The Honda City’s success story is so phenomenal, that at one point of time - it became the go to family sedan. The City continued to dominate the market for around a decade with a single petrol engine option. It’s rivals couldn’t come close, even with diesel engine options. The lack of a diesel motor was the only chink in the otherwise shining armour of the Honda City. A chink, that the Hyundai Verna carefully exploited to become the largest selling C-Segment sedan in the country. However that stint was short-lived as Honda finally plonked in the 1.5 litre i-DTEC engine from the Amaze into the City. The only perceivable shortcoming of the Honda was plugged - and the City was back to the top of the charts. Naturally, there’s an onslaught of competition that the City has to endure. There’s it’s arch nemesis - the Hyundai Verna, the new kid on the block - the Maruti Ciaz, the Skoda Rapid and the recently updated - Volkswagen Vento.
Volkswagen has had a silent, but stable innings in India. Back in the late 2000s, Volkswagen announced its arrival with offerings like the Beetle, Touareg and the Phaeton. Quickly enough, they realized that the Volkswagen badge didn’t really have as much snob value as the big boys from Germany. It was time to enter the lower end of the market - and so they did. With the Polo and it’s sedan sibling - the Vento. While domestic sales are still nothing to boast about, it’s the exports that have gotten VW the volumes. The Vento is five years old now, and Volkswagen couldn’t have timed the refresh better. Does it have enough to take on the king of the segment? Read on…
Simply put, the Vento and City will appeal to people with completely different outlooks. The styling is radically different on both the cars. While the Vento is suave and sober, the City is more in your face and aggressive.
The City follows a similar design language as the outgoing version and you’d be forgiven if you thought the current one is just a facelift and not an all new generation. You get sleek headlamps, a large grille with an overdose of chrome and tiny circular foglamps tucked away into trapezoidal foglamp clusters. The face of the Vento is subtler in comparison. With the facelift, the Vento gets the double barrel headlamps from the Polo, a new three slat chrome grill and a reworked bumper with cornering foglamps. These upgrades, especially the new grille - make the Vento look like it’s elder siblings - the Jetta and the Passat.
Round to the side, the City’s aggression continues. There’s a swooping belt line that runs across the doors and diminishes into the tail section. You get integrated blinkers on the side mirrors too. What takes away from the City’s aggressive stance are the puny 175 section 15 inch wheels. The City deserves a bigger and better looking alloy wheel design for sure. The Vento’s simplicity is carried over to the side where it gets minor updates viz. the chrome garnish on the door handles and new electrically folding ORVMs with integrated blinkers. Another update to the clean silhouette of the Vento are the 15” wheels. Unlike the City, these wheels fill in the wheel well nicely and give the Vento a clean stance. Yes, the Vento is a Polo with a boot. But the integration of the boot is extremely neat. The Vento manages to look like a well-proportioned sedan and the boot definitely doesn’t look like an afterthought.
The City’s rear can be mistaken for the one on the Maruti Ciaz. There’s a generous dose of chrome on the boot and the large tail-lamps cut into the boot lid as well. The Honda gets a reversing camera and parking sensors to help park it in tight spaces. The VW’s rear now feature LED tail-lamps, which is a hit or miss really. I personally preferred the cleaner layout on the previous iteration. The rear gets a generous helping of chrome on the Vento as well, with chrome slats running across the boot and the new bumper. The exhaust tip now peeks out of the bumper and gets a chrome finish as well.
While the City appeals to the boy racer in you, the Vento is something you’d like to see parked in your office parking. The cars are pretty evenly matched in this department and neither can be called better than the other or bad looking. It boils down to personal preference at the end of the day, and I’d call this round - a draw.
The Vento gets an all new color scheme on the inside. Volkswagen calls it ‘Walnut Desert Beige’. In simpler terms, it’s mix of light brown and beige. The fit and finish of everything you touch, turn or hold is simply outstanding. The quality of materials used feel properly premium and wouldn’t give you scope to complain. On the equipment front, the Vento gets the music system from the Polo - which supports BT Audio, USB and AUX inputs over the standard Radio and CD. While this looks and works perfectly fine, what the Vento really needs is a touchscreen audio system. The competition has moved on and Volkswagen should have as well. Having a bigger screen would’ve also meant that the Vento could have been equipped with a rear view camera. You can’t really rely on the sensors alone to park the Vento, especially so if you’re a newbie to driving. The Vento also gets an Automatic Climate Control System which is again shared with the Polo. The AC is a chiller and seems like a blow dryer when the fan is set to full speed. The cabin is cooled much faster when you compare it to the Honda City. With the refresh, the Vento’s interiors get a dead pedal, cruise control and a chilled glovebox.
The City’s interior follows the swoops and slashes from the outside. The dashboard is driver oriented i.e tilted at an angle toward the driver. The interior is black garnished with dull silver accents to break the monotony. The quality of plastics is top-notch once again, but could’ve been better when you compare it to the Vento. The centre console houses a screen for the infotainment and higher spec versions get a full touchscreen system with navigation. The climate control system gets a touchscreen interface as well, which can get slightly fidgety to operate on the move. The AC did manage to cool the cabin down relatively quickly with ambient temperatures soaring past the 30 degree mark, I found the performance of the rear AC vents to be strictly average. The rear half of the cabin cools faster in the Vento and the City’s rear aircon feels feeble in comparison. The City gets keyless entry and go, a reverse camera and most importantly a sunroof - all of which the Vento misses out on.
