Volkswagen is one of the most exciting and progressive passenger car brands in the world and the company has proven itself many times over to be as resilient as the cars that roll out of their plants worldwide. VW AG, or simply VAG, being the second largest automotive conglomerate in the world can sometimes mean being on the receiving end of (sometimes unfounded) negativity by peers and consumers, to which they are no stranger to. Closer to home, the marque has been mercilessly crucified by automotive “experts” (read: ordinary consumers, most of whom may or may not actually own a Veedub) just because a friend of a friend of a neighbor’s cat’s veterinary doctor’s assistant happened to own a problematic VW in the past.
A lesser company would’ve just wound up operations and left for good with their tails between their legs, but not Volkswagen. They dug their heels in and handled every criticism slung their way with absolute professionalism and grace. A week or so ago before news of the Vento’s imminent launch broke cover, bits and pieces of information regarding its mechanicals began to mushroom on the web. The “experts” started to go on and on about how the company makes problematic gearboxes, as soon as they heard that the highest specced Vento was to be endowed with the company’s proven 1.2 TSI turbocharged mill harnessed to the infamous DQ200 7-speed dry clutch DSG. Much maligned it was in the past, but since 2013 the problem seemed to have pretty much disappeared into history books. Unfortunately for VW, Malaysians are very keen historians and so it will take some time to fully regain consumers’ trust. Fortunately for the rest who know the value of Volkswagen’s cars are simply ecstatic at being able to place one of Germany’s most exciting exports on their shopping list against other generic and bland choices offering less value for about the same price.
The B segment is one of the toughest segments in any market due to the sheer volume and miniscule margins, so it came as a welcome surprise that Volkswagen Malaysia managed to offer the Vento Highline at such a competitively low price (RM93,888 before insurance) without sacrificing key features usually only found in cars of a higher segment. Headlining features include 4 airbags, 5-star ASEAN NCAP safety rating, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), ABS, Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS), cruise control, remote-operated power windows (up and down), one-touch power windows (all), tilt and telescopic multi-function leather steering wheel, cooled glove box compartment, rear split 60:40 folding seats, height adjustable headlamps, “Climatronic” climate control system; the list goes on.
However, the main draw to the newly updated Vento (formerly known as Polo Sedan) is the company’s tried, tested and fully revamped 1.2l TSI turbocharged powerplant mated to a 7-speed direct shift gearbox (7-speed DSG or DSG 7 as most pundits like to call it). Delivering 105PS @ 5,000rpm and 175Nm of fun-inducing twist between 1,500-4,100rpm, this particular engine comes with an “Engine of the Year” award under its belt for 8 years running and manages to achieve a 5.5l per 100km fuel economy rating, making the Vento Highline one of the most powerful yet frugal cars in its class. Part of the reason for this feat is due to the lovely 7-speed DSG that essentially marries the efficiency of a manual gearbox with the convenience of an autobox.
Traditional autoboxes sap a great deal of power from the engine resulting in a lot less power left over to turn the driven wheels. Manual boxes on the other hand are the least power hungry, so there is more power being transmitted to the wheels. A DSG basically features a mechanical electronic system (Mechatronic) to swap cogs effortlessly and autonomously, resulting in lightning quick gearchanges (8 milliseconds to be exact). DSG equipped cars are known to be faster than their manual equivalents, simply due to the fact that it’s got two clutches working seamlessly together. While one clutch is fully engaged to a gear, the second clutch is on standby, waiting for the hand-off. Upon hand-off, the first clutch then gets ready for the next gear, so essentially each clutch handles every alternate gear, i.e., 1/3/5/7 and 2/4/6. This technology was originally developed by Porsche in the 80s but is now used across the group’s many brands (Audi, VW, Seat, Skoda and Bugatti).
In the past, due to the Malaysian weather, the Mechatronic component within the gearbox had been known to fail due to the deterioration of the synthetic based gear lubricant which in turn messed up the wiring within. After switching over to a mineral based lubricant that issue was effectively solved. Then there was the problem of clutch judder, much akin to how a manual car would judder in first gear if it had a worn out clutch pack. VW has managed to solve that issue as well, by superseding the old clutch pack with a newer more robust type which should last a very long time. It was also brought to my attention that the newer engines had stronger pistons that effectively put paid to past problems of compression failures due to cracked pistons etc. Coming back to the 7-speed DSG in the Vento, this gearbox is designed to handle up to 250Nm or torque, so it has plenty of headroom when paired to the 175Nm 1.2 TSI.
