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Volkswagen Ameo First Drive Review

What is it?

Just like the Europeans love their hatchbacks we Indians adore our sedans. It’s a sign that you have gone up in life and are a proud owner of a three-box car that is a status symbol. But we also want more for less, thus the sub-four metre compact sedan was born. Taking advantage of the excise cut on sub-four metre cars in India, manufacturers like Tata, Maruti, Hyundai, Ford and Honda have given us sedans for hatchback money.

The least expected player has entered the fray now and it is none other than the German giant Volkswagen. Despite being stubborn in terms of their design principles and philosophy, VW have succumbed to the unique needs of our market and has launched their first India specific car - the Ameo

The Ameo is based on the Polo hatchback which at 3971mm length is just 29mm away from the limit. So how have the Volkswagen engineers managed to cram in a three-box design with the Ameo. Thanks to the new front bumper which has been chopped short by 35mm the German giant got just about enough room to play the sub-four metre sedan game. As a result, like most of its rivals the Ameo doesn’t look proportionate when seen in profile.

The long bonnet and swooping roofline doesn’t gel well with the stubby boot which looks abruptly chopped off. Still Volkswagen has tried their best to make the Ameo as pleasing to the eye as possible. To give it a convincing sedan silhouette, Volkswagen has elongated the roof which tapers towards the rear. They have also retained Polo’s rear quarter glass to make it look longer than it is. From the rear the crease that connects the tail lamps and the integrated boot spoiler gives it some mass and help mask the boxy look.

The small tail lamps help the Ameo look wider than it actually is. At the front it is hard to distinguish the Ameo from the Polo. Keeping costs in mind and to retain the Polo’s family look the Ameo borrows headlamps, grille and the bonnet from its hatchback cousin. It's only if you look closely then you notice the new bumper which is slightly shorter and VW have added creases to both ends to make it look wider. Overall the Ameo looks quite pleasing but its main strength lies on the inside. 

How is it on the inside?

The cabin, like the exterior, is derived from the Polo which a great. So you get the same simple yet elegant dashboard. As expected, the fit and plastic quality is top draw and the Ameo definitely sets a benchmark in this respect. The sporty flat bottomed steering is wrapped in leather and the even the plastic graining and the silver finish on the centre console looks genuine and upmarket. Of course lower down, the quality deteriorates a bit, but it never comes down to being cheap.

The only place where VW has cut corners is on inside of the boot lid, which lacks any kind of cladding.  The front seats have good bolstering and thigh support, making them comfortable on long drives, the steering can be adjusted for height and reach and the driver’s seat can be raised and lowered too. So finding a good driving position is easy. We would have liked leather upholstery at least as an option on the top-of-the-line variant though. Although the fabric used is quite nice, the light beige colour is susceptible to getting soiled easily.

Rear space is not the Polo’s strongest suit and the same goes for the Ameo too. Yes, they have tried to liberate more room by scooping the front seat back but still it’s not enough. With two relatively tall guys sitting one behind the other, space at the back is just about enough and this is where its disadvantage lies. However, the rear bench has good underthigh support and thanks to the more reclined backrest makes it slightly more comfortable than the Polo. Where the lack of rear space in the Polo is excusable as it is predominantly going to be self-driven car, but the Ameo is supposed to be a practical family sedan and it doesn’t fulfill its role really well.

The boot at 330 litres is not the biggest but thanks to the wide opening and well-shaped bay it is very usable. The Ameo redeems itself by offering loads of standard equipment. The Ameo has been launched in three variants — Trendline, Comfortline and Highline. The base variant gets  body-coloured bumpers and mirrors, central locking, air-conditioning and tilt and telescopic steering adjust.

The Comfortline adds cruise control, height adjustable driver’s seat, powered mirrors, trip computer, power windows with auto up and down for all four sides, music system and an auto dimming rear-view mirror. The Highline, the one you see here, has alloy wheels, leather wrapped steering and gear knob, rain sensing wipers, reverse camera with sensors, rear AC vent, climate control, auto folding mirrors, fog lamps, Mirror Link and Voice command capability. VW are also offering the Ameo with two Airbags and ABS standard across the range.

How does it drive?

Initially the Ameo will be only offered in the petrol manual variant option as they are upgrading the current 1.5-litre TDI motor for more power and efficiency. This will also come with the automatic DSG option. Unlike the Polo which also comes in the TSI variant, the Ameo will just get the standard three cylinder naturally aspirated petrol motor.

This 1198cc, 74bhp petrol motor is quite old and is the same as in the Polo. As experienced before, the VW’s three-pot motor was never going to be as smooth as the four-cylinder engine rivals, but refinement levels at lower speeds is quite acceptable. The Ameo comes to life with a strong shudder as it settles down to a relatively smooth idle. As soon as you let go of the clutch you realise that the engine doesn’t feel very peppy as it shudders and tends to stall if you don’t apply enough revs.

Once on the move and when not in a hurry, the Ameo petrol has enough verve to satisfy most buyers. This motor accelerates quite smoothly and the fantastic gearbox and light clutch makes driving in town an easy affair. Out on the highway the Ameo cruises quite well too but the motor doesn’t feel completely at home. It gets thrummy when worked hard and the engine’s lack of relative torque means you have to downshift more often than you would like to. This also means overtaking has to be carefully planned and the Ameo’s high 1069kg kerb weight doesn’t help matters either.

With a wider audience in mind Volkswagen has given ride and comfort precedence over involvement and handling. As a result save for some firmness at low speed, the Ameo remains unfazed and the refined suspension simply goes about its job, keeping you isolated from the biggest of potholes. Straight-line stability is impressive and high speed manners are pretty good too. Although there is some floating motion over undulating surface at speed, it never gets uncomfortable and the driver always feels in control in most situations. As far as handling is concerned the Ameo has good poise and this is despite the excessive body roll when you push hard. But the deterrent here is the steering which has a bit of slack and feels lifeless even when you are in the mood to have some fun.

Should I buy one?

We expected the Volkswagen Ameo to cost a lot more than its main competitors. But surprise surprise! VW has actually managed to price the Ameo very competitively with it being at par with the Maruti Dzire and undercutting the Honda Amaze by a significant margin. So you get German engineering at an affordable price. This is a premium compact sedan and apart from the average petrol engine and cramped rear seats, the Ameo has a plush ride, best in class equipment, feels upmarket on the inside and it exudes a special premium feel that none of its rivals can match. With the updated 110bhp diesel engine due this Diwali we would recommend you to wait if performance is a priority. The Ameo diesel will also get the fantastic dual clutch automatic option which is just the icing on the cake. In a nutshell, the Volkswagen Ameo is meant for people who are looking for a premium compact sedan and are ready to overlook it not being as practical as its contemporaries. 

Where does it fit in?

The Volkswagen Ameo is a direct rival to the Ford Figo Aspire, Maruti Swift Dzire, Honda Amaze, Tata Zest and the Hyundai Xcent.

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Volkswagen Ameo Price in India

CityOn-Road Prices
New Delhi₹ 6.52 Lakhs onwards
Bangalore₹ 7.11 Lakhs onwards
Chennai₹ 6.99 Lakhs onwards
Hyderabad₹ 6.96 Lakhs onwards
Kolkata₹ 6.56 Lakhs onwards
Mumbai₹ 7.03 Lakhs onwards
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