel, and solid-feeling and-operating rotary switches on the dash all contribute to the Ameo’s premium feel. The spacious front armrest, as well as the crystal clear dials, are a lovely touch.
Because of the narrow A-pillar, vision outside is good from the spacious and comfy front seats. The front seats are well-cushioned and provide excellent back and thigh support. The rear bench is lifted straight from the Polo, one of the least roomy hatchbacks on the market, so it’s not as stunning. When you combine it with an unchanged wheelbase, you have the car with the least amount of knee room in its class. The 330-litre boot is enough for everyday use, but it lacks the space of the Honda Amaze (400-litre) or the Hyundai Xcent (407-litre).
The Ameo, on the other hand, retaliates heavily in terms of equipment. The base Ameo Trendline, which comes in three trim levels, includes power windows, central locking, steering wheel tilt and telescopic adjustment, air conditioning, and turn indicators on the wing mirrors. The top-of-the-line Ameo Highline, on the other hand, is stuffed to the brim with segment-first technologies like cornering lights, rain-sensing wipers, and cruise control. Apart from that, it has alloy wheels, a rear parking camera with sensors, climate control, rear AC vents, electrically foldable wing mirrors, and a touchscreen radio system with steering-wheel controls. Volkswagen includes anti-lock brakes and dual airbags as standard equipment on all three Ameo trim levels.
Driven by Results
A 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine lies below the Ameo’s elegant triple slat grille, which is currently the only engine option for Ameo purchasers. Don’t worry; by the holiday season, you’ll be able to purchase this car with a totally new 1.5-litre, 110bhp diesel engine.
Returning to the current engine, the three-pot motor produces 74bhp of power and 110Nm of torque, translating to a 0-100kmph sprint time of roughly 15 seconds. With such numbers on its side, the Ameo is hardly a speed demon. When it comes to highway overtaking or mid-gear acceleration from 70kmph to about triple digit speeds, its lack of power is quickly obvious. The way this engine cranks up rpm only adds to the problems. The characteristic three-cylinder thrum is constantly present, and the engine refinement levels aren’t very high. The Ameo’s engine is noticeably louder than the Xcent’s and similar to the Amaze’s under hard acceleration.
Don’t be fooled by the sporty-looking flat-bottom steering wheel. After all, the Ameo is a tiny sedan, and it drives just how it should. The suspension setup of the Ameo, like that of all other cars in its class, is geared toward comfort. However, after the Honda Amaze, it features the second finest balance of ride and handling. The Ameo’s steering is a little shaky in the straight-ahead position and slow to turn in. It’s light at first, but as more lock is applied, it grows heavier. Overall, it lacks the constancy of sensation found in competitors such as the Ford Figo Aspire.
The production-specification Ameo has 15-inch wheels instead of the larger 16-inchers shown on the Auto Expo show car. Nonetheless, the Ameo’s ride quality is excellent; we tested it on both pothole-infested city streets and wide open highway asphalt. Despite sending some severe bumps from the road into the cabin, it copes effectively with undulated surfaces. So, in terms of dynamics, what’s not to like? The Ameo, like all other small sedans, has a high-speed ride that is a little floaty. To keep the thing on track, continual steering corrections are required.
Our brief time behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Ameo revealed that this new German model offers a lot for the money. The Ameo is a surprisingly good value car that competes with the Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire and the Honda Amaze (the petrol powered model is, anyway). However, it would be interesting to see how successfully VW India plays the pricing card for the impending DSG-equipped diesel powered vehicle in the grand scheme of things.
The Ameo may not be as well-rounded and capacious in the back as the Amaze or as agile to drive as the Figo Aspire, but it does provide a lot of value and a well-designed cabin. At the very least, do a test drive before heading to that Maruti Suzuki dealer.