So what’s the point of all this information? Well, we do hope that naysayers would take a step back and take another look at what’s on offer here and hopefully set aside any preconceptions from the past. Moving forward, the Volkswagen Vento 1.2 TSI Highline really has a lot to offer in terms of driving dynamics, exemplary fuel economy, generous features, ample cabin space, decent good looks and finally, a decent price tag. It would be a shame if you didn’t at least give it a spin just to find out why, in spite of all that people make them out to be, people are still buying Volkswagens. The allure is simply irresistible both within and without.
Volkswagen Vento: The Drive
The Vento is a B-segment contender but it performs and behaves unlike any other competitor in that category. Right from the moment that I got behind the wheel, the quality is typical of most VWs that we’ve ever tested; solid, well-built with tight tolerances and tastefully executed. The familiar VW family DNA was ever present, and in a good way too. Ergonomically, everything was within easy reach and placed logically. The dashboard, although looking and feeling quite similar to the car that it is replacing, seemed to be finished slightly differently than in the past, with a duller and darker finish to mimic rubberized plastics. If you don’t touch the dash you would’ve mistaken it for a more upmarket dash material like that found in the Golf or Jetta. I personally don’t find anything wrong with hard plastics, as long as it doesn’t look like hard plastic.
At idle, the 1.2 TSI engine purrs gently, almost to a whisper. Being a typical VW turbocharged mill, it doesn’t make itself heard, working quietly in the background most of the time. At higher revs, it does take on a racier demeanor but is still one of the quietest engines in its class. Gear changes are handled with no drama at all, with each forward cog taking over seamlessly from the one before. Some may laugh at the humble 105PS coming out of a small block 1.2-liter engine, with naturally aspirated 1.5-liter competitors putting out between 105-120PS. However, with a class-leading 175Nm of twist coming in at 1,500rpm and maintaining it flat until 4,100rpm makes all the difference, leaving everything else under 100-grand in the dust. In normally aspirated (non-turbocharged) engines, to get 175Nm of torque you’d need an engine capacity of around 1,800-2,000cc, so you could argue that this engine is equivalent to a 1.8-2.0-liter mill. Weighing slightly less than 1.2 metric tons, the Vento 1.2 TSI has plenty of power on tap for stop-start derbies while maintaining close to 6.0l/100km in real world driving (a mix of highway and back roads with a few traffic crawls thrown in).
Cars in this segment are usually sprung on MacPhersons up front and a trailing arm (torsion beam) at the back. The Vento is similarly setup, but in a comparison test organized by VW during the media outing, it left every journalist without a doubt regarding the handling prowess of the Vento when pitted against the bestselling crowd favorites in the market at the moment. Even the bestselling non-national B-segment competitor only managed to come in second place, which goes to show that you can have trailing arms and yet handle quite decently if you get everything right.
Being a B-segment contender, the Vento is not beyond reproach. The seat squabs are a little too flat, be it front or rear. However, the pliant suspension helped to cushion most of the impacts that we went through without us having to visit a chiropractor afterwards. The Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 tires are specced at 215/45 R16, which proved to be a capable partner whether gunning it down the NSE at top speed (around 197km/h if you must know) or while negotiating the tight bends on the way to Balik Pulau for our dinner. Having said that, we felt that in-cabin insulation could’ve been a bit better, especially towards the C-pillars and rear tire well areas.
Being a sedan version of VW’s popular Polo hatchback, one would expect rear seating to be just as compromised, but the Vento is actually a lot roomier at the back than expected, just as how a Jetta is a lot roomier at the back compared to a Golf. It’s also got rear air vents, which is rather necessary in climates such as ours. The rest of the cabin exudes a kind of reassurance that this car will last a long time in spite of its spartan underpinnings; a sort of no-nonsense approach to car interior design prevalent in modern Volkswagens. Another point worthy of mention is the voluminous boot which stands at 494 liters, which puts it within striking distance of other B-segment contenders. Aside from sheer volume, the boot is well designed with restrained tire wells to maximize useable space.
In a way, I feel a little sad for VW’s competitors, who would now have to offer a lot more kit just to keep up with the times. VW has traditionally sold a lot of Polo Sedans in the past, due in part to its excellent price-performance ratio, but also because it had a conventional 6-speed autobox and no fancy turbocharging. The new Vento also comes in 1.6-liter MPI guise in two variants, Comfortline and Trendline for the less adventurous. However, the chassis of the Vento was built to handle a lot more than what a normally-aspirated 1.6-liter powerplant can muster, so it is without any doubt that allcarschannel.com wholly recommends the new Vento 1.2 TSI Highline as the weapon of choice. Sure, there are plenty of safer alternatives around, but if you’ve ever driven a VW you would know that nothing else comes close.
Text and images: Greg Yang