Volkswagen’s new-old Vento

Order books are opened for the new VW Vento, but haven’t we seen it before?

vento_main_picIn the book One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin’s wife is tricked into handing over the magic lamp housing the genie by a sorcerer who entices her with a ‘new lamps for old’ offer. The exchange leads to some dire consequences but, as always, the hero saves the day and goes on to live happily ever after.

I guess if there was a lesson to be learned – aside from the usual good will always triumph over evil malarkey, it would be just because something appears to be new, it doesn’t mean it’s better than something old. Or in the case of the new Volkswagen Vento, a change in name does not a new model make.

Volkswagen Group Malaysia (VGM) has just announced it is accepting bookings for their new Vento, which is due to be launched in Malaysia shortly. If you’re interested, you can even book a test drive by filling in your details and turning up at Sunway Putra Mall from 19th to 23rd May. Click on the link though and you’ll notice the Vento looks a lot like the Volkswagen Polo Sedan.

The Vento we’re getting is the same as the facelifted Polo Sedan with improvements to the interior and specs

That’s because they are one and the same with the Vento name being used in India, and now Malaysia too. Admittedly, the car we’re getting is the proper facelifted version with exterior revisions, an interior update and a boost in features, so it’s not like Volkswagen Group Malaysia  (VGM) took the discontinued Polo Sedan (the last of which were disposed of during a Zero-down, Zero-interest promo) and just stuck on a different badge, but it’s hardly an all-new car.

In a case of being better late than never, VGM appear intent on developing a Vento model line to challenge its Japanese competitors so it’ll be available in three specs – Highline, Comfortline and Trendline. The top-spec Highline variant is the only turbocharged car in its class – powered by a 1.2-litre TSI engine delivering 105hp and an impressive 175Nm from 1500-4100rpm. It also has the infamous DQ200 7-speed dry-clutch DSG gearbox.

1.2-litre TSI engine has 105hp and 175Nm and is mated to a 7-speed DSG gearbox; available on the Highline only.

That’s a brave stance to take because most of us will have alarm bells going off.

The same small-capacity turbocharged direct injection engine and DSG combo was used in the current Polo hatchback, before being dropped and replaced by a 1.6-litre MPI motor and a 6-speed automatic. We’re not going to speculate why it was done but the internet is awash with horror stories and very few car companies swap out ‘new and advanced tech’ for something a bit older unless there is a major issue.

You should be able to spot the new silver trim on the centre stack of the car formerly known as the Polo Sedan.

To its credit, VW worked hard to rectify problems with DSG and an official recall was issued in Malaysia in May 2013 for cars built from June 2010 to June 2011 to address these issues, so one would hope the gearbox in the Vento will be problem free. However, if you’re jittery about it, the two lower spec variants get the 1.6-litre MPI and 6-speed auto, so even VGM appear to be hedging their bets.

Despite misgivings about its drivetrain, the Vento does come with 5-star ASEAN NCAP rating if you opt for the Highline spec, thanks to Electronic Stability Control (ESC), four airbags, ABS, ISOFIX mounting points and VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System. The latter unlocks the doors, kills the fuel pump and activates the hazard lights in the event of a crash.

The Volkswagen Vento looks like a quality item but how many will choose it over the popular and lower priced Honda City?

It all sounds pretty impressive but a top-spec Honda City has two more airbags, more kit (probably) and a 5-star ASEAN NCAP score as well. When you consider the Vento’s estimated price of between RM80,000 to RM90,000, it isn’t necessarily better value for money compared to its Japanese rival either because just adding silver trim to the centre stack and using new seat materials leaves the interior largely unchanged from the Polo Sedan, which was being sold at a lower price towards the end of its life.

If it seems we’re being harsh on Volkswagen without even having seen their new car, it’s because we expected more from them. Their efforts to win back the hearts of Malaysian car buyers should be lauded but only if they can avoid the missteps of the past and not decimate their own used car values by offering massive discounts. Otherwise, we should all heed the lessons in Aladdin and forego the shiny new lamp for an energy-saving light bulb instead.