The world knows that automatics are more convenient to drive rather than hard core manuals but then the former also rob keen drivers of some fun. However in here, we are more interested in city chores rather than go corner carving or drag racing. Agreed that a select few would like to do that every weekend however as of now, the topic of automatics isn’t for that selected few. I happened to talk with one of the budding industrialists and he was of the view that he would any day prefer an automatic over a -manual since in Mumbai’s choc-a-block traffic, he would rather let his left foot take some rest rather than build his calf muscles. This got me thinking and made me wonder as to how many automatic cars do we have in India which can seat one comfortably as well as have a powerful engine. Still scratching my head and I finally came up with only one name, the Honda City automatic. Wait, I think, I have got two more, the Volkswagen Vento automatic and second the Hyundai Verna. The latter doesn’t sell in double digits and so it is imperative that even for a comparo, the top guns namely the Honda City automatic and the Volkswagen Vento automatic should battle it out. Ohh, there is one more entrant and it is the Maruti Suzuki Sx4 however it too has the same fate as the Hyundai. So, I finally got my hands on my boss’s Honda City automatic and borrowed the Volkswagen Vento automatic from Volkswagen group. So now time for the Honda City automatic versus Volkswagen Vento automatic.
Honda City automatic: I would be lying if I said that I am not bored writing about the same car but this Honda City brings a difference to it. It is a brand new one and something which my usually strict boss doesn’t allow any one to handle or let even linger close by. But when I requested him that I wanted it for this article, he agreed. The reason was that his car’s photo would be published online. Anyways, back to the topic, this car is one of the most striking cars in India today. Honda has gone a long way from their staid design to a new bold approach. The arrow shot design theme is an attractive one. It defines the motion of the car even when it is stationary. The half open and half closed horizontal slats have the Honda logo wedged between them. The air dams also are a bit wider and have two individual slots for the fog lamps. After much criticism from the car buying public, Honda finally relented to offering alloy wheels on the Honda City automatic. The door sills are also covered with chrome as also the door handles. The rear features octagonal tail lamps with a thick chrome bar acting as the boot handle. A single tail pipe is present, doing what it should rightfully do.
Volkswagen Vento automatic: Are you sure that isn’t a Polo that you have given me, was the first question that I asked the Volkswagen factory person. He smiled but seemed a bit miffed at the question. Well, I am not short sighted or something but then anyone would think that the car looks identical to a Volkswagen Polo. Volkswagen haven’t done much to tinker with the looks of this car and have subtly added a boot to it. However the eagle eyed would notice that this car has a slightly lower air dam and more importantly has the fog lamps which are so missing on its smaller sibling. Classy looking 15 inch wheels do justice to the car and so do those aerodynamic outside rear view mirrors. The door handles are in body color. If one hadn’t seen the Polo first, they wouldn’t be wrong in saying that Volkswagen Vento came first. The tail lamp cluster is slightly modified than those on the Polo. Nowhere do the shut lines seem odd since the tack on job has been done very efficiently. Well, where is the tail pipe? Uhmmm… it is hidden from view and this would mean that the Volkswagen Vento automatic is for the more serious of the lot.
Who wins………….well if you are young at heart, you would go for the Honda City automatic in India whereas if you are one of those middle aged people out there, then you would go for the Volkswagen Vento automatic. I am one amongst the former and my choice is the Honda City automatic.
Honda City automatic: Overall, efficient use of interior space has been made by the Honda City automatic. It features a fully flat floor at the rear and hence can accommodate people with its generous knee and leg room. Its seats are also bolstered in the correct areas and no wonder is it the preferred vehicle for those chauffer dependent brigade. The dashboard layout is also logical however I couldn’t bring myself to think that this car is by any means up market. Agreed, the Rs.46,000 leather interiors would have made it look posh but then why should we have to cough up that amount. Couldn’t Honda make it standard? That saying, the car’s interiors do have some cheap looking plastics but those light beige color does make for an airy cabin. The red in white dials look beautiful in the night. There is not much by equipment levels with even a basic CD player missing and Honda adopting the Aux output thing. There are many cubby holes and they seem well finished. The boot space is good at 495 liters. The suspension mounts however do intrude and make loading it a bit of problem. The steering wheel has audio controls and is a nice unit to hold.
Volkswagen Vento automatic: Ah, there lies the real crux of the Volkswagen Vento automatic. It has that typical German sturdiness to it and the interiors do feel better than that of the Honda City automatic. The Volkswagen Vento automatic irons out the gremlins in the Volkswagen Vento’s package. It has the same steering wheel as the Volkswagen Polo and misses out on the steering wheel controls. There is a dedicated rear aircon control and also a first in a passenger car, a push lever to move the front seat forward. It uses slightly white upholstery. The leg room though is a tad less than what is there in the Honda City. There are not many cubby holes in the cabin however it is better finished than the one in the Honda City. The boot space is also okay at 480 liters. Now, the Volkswagen Vento automatic lacks in features as compared to the Honda City automatic. It does get a 4 CD changer but no steering mounted controls.
I would definitely give the Volkswagen Vento automatic points on this one.
