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Can Volkswagen’s German genes power a return to sedans?

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: May 23, 2022
The Virtus is one of the ‘India 2.0’ project models for the German brand

The Virtus is one of the ‘India 2.0’ project models for the German brand | Photo Credit: BIJOY GHOSH

Volkswagen’s Virtus packs a punch. But is it better than the Vento, and can it woo buyers away from SUVs?

Volkswagen India’s portfolio is going to be rather lean soon. With no immediate plans for bringing back the T-Roc and the Tiguan AllSpace, and the Polo and Vento being discontinued soon, the number of models in VW’s showrooms could whittle down to three. Until more India-centric models join the line-up, VW’s volumes will have to be delivered by these key car lines. So, it is a good thing that the Virtus will be part of the trio, and it will be a strong replacement for the Vento. 

Like the Taigun launched last year, the Virtus is one of the ‘India 2.0’ project models for the German brand. And like the compact SUV, the new Virtus sedan is also built on the same MQB-AO-IN platform, the highly localised platform on which sister brand Škoda’s Kushaq SUV and Slavia sedan are also based on. That much of the underpinnings of the Virtus are identical to the Slavia is well-known. But how different is the VW sedan, and is this the vehicle that is going to be the future volume driver for the brand?

Design

In terms of exterior design, the Virtus GT has a slightly sportier profile

In terms of exterior design, the Virtus GT has a slightly sportier profile | Photo Credit: BIJOY GHOSH

The Virtus is significantly different in design compared to the Kushaq. Unlike the past, when the two group brands have had cars that seemed more like they were badge-engineered, the new India 2.0 vehicles are very different from each other. While the Skoda Slavia had a more raised stance and a higher nose, the Virtus sports the more aerodynamic, lower-slung profile that is classic VW. Many of the Virtus’s design elements in the front and rear also point to similarities with those the Jetta and Passat. Attributes that have been inspired by sedans higher up in the hierarchy are always appreciated by buyers. 

The Virtus is available with two engine options, and the trim lines are divided into two. The Dynamic Line gets the 1.0 TSI, 3-cylinder, petrol engine, and the GT-badged Performance Line variants gets the 1.5 TSI EVO, 4-cylinder petrol engine. The powertrains are shared with the other platform siblings. In terms of exterior design, the Virtus GT has a slightly sportier profile, with some of the differentiators being the contrast black door mirrors, small boot lid spoiler, blacked out alloys, red brake callipers and a couple of GT badges in chrome. The Virtus is a good-looking car with quite a few chrome elements highlighting the design lines. The parallel chrome lines that run across the grille and bring together the headlamps and the chrome lip on the front fender are VW signatures. The front fender is almost completely gauged out to create an oversized airdam within an all-black housing.

The rear gets tail-lamps with arrow shaped LEDs within that oddly match the L-shaped DRLs of the headlamps. Bold lettered ‘Virtus’ badge at the bottom of the tailgate is another feature that is becoming a design signature across models. 

Cabin

There is a European flavour to the cabin, though it is still benchmarked to the segment in terms of premiumness

There is a European flavour to the cabin, though it is still benchmarked to the segment in terms of premiumness | Photo Credit: BIJOY GHOSH

The Virtus’s cabin seems somewhat familiar because of the dashboard layout, which mimics, the Taigun’s fascia. Of course, being a platform sibling, there are quite a few parts that it shares with the Taigun. The flat-bottomed steering wheel, for example, is a carryover. The dashboard layering, design of the various trim panels and the way the infotainment system has been integrated on the top of the centre stack may be different, but it is obvious that the materials used themselves are nearly identical. And that is a good thing, because the build quality and the finish are not bad at all. Even the shiny black and red panels in the GT variant’s cabin don’t look gaudy or cheap. Instead, there is a European flavour to the cabin, though it is still benchmarked to the segment in terms of premiumness. The seats feature a mix of leather and leatherette upholstery, and the front two seats in my test mules offered perforated covers and seat ventilation. The Virtus cabin also gets a cream, beige, and black colour theme, with the GT variant sporting a mostly black cabin with just the roof liner and bottom sections getting the lighter shade. The greenhouse is quite large, and the cabin is well-lit and airy. There is also a single pane sunroof on offer.