The steering wheels on both the cars get controls for the audio and the calls. The Vento could’ve done with buttons to select the source of the audio. Other than that, there’s nothing to complain about. While the City gets the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel itself, the Vento houses the controls on the indicator stalk behind the wheel. The flat bottomed steering wheel on the VW looks and feels great - but, it is slightly heavier when you compare it to the chuckable steering of the Honda.
If you intend to be chauffeured around in your new sedan, pick the City. The rear legroom is ages ahead of the Vento. The seats are reasonably comfortable in both cars, but you’d be at greater ease in the Honda thanks to the extra space. Also, the City can seat five adults while the Vento is best used to seat four. The floor on the Vento has an ungainly rise in the center at the rear and will make the third passenger feel unwelcomed.
Both cars get armrests at the front and rear. While I have no complaints with the rear armrest, the front armrest on the Vento can get plain annoying. At it’s lowest setting, the armrest leaves no space for you to use the handbrake. The storage space inside the armrest too is shallow and can house a phone or maybe a wallet and some toll tickets. The City definitely has more usable storage space on the inside. The front seats on both the cars can be adjusted for reach, height and angle. While the Vento gets reach and rake adjustment for the steering, the Honda has to make do with tilt adjustment only.
The Vento does have this feeling of being upmarket and premium to it, which the Honda lacks ever so slightly. The Vento may not have all the gizmos that the City has to offer, but it does have it’s share of plus points like one-touch down for all four windows, a chilled glovebox and an ergo lever by means of which the rear passenger can push or pull the front passenger seat. And before I forget, the doors on the Vento close with an assuring thud, while the City closes with a clank. If you consider equipment list, the City runs rings around the Vento. It gets a touchscreen infotainment system, touchscreen ac controls, push button start, sunroof - the lot! The Honda wins this round as it is more comfortable and gets more gizmos.
Engine and Performance
Both cars get a 1.5 litre diesel heart. However the way they respond to your throttle input, is completely different. The Vento gets an optional 7-Speed DSG automatic variant, while the City has to make do with just the 6 speed manual.
While power output on both cars are nearly identical at 100PS for the Honda and 105PS for the VW, the Vento gets an extra 50Nm of torque. The City has a peak torque of 200Nm and the Vento, 250Nm. The VW builds this torque up at lower revs compared to the City. What this means is that in-gear acceleration is far better in the Vento. There is evident turbo lag in both the cars and they pick up properly only after ~1800 rpm. The shove from the engine is a bit too punchy in both cars and will pin you to the back of your seat while you have a silly grin on your face. The six speed stick shift on the Honda has short throws and is intuitive to use. I’d have preferred the gear stick itself to be slightly taller than it is, but it is a matter of getting used to. The armrest on the Honda is positioned perfectly and you can actually rest your hand while shifting gears. The 7-speed DSG is on another level altogether. Not only is it convenient, it also managed to return almost fuel efficiency compared to the manual Honda. Yes, being an automatic - it does mean that it isn’t as engaging to drive. There isn’t a lot for the driver to do. Just modulate the throttle inputs, brake and steer. The Vento won’t appeal to the ‘purist’. Not even remotely. But it is really hard to wipe the smug smile you get, when you pin the throttle down, the DSG downshifts a couple of gears and you fly past the Honda. Off the line, the Honda is quicker. The autobox does take half a second to respond to that throttle slammed down hard on to the floor. This laziness is enough for the Honda to pounce ahead, but the Vento will close the gap quickly and pull away cleanly past 60km/h. So cleanly, that it clocks a ton a full second quicker compared to the City.
|Honda City||Volkswagen Vento|
|0 - 60km/h||4.97 secs||5.26 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||12.76 secs||11.76 secs|
Ride and Handling
Like I mentioned, if you plan on being chauffeured around, the Honda is the better bet. The suspension is on the softer side and you won’t scowl at your driver for missing a pothole. The ride quality is far better and more importantly more comfortable compared to the German. It soaks in the bumps nicely and doesn’t really transfer a lot to the cabin. It also remains planted as the speeds creep higher. The tyres again are the only sore point in this scenario. The tyres are noisy and will ruin the experience of an otherwise quiet cabin on the move. The Vento on the other hand, urges you to push the car into the corner you see on the horizon. The suspension is definitely stiffer compared to the City. The Vento rides flat, even at high speeds. It can munch miles all day long without breaking a sweat. The steering is heavier on the Vento and it provides that much needed confidence while cruising at triple digit speeds. The Honda’s steering is lighter in comparison. The City does feel a size smaller when you’re puttering around town. Both the units are direct and provide excellent feedback. While neither are meant to attack corners, if you had to take one for the run to the twisties - the Vento it is.
What the Vento is right now, is what it should’ve been from the word go. The updates that have trickled down into the sedan, makes it a well-rounded package. The 1.2TSi and the 1.5TDi, especially mated with the 7-Speed DSG are absolute delights to drive. This is definitely the best Vento yet, but sadly it isn’t enough. Volkswagen needs an all-new Vento to shake things up in the market and have a shot at the likes of the Honda or even the Maruti Ciaz. The City has reigned the C-Segment and with this iteration, things won’t change. Won’t change for a long long time. Honda has possibly mastered the recipe of the C-Segment sedan for a demanding emerging market like ours. It has just the right amount of gizmos, a wonderful (but noisy) diesel engine under the hood and mostly importantly, a bold H insignia sitting proudly on its face. The ‘City’ moniker has immense brand value and Honda has cashed in fully. The City carries a name that has been around for 17 long years and this one does well to live up to it.