There is a new entrant in the sub-4 metre compact sedan in India, and it comes from Volkswagen Passenger Cars India. The new Volkswagen Ameo ‘4 metre limousine,’ as the company calls it internally, is the newest contender in the compact sedan segment that is being led strongly by the Maruti Suzuki DZire. Other challengers to the Ameo come in the form of the Hyundai Xcent, Honda Amaze, Tata Zest and Ford Figo Aspire.
The Ameo is Volkswagen’s ‘Made for India, Made in India’ car that was globally unveiled just before the Auto Expo 2016. It garnered mixed reviews for its boxy rear that does take some getting used to before the lines come together. Could this model bring in new customers for the company and see it providing the market with a cost-effective vehicle with reputed quality? Let’s find out.
In all essence, the Ameo looks very much like a Polo when viewed from the fore. The main differentiating factor however is the front bumper, which is a newly-designed one with grooves on the edges that integrate into the fender arches to give the car a muscular front-end view. It is also here, on the bumper, that Volkswagen has shaved off 35 mm to maintain the visual proportion of adding a stubby boot to the rear of the car. In every other way, the Ameo is exactly in proportion to the Polo till the C-pillar.
The roof of the Ameo is also slightly different from its hatchback sibling in order to be integrated into the design of the rear boot. The Ameo has the same wheelbase and width as that of the Polo, with the former being about 15 mm taller. The angle of the C-pillar has been increased very slightly to integrate the tapered roof and the stubby boot together neatly. The boot of the Ameo makes an almost 90° angle causing it to be boxy, but is visually tricked by the edge of the boot that is shaped to look like it is equipped with a lip spoiler. The boot also features a pair of diagonal creases on either sides of the number plate housing to offset the straight lines of the lid and the rear bumper. The shoulder crease of the car extends from the front headlight and is well-integrated into the tail lamp.
POWERTRAIN AND DRIVING DYNAMICS
Volkswagen is using the same 1.2 l, three-cylinder, MPI petrol engine doing duty on the Polo to power the Ameo. This engine puts out maximum power of 74 hp at 5,400 rpm, with 110 Nm of peak torque at 3,750 rpm. The car is available with only a five-speed manual transmission, which is also the same one seen in the Polo. This engine offers the lowest power rating when compared to all the other petrol engines of its competitors in this segment.
The fact that the Ameo has the lowest power rating in its segment is not felt in city driving, but becomes evident when taken on the highway. The car is happiest at a cruising speed between 85 and 100 km/h, with the revs needing to be maintained high to power it beyond. But this results in a lot of engine noise entering the cabin, due to the lack of sound deadening material in the engine bay. While the company puts the Ameo’s fuel economy figure at an ARAI-certified 17.83 km/l, a combination of enthusiastic city and highway driving conditions gave us a fuel efficiency of 13-14 km/l.
The Ameo shares the same suspension set up of the Polo, which offers soft cushioning through most potholes it is presented with. The fact that the Ameo is about 10 kg heavier than the Polo works in its favour in providing a planted ride even when pushed beyond the 100 km/h mark. The steering also provides ample feedback in all driving conditions, thereby enhancing confidence while driving.
The cabin of the Ameo is one that would be familiar to existing Polo owners, as the dashboard layout is identical, except for the new infotainment system. This system offers multimedia connectivity and puts out very decent sound quality, but misses out on navigation. With OEMs nowadays looking at in-car infotainment as an important aspect of the complete package, the absence of a navigation system – perhaps to keep costs down, may be seen as a key missing feature. However, the build quality of the interiors, including buttons and knobs are all of top notch, showing that the company has not cut costs in terms of the cabin. The ‘Climatronic’ automatic AC in the Ameo also performs well in maintaining the temperature of the cabin.
The car is fitted with a flat-bottom steering wheel that is generally seen in the sportier version of Volkswagen’s cars, with multi-function buttons that are placed very non-interferingly. The Ameo’s steering wheel can be adjusted for tilt as well as reach, which along with the height-adjustable driver seat makes it easily adjustable for all sizes of drivers. Alternatively, since the wheelbase of the Ameo remains the same as that of the Polo, the rear seats offer limited space when compared to other compact sedans. The scooped-out rear of the driver and passenger seats help in providing additional leg room for rear seat occupants, but only minimally. Also, location of the rear AC vent and seat size do not make the car ideal for three passengers in the rear.
The boot of the Ameo offers 330 l of space that is one of the smallest in its segment. However, the boot offers an almost rectangular area for storage with very little protrusions, which makes all 330 l well-usable. Another area where cost-cutting is evident is in the omission of any cladding or carpeting on the inside of the booth lid, although this does not particularly affect the occupants.
Additionally, with Volkswagen harping on safety time and time again, all three variants of the Ameo are offered with ABS, as well as airbags for the driver and front passenger as standard. The car is also offered with first-in-segment features that include cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear one-touch up/down anti-pinch windows, static cornering light and front arm rest. While all these features can be of additional assistance to the driver, we found the centre arm rest to be intrusive, especially for taller drivers, when changing gears frequently.
The Volkswagen Ameo was recently launched in three trims – Trendline, Comfortline and Highline, with prices starting from Rs 5.14 lakh, ex-showroom Mumbai. The Comfortline and Highline variants of the Ameo are priced at Rs 5.88 lakh and Rs 6.92 lakh, ex- showroom Mumbai, respectively. This would be the first time that a Volkswagen vehicle is effectively competing in a segment with regards to pricing, and the Ameo looks to be at the right spot here.
However, this could be only aspect of the Ameo that is presented well, since existing contenders offer more in terms of engine performance and interior space. We will have to wait for Volkswagen to launch the diesel variant of the Ameo, which is expected in the festive season around October, to see if the company has any additional tricks up its sleeve. The Ameo petrol would definitely be in the consideration list of regular customers looking at purchasing a compact sedan, and that itself could work in favour of Volkswagen, which until now saw customers mainly in the form of enthusiasts.
Text: Naveen Arul
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay