We’ve waited for this for a really long time, haven’t we? With the eventuality of the Volkswagen Polo and Vento being discontinued being closer than ever, there’s bound to be a gap in the hatchback and sedan space. The VW duo has been responsible for getting steady customers to Volkswagen dealerships, despite the gazillion issues faced by the brand: from a thin portfolio of cars, the lack of modern versions making it to the country, to the reduction of the line up to a petrol-only one in the wake of Dieselgate.
However, with the arrival of the VW Virtus, the responsibility is now transferred to the new sedan and the Taigun crossover SUV. And we’re pretty confident that with a modern car sat on a new modular platform, Volkswagen will be able to offer its customers a more rounded package than ever before. Let’s take a closer look and answer some questions about the all-new Volkswagen Virtus.
Isn’t it the same as the Skoda Slavia?
We don’t know how Volkswagen has tuned the Virtus, and that will only be clear once we get to drive it. From what we’ve seen, there’s a sea of difference in the way the VW Virtus sits in comparison to the Skoda Slavia. Despite an identical platform and the profile, the new front and rear make the Virtus visually closer to other VWs. The resemblance with the current Jetta is pretty evident too.
The front is where the Virtus has a more assertive styling, while the Slavia looks relatively laid-back in comparison. The Skoda clearly relies more on the larger grille while the Volkswagen’s front bumper is what grabs attention the most. The sleeker lights and the smaller grille are a welcome change from the norm, and the bonnet is also cleaner without any character lines — something the Skoda has.
The tail-lights are the biggest change here, apart from the different bumper and badge positioning and style. On the top-spec GT version, Volkswagen has given the Virtus a boot lid spoiler, which along with the other blacked-out bits helps the top-spec 1.5-litre Virtus stand out. The other GT-specific elements include all-black wheels, red brake calipers, and a black roof.
Like the Slavia, the VW Virtus is also in desperate need of bigger wheels and relatively low-profile tyres, in addition to lowering springs. For many, that might be taking things a touch too far, especially on a new car, but the reality is that both cars look way better in the computer-generated images where they’re closer to the ground and without the considerable wheel gap as can be seen on the production-spec car.
On the inside, the VW Virtus carries a new dashboard. The lower half where the AC controls are might be shared but the top portion is vastly different from the Slavia. Unlike Skoda’s floating infotainment screen, the one on the Virtus sits flush within the dashboard flanked by colour-coded (on the GT) trims top and bottom.
As a result, the top of the dashboard is flat. The differences don’t end here. The steering wheel is new, the AC vents are of a different shape, and there’s a different colour scheme applied here as well.
Both carmakers have done a fair bit to add their own touches to the car, and it depends entirely on your preference to pick what looks better.
Where’s the manual option?
There’s some ambiguity here. Volkswagen’s press release states the following:
‘Powered by the globally acclaimed TSI technology, the New Virtus will be available in the 1.5l TSI EVO engine with Active Cylinder Technology (ACT) and 1.0l TSI engine both equipped with idle Start/Stop and will be mated to a 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic torque converter or 7-speed DSG transmission option.’
The website, however, doesn’t list the 6-speed manual as an option for the Performance Line car. This effectively means that unless it’s an error on VW’s part or some website upkeep personnel got it wrong, the only way you can enjoy the 150hp 1.5-litre engine in the car is to buy the Slavia. If you remember Kia and Hyundai also had a similar strategy wherein the Seltos was offered in the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol variant with a manual gearbox, but the Creta, which shared the platform and engines with the Seltos, didn’t have such an option.
Hat tip to Motoroids for pointing that out!
To recapitulate, the 1.0-litre engine in both the cars makes 115hp and 178Nm, and it can be specced with either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed torque converter. The 1.5-litre engine makes 150hp, which is the highest in the segment, and 250Nm, and on the Slavia, it’s available with a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
In my little time with the Skoda Slavia, I found out that the 1.0-litre MT to be more than adequate. But more importantly, it’s also the more eager of the two, especially for everyday use, because the 1.5-litre is a bigger and heavier engine — and it feels like that. The car feels marginally more agile with the 1.0 engine. The 1.5 picks up speed quite rapidly and before you know it, you’re on the other side of the 100kph mark. The 7-speed DSG makes driving in stop-go traffic a breeze and doesn’t hesitate in shifting.
What about the competition?
I wouldn’t be surprised if your first response to that is ‘what competition?’ The reality is that, although the segment is less populous than it’s ever been, it does have some well-established products. There’s the Honda City, which is offered with a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine and a 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel. The latter is a proper workhorse while the former, while no powerhouse, has made its mark for overall refinement and reliability. The City may not be the enthusiast’s favourite but it has a great reputation, and the latest version is more spacious and comfortable than before, making it an easy choice for many.
The Hyundai Verna, on the other hand, offers a wider range of engines and on the whole, it’s a fairly decent car, too. And then there’s the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, a car which isn’t on the list of many new car buyers because it lacks the kind of features and range of engines as the others. As a value proposition, however, it’s hard to beat the Ciaz; it’s inexpensive to buy and run.
Both VW Group cars lack a diesel engine and an NCAP safety rating. The Honda City has both, and while the Verna has a diesel (along with a naturally aspirated petrol and a turbo petrol), the India-spec model doesn’t have an NCAP rating. The Ciaz lacks a rating and a diesel engine, solely relying on a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine.
The City is also expected to be updated with a hybrid model, which will make it even more appealing — but expensive, too. The other aspect where VW and Skoda lag is their sales and service reach; something Maruti, Hyundai, and even Honda are beyond comparison at present.
Is it worth the wait?
That entirely depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re after an everyday car that can offer a bit of everything: luxury, space, and well-balanced ride and handling, the Volkswagen Virtus can be a solid choice. I’m banking heavily on the assumption that the company won’t price it or tune it too differently from the Slavia. Since the Virtus is expected to be launched in the second quarter of the calendar year 2022, that will give you enough time to hear more about the Slavia from owners and journalists.
If you’re after a more driver-focussed sedan, then, the way things appear, you might need to look at the used-car market. There are many good options available for the same money as a base Slavia: from the likes of the previous-generation Octavia to the F30 BMW 3 Series. Maintaining and running these will be more expensive but keep in mind that as far as driving fun is concerned, nothing new and stock (at that price) comes close.
With the arrival of the Skoda Slavia and the Volkswagen Virtus, the sedan segment is going to see some more takers, even if these don’t shake up the adjoining compact/sub-compact SUV segment. And if you too understand that sedan are inherently more fun than crossovers, you’d be glad to know that bookings for the Volkswagen Virtus are now open.
Photos by Aniruddh Kaushal