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Volkswagen Vento versus Honda City - Spoiling for a fight

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Honda is in a spot of bother, or they’d like to consider themselves to be. Takashi Nagai, the new man at the helm of affairs at Honda Siel India thinks that Volkswagen, combined with Suzuki is ‘very worrying’. He probably meant it even more so, because for the first time the pride of Honda Cars India, the Honda City, is under some serious threat. Volkswagen’s entry into the Rs 7-10 lakh C-segment with the Vento has meant some nerve wracking months ahead for Honda in India.

It’s really a matter of choice – both cars really do look good and I am being totally neutral about it. The Vento, for all it’s worth, doesn’t feel like a Polo with a boot. Think of the Vento as a completely different car and it works – albeit from a design standpoint. Viewed up front, there is nothing to distinguish between the hatch and the sedan sibling; it’s only when you view it in profile that the rising waistline and the extra metal over the C-pillar make the differences apparent. Volkswagen have not even made an effort to change either the wheels or the tyres, so you get the same set of 15-inch wheels on alloys on the Highline or steel-pressed ones as on the Trendline. The boot itself is quite thoughtfully designed, with the large wrap around tail lamps hardly impeding into the boot. Stare at the Vento for long, however, and you will find some staidness in the design.

The City is so popular now, that its crazy space-age lines don’t really excite. But make no mistake, this car still stands out. From the sharp front-end that boasts of parallelogram head lamps to the thick horizontal slats on the grille, the City is very dynamic looking. Last year, Honda even added a new variant, the V that you see here, which finally gets fog lamps and alloy wheels. In profile, the City looks squat and gives one the impression of a car with a low centre of gravity. Even the rump isn’t ignored, looking pin-sharp and completing the coupe-ish stance of the vehicle perfectly.

VOLKSWAGEN VENTO: 4/5

Okay, let’s admit most people who spend time in these cars will spend their time in the back seat, and both these cars have it, well, pretty good. The Vento, unlike the Polo, doesn’t feel cramped. You won’t be crying for blood to pass through your arteries nor will deep vein thrombosis become the symptom of your misery. The Vento’s best bit is that the rear seats are nicely positioned and you get ample shoulder room, head room and knee room. It’s also easy to get in and out of those rear seats, but the seats are a bit low and you find yourself adjusting a bit just to prevent your lower back from going numb. The Vento rescues itself by offering dedicated rear air vents and an adjustable front passenger seat that liberates more legroom for the passengers at the rear. Neat touches!

Not so with the City. The seats are nice and high, getting in and out is a breeze and even though it doesn’t have a dedicated rear air vent nor the adjustable front passenger seat, it’s comfortable. There is also lots of support at all the right places – no wonder it’s such a preferred chauffeur-driven car. Legroom and knee room is decent too, the only problem being the non-adjustable rear headrests that make it a touch uncomfortable.

We had the Trendline Vento petrol on test, and that meant it didn’t have the climate control unit nor an audio head unit, both of which are available on the Highline diesel. The build quality of the Vento is just as good as the Polo, except it feels a bit plasticky by VW standards even though it’s a step ahead of most of its competition. But it still lacks some features even in the Highline – for instance there are no stereo controls on the steering, nor does the stereo come with an aux-in/USB. The City in comparison only comes with a USB player and not a CD player, which again is a bit strange. But it does feature controls on the steering on the V variant. The overall look and feel of the City is more lively on the inside, the colours are more vibrant and it just feels more plush and appealing, though some bits still aren’t high quality. The Vento, even in the Highline trim, feels a little drab and can’t hide its Volkswagen-ness. Even the use

of beige doesn’t lift it up by much and the beige trim itself is susceptible to getting stained.

VOLKSWAGEN VENTO: 3/5

It’s a straightforward fight and on paper, the Honda City seems to have the edge. Its 1497cc engine liberates a little over 116 bhp at 6600 rpm, while torque is rated at 14.9 kgm coming in at a heady 4600 rpm. The Vento petrol with its slightly larger 1598cc engine makes do with a lower power rating – 104 bhp@5200 rpm but marginally healthier torque with 15.6 kgm available lower down the rev range. But it’s the diesel that takes the cake. With the same capacity and identical power figure, the Vento diesel produces a staggering 25.4 kgm of peak torque from as low as 1500 rpm. This makes it even more torquey than the Hyundai Verna diesel. The City boasts of an intelligent variable valve technology, while the Vento petrol only has double overhead camshafts. For those who don’t know, the engine on the Vento is a variation of the one found on the long gone Jetta petrol. That should mean better performance than the larger Jetta, but can the petrol Vento catch up to the City?

Straightline figures reveal that the Vento can accelerate from 0-100 kph in just 11.81 seconds, which is commendable to say the least. It has enough gusto and good bottom end torque to get it up to steam, though it doesn’t necessarily reward drivers looking to upshift early and maximise efficiency. The 80-120 kph and 100-140 kph times of 8.2 and 13.1 seconds make it a fair bit slower as far as mid-range performance is concerned, but at the same time the engine sounds throaty and a sports exhaust and/or performance air-filter can only amplify it well. A top speed of 180 kph is pretty decent, though it takes quite an age to get there. The Vento diesel is even quicker than the petrol, with a 0-100 kph time of 11.07 seconds and a top speed nearing an insane 190 kph. This means it has long blown off the socks of the 110 bhp Hyundai Verna diesel motor. The mid-range performance is very good, and though the clutch has a strange jerky bite to it, it still manages 8.0 seconds from 80-120 kph.

The City, however, is a blast to drive. Acceleration is electrifying and a 0-100 kph timing of 10.59 seconds only cements the fact that it is the quickest accelerating saloon in its segment, petrol or diesel. Mid-range performance is excellent too and unlike the petrol Vento it pulls away cleanly from 50 kph in 5th gear without you having to step on the throttle. This, despite the engine being a VTEC unit where performance is generally best over 4000 rpm. The manner in which the car keeps hunting for the redline is an enthusiast’s delight and the turn-in speed from 5000-7000 rpm is something one can expect from some sports coupes. A top speed nearing 185 kph takes it close to some entry D-segment offerings. It truly is a great engine, even though it isn’t as refined as one would have expected. Both cars have great gearboxes that make them a joy to use and they slot into position rather well. As far as efficiency goes, it is the City that comes out on top once again, proving that performance does not have to be at the expense of efficiency.

VOLKSWAGEN VENTO: 4/5

The Polo has set certain benchmarks as far as ride and handling go and the Vento is no exception either. The steering is light and makes it easy to maneouvre and it is accurate. The overall setup of the car is slightly soft and over time we have realised that it is good and bad in the same breadth. The ride quality of the Vento makes it great over bad roads and doesn’t transmit the road undulations to the occupants. It also has this ability to pummel everything under it into submission, but that is where the good part ends. Like the Polo, the car tends to bottom out because of the soft setup and it is quite evident if you check out the inner wheel arches lined with tyre marks on the wheel well. That setup also means that while the car develops good grip on the whole and Apollo Acelere tyres do get due mention here, the overall suspension softness hampers its change of direction and understeer is a constant companion as I found while trying to tackle long sweeping corners or simply getting the car to drift using the handbrake. The nose-heavy diesel is even more reluctant to change lines, but VW has made a commendable effort to control torque steer.

Strangely enough, it’s the City once again that outcorners and outrides the Vento. Strange because a Japanese manufacturer and not a German goliath has found the sweet spot in terms of ride and handling balance. The City rides extremely well and feels more plush. On most surfaces the City feels more tied down, but its lower ground clearance does hamper it when the roads get bad. Handling is where the City feels more connected to the road, the steering feeling far more responsive and giving better feedback. The stiffer-than-Vento setup means the front end goes exactly where you want it to, maneouvres are more deft and precise too. The rear setup is slightly soft, though it isn’t too disconnected. But it’s easier to drift around corners and it can break traction more easily, thanks in a way due to the narrower 175 section tyres. Braking behaviour between both cars is strangely similar. Both brake in a straight line and brake feel is more or less the same. But it’s the City that brakes a tad shorter, thanks to the fact that both the E and V variants come with ABS that help make braking tighter. The Vento in our braking tests left behind a cloud of smoke, thanks to the Trendline’s lack of ABS.

VOLKSWAGEN VENTO: 4/5

It’s quite evident that as cars go, the City is a better package on the whole. It rides better, handles better, has better performance and has the best interiors of the two. However, the City’s biggest drawback is its price. At Rs 9.56 lakh, ex-showroom Mumbai for the V variant, it is still more than the Vento Highline and that makes the Vento tremendous value for money. Look at it this way; if you want a car that does the job and doesn’t make you feel like you were mugged by your dealer, then the Vento petrol will suit you just fine. If you still must have the car, then go for the diesel (Rs 9.85 lakh, ex-showroom Mumbai) because it is the right engine for the car. But if you just want the better car, the Honda City is still the one to buy. Honda can now stop worrying.