Volkswagen literally means the ‘people’s car’ and we all know how the Beetle revolutionised motoring for millions of people for decades. It was the right car for the right time and at the right price and Volkswagen sold a staggering 21 million cars and we all know how much the Beetle is loved by enthusiasts the world over. Now, what every car company really needs is to make a car that the people really want. If you look around the streets in India, the hatchback seems to be the car that everyone has and the large conventional sedan is the car that everyone wants to own. Now India has the distinct ‘advantage’ of government policy that dictates how cars are made and that brings us to the compact sedan.
With a relatively affordable price tag, it is no wonder that more people than ever are choosing to go with these new-age compact sedans. But what if you want a compact sedan and still want something with a premium badge? Well, Volkswagen has finally heard the pleas of the Indian customer and presented us with the brand-new Ameo. So what is it all about? Well, we drove it to find out.
Yes, we know most of you will look at it and say this is identical to the Polo from the front, but this is a Volkswagen car and there are bound to be some differences. And there are. The front bumper is tucked in by 35mm which gave Volkswagen a little more space to play around with at the rear. The edges of the front bumper are also slightly different with a deeper scooped-out mould that makes the car appear slightly wider. All said and done, it does share the front fenders, grille and the bonnet with the Polo along with the dual barrel headlamps. A daytime running light setup along with projector lights would have gone a long way in making the car even more appealing though.
Volkswagen hasn’t just haphazardly pasted a boot on the back of the Polo. What is good to see is the fact that the C-pillar flows really well into the stubby bootlid and even though it is difficult to design a pretty looking car with the length restriction, we think that the Ameo is one of the most balanced sub-4-metre sedan around. The bootlid itself, though, does look a little bland and flat at first glance but look closely and you will notice some very well placed angular panels and cuts. If there was one part of the design that did disappoint a little, it would be the tail lamps. They could have certainly been a lot better designed and helped make the rear look a lot more attractive.
The Ameo shares the dashboard with the Polo but that is not a bad thing. You get a very smart looking centre console that is finished in a shade of brushed silver along with a set of rectangular air vents. The double DIN infotainment system does support USB and Bluetooth connectivity but does not have Apple CarPlay. It does, however, have Volkswagen’s excellent new user interface and Android Mirrorlink. Other features include climate control, a much needed central arm rest and a sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel. Volkswagen has also stuffed the Ameo with first-in-class features like cruise control, anti-pinch windows for all four glasses and rain-sensing wipers.
Front seats are the same as the Polo and are height adjustable for the driver. The seats themselves offer good support for the driver but VW has reworked the back rest which has now been scooped out to provide better legroom to the rear passengers. The Ameo is more spacious than the Polo in terms of rear legroom but not as spacious compared to the Honda Amaze and the Ford Figo Aspire, and is a little short on under-thigh support too. That said, even though the roof on the Ameo is 15mm lower at the rear than the Vento or the Polo, there is a lot of headspace even for a six-foot tall passenger. A central armrest at the rear would have been a good touch but you do get rear AC vents that add considerably to passenger comfort.
The boot is spacious and offers a very large opening to slide luggage and if you want even more space, the seats fold down to offer a larger loading area.
Volkswagen has only launched the 1.2-litre petrol engine on the Ameo as of now and that is exactly the version we drove. It’s the same engine that does duty in the Polo as well. The first thing that strikes you about this engine, though, is the fact that it is unusually loud for a petrol engine even when idling. With 75PS of peak power and 110Nm of peak torque, the engine isn’t expected to wow you with neck-snapping acceleration and, frankly, it doesn’t. Low-end power delivery isn’t as smooth as we expected and the Ameo does tend to need more throttle inputs especially if you are on an incline.
The engine does open up post 3000rpm all the way up to the 6000rpm red line but then the engine gets quite loud and intrusive. The gearbox is typically Volkswagen and offers a very good feel both in terms of the way it shifts and in terms of the way it slots into gears. Clutch action is lighter than some of the older Volkswagen cars but still isn’t as light as what you would get in a Hyundai or Maruti product. What the Ameo really needs is the 1.2-litre 4-cylinder TSI motor to make it a potent automobile.
As you would expect, the Volkswagen Ameo is a class apart when it comes to overall chassis balance. Ride quality is a little stiff but then Volkswagen cars have always catered to the customer who preferred handling over ride quality. That said, it is far from uncomfortable and even though the rear seat passengers might be slightly thrown on undulated roads, the driver can power through knowing that the chassis underneath him can take a beating. Steering response is very direct and although we would have loved to see Volkswagen stick to the 16-inch wheels and tyres that the show car had, the production version gets the 15-inch wheels that you get on the Polo.
Safety has been a big talking point amongst car buyers in India recently. Volkswagen being as German as they can be, have stuffed the Ameo with every possible active and passive safety feature that this price point deserves. Apart from the fact that you get ABS and two front airbags as a standard feature across all models, Volkswagen has also worked on strengthening the actual structure with new construction and assembly techniques like laser welding.
The Polo hatchback makes a lot of sense if you are a younger buyer who loves to drive and the Vento makes a lot of sense if you are an older buyer who wants that luxury feel of a premium German sedan. The Ameo brings the best of both into one package and offers it to the Indian family at a great price point while still offering the Volkswagen badge and a sense of luxury. As we mentioned earlier, every car company needs a car for the people and with the Ameo, Volkswagen has truly made a car that will appeal to the mass markets while offering much more than most other cars in the segment. In our opinion, it looks quite nice, has quality on par with much more expensive cars and handles brilliantly. The only chink in its armour is the slightly underwhelming petrol engine. Would we still recommend one? Yes, we would. But we are also really looking forward to the diesel engine that will be launched later this year.