The centre console area is also very different in the Virtus compared to the Slavia, and there is a nice selection of controls surrounding the gear stick. The instrument cluster is a digital unit with a selection of display options. The infotainment system touchscreen and the aircon controls are the other digital features. These are familiar and are possibly shared with the Taigun. Most cabin feature controls are either mounted on the steering wheel or built into the infotainment screen. There is a small set of connected car features on offer, and there are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity options too. In terms of space inside the cabin, the Virtus is good, but not the best. Rear seat passengers also get considerable legroom and headroom. The boot offers about 520-litres of luggage space. 

Performance

The VW Virtus is being offered with the same set of two engine and three gearbox options that the Taigun is already being offered with

The VW Virtus is being offered with the same set of two engine and three gearbox options that the Taigun is already being offered with | Photo Credit: BIJOY GHOSH

The VW Virtus is being offered with the same set of two engine and three gearbox options that the Taigun is already being offered with. Both are TSI engines, and both also deliver the same output as in the Taigun. The 1.0 TSI engine develops 115 PS of peak power and 178 Nm of torque. The bigger and more powerful 1.5 TSI EVO engine with cylinder-deactivation tech generates 150 PS of peak power and 250 Nm of torque, just like in the Taigun. While the turbocharged one-litre is paired with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, the 1.5-litre is offered with a choice of either a 6-speed manual or the 7-speed DSG (dual-clutch) transmission. 

I tested both the automatics on a mix of surfaces and road conditions. The large part of the drive was the Grand Trunk Road, a highway out of Amritsar towards Faridkot with dead straight sections. I did expect the performance of the two powertrains to feel pretty much like the Taigun, and I wasn’t wrong. And very much like it was with the Taigun and the Slavia, the 1.0 TSI is the engine that surprises with its relative refinement and ability to deliver a performance that defies its size limitation and its 3-cylinder configuration. The Virtus is a big sedan, and the engine really manages to shine. There is just a hint of turbo-lag as one starts off, and there is some of that 3-cylinder roughness at slow speed acceleration. But, while the top-end feels blunted a bit, there is not much that it gives away even during hard acceleration that points to its one-litre engine class membership. 

For sheer top-end acceleration and cruising, the 1.5-litre TSI EVO is the engine to choose. The DSG automatic has been tuned for efficiency and in auto mode, it does tend to shift up the gears rather quickly, but it is still seriously quick with all of that torque being available from 1,600rpm. Press the accelerator and power builds quickly, letting you decide how much of it you want to put to use. The Virtus’s ride quality is firm but pliant enough to keep me comfortable on even some of the really bad tarmac I drove through on the approach to the highway. The suspension keeps the sedan composed, and even at speed, the Virtus doesn’t crash through potholes. The 16-inch alloys did look small when viewed from the outside, but the taller 205/55 Goodyear tyres that my test mule came shod with help in the ride. The Virtus also feels planted at speed and carries much of that composure through corners. There is a bit of body roll, but the 179mm ground clearance does help in dealing with some of the big speed breakers in Amritsar. 

Bottom Line

The Virtus delivers on many fronts. It is a driver’s sedan, and that solid build is key in a segment that has missed a vehicle of this caliber to bring the excitement back on. The confusion about which of the two-Skoda Slavia or the Virtus, will only arise in the minds of someone who is brand agnostic. The Virtus is a fantastic upgrade to the Vento, and it also promises to be light on your wallet to own. 

Expect prices to range between ₹12 lakhs to about ₹18 lakhs. 

Published on May 20, 2022
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