Handling and ride quality
Honda City automatic: This car has the handling characteristics which were lacking in the previous generation. The new chassis has been developed immensely for driver involvement. This car does display a fair amount of understeer however this doesn’t mean that it is bad handler. The only reason why the car has a understeer is because of its skinny 175/60 R15 tyres. Honda could have done well to provide this car with beefier tyres. The ride quality is the trump card for the Honda City automatic and it has a very good low speed ride quality. It is only at the high speeds that some bumps tend to upset the applecart for the small Honda. I was sure not to get my lunch puked while going fast around corners. The suspension however does let you know what it is going through. The soft suspension does make the car bottom out under full load. The steering is direct and offers load of feedback. This however is still let down by the reedy tyres.
Volkswagen Vento automatic: This is one stiffly sprung German car but not overtly so and makes do with good corner carving capabilities. Volkswagen calls this the rough road package and one especially designed for the Indian markets. It however possess better rebounding and damping characteristics than the Honda City automatic. This car just smothers the pot holes and other road surface irregularities. The ride quality is a bit stiff though at low speed rides. This doesn’t translate to good handling and it is mainly due to the vague steering which is devoid of any feel.The Volkswagen Vento automatic’s steering is light at city speeds but doesn’t weigh up nicely once on the highways. This translates to a scary experience on the open ways.
I would go with the Honda City automatic on this one even though it has a slightly iffish handling.
Engine,Performance and fuel efficiency
Honda City automatic: The engine in the Honda City automatic has a 1.5 liter Ivtec engine putting out 118 Bhp of power and 146 Nm of torque. It is mated to a 5 speed auto transmission which is unlike the regular CVT that Honda uses. This car also offers paddle shifts, should one be in the mood for spirited driving. At “City” speeds, the car is very good to drive with the right amount of revs falling in place however if you want a deft overtaking venture, it would be advisable to use the paddle shifts to lower down a gear. It takes 12.4 seconds too cross the ton and top speed of 185 kmph is dispatched off as well.So the performance hasn’t been blunted with the automatic. Hope my boss doesn’t read this that I red lined his car all the way to 185 kmph. Adding to the fun quotient were the fantastic discs at the front and drums at the rear. Also giving them company was the ABS which was perfectly calibrated. Safety is also well taken care of with twin air bags, collapsible steering column and 3 point seat belts. However the build quality doesn’t feel as good as the competition.
Fuel efficiency also hasn’t taken a big hit with the automatic transmission. The Honda City automatic returned 10.3 kmpl in the city and a very good 17.7 kmpl living up to its tag of been the most fuel efficient sedan in its class. My boss, been a stickler for savings definitely has got a good set of wheels and this must be the reason for keeping his finance accountant happy as well. Oh, I forgot, this car loves to be revved even in the auto mode. Before 4000 rpm, it is quiet but after that it lets out the Ivtec roar.
Volkswagen Vento automatic: Now, this has a bigger capacity 1.6 liter engine which makes 105 Bhp of power and 153 Nm of torque. Measly as one would think. Well, even I am thinking on the same lines. Giving it company is a 6 speed auto gear box. Unfortunately it isn’t a DSG one. There is also a sporty mode which holds onto gears and shifts on the red line. The gear shifting is also smooth and as always Volkswagen are the masters in making gear boxes. There are no paddle shifts and even in the S mode, down shifts aren’t that quick. The 0-100 kmph was achieved in 16.5 seconds, way off the mark set by the manual version. This car recorded a top speed of 180 kmph. The gear box had tall ratios and this helps in highway cruising.
Brakes are front discs and rear drums. It gets ABS and ESP, both handy for bringing the car to a hault without any drama. Safety is one thing which the Volkswagen group has ignored conveniently. I am saying this on the basis that there are no child locks for the rear doors. All the controls are towards the driver. It however has 2 air bags and 3 point seat belts. Fuel efficiency is also not that good with the Volkswagen Vento automatic returning 9.2 kmpl in the city and 16.5 kmpl on the highway. NVH is also higher in the Volkswagen Vento.
The Honda City Automatic wins this round squarely, no questions asked.
So for the final decision about Honda City automatic versus Volkswagen Vento automatic war. The battle of the automatics has taken a new turn. Volkswagen India were quite up front in saying that they were gunning for the Honda City automatic in India with the launch of the Volkswagen Vento automatic. They have tried to make this car a good choice for the chauffer driven however the upright back rest spoils the game. The Honda City automatic in India is very good in this aspect. It has a flat floor at the rear making for more space and comfortability factor. It has a better sounding engine, sweeter gear box and better fuel efficiency. It may appeal to the younger lot who still think about having fun with their daily commute and for the occasional jaunt on weekends. The Volkswagen Vento automatic in India on the other hand is more for the matured individual. It has a slower engine, slow to respond transmission and slightly lower fuel efficiency. In India, as of now, the high handiness of the Volkswagen badge hasn’t taken over and the Honda one is still revered. The price of the Volkswagen Vento automatic in India is put down at Rs 9.47 lakhs and for the Honda City automatic in India, the price is a Rs 10.33 lakhs.
Asking me for my choice, I would plonk myself for the Honda City automatic. For starters, it is my boss’s favorite and I do hope for a fat pay raise. Just joking. But on a serious note, I would go for the Honda City considering that it gives me a more stylish look and grins at the fuel station with its brilliant fuel economy. It well worth the extra money spent and has that typical Honda reliability. Now, time to return the Polo nee, the Volkswagen Vento back at the factory. Put in my comments in their register on what all points to modify when bringing out the new version for 2011 and then go out on a drive with the Honda City automatic. Thanks to its fuel efficiency, boss wouldn’t notice anything amiss.