VW Virtus Test Drive Review, Slavia and City rival driven
At long last interest is back in the ‘car’, the D-segment sedan that had all but given up the battle in the face of the SUV onslaught. The Skoda Slavia rekindled interest, followed by the segment leader Honda retaliating with the hybrid City, and now we have the VW Virtus riffing off the Jetta’s styling to go to the top of the charts as far as visual appeal is concerned. Of course styling is a very personal thing but there’s no question that the Virtus looks fantastic, particularly in the GT’s shade of (wild cherry) red that contrasts brilliantly with the blacked-out elements. Similar to the Taigun, VW have very cleverly differentiated the 1.5 TSI from the 1.0 TSI, the former available only in the GT variant with its subtle styling tweaks. And with lessons learnt from the Taigun GT, the Virtus GT will only be available with the DSG gearbox, no manual here.
Styling of the VW Virtus GT
Based on the MQB-A0-IN platform which is also shared with the Taigun and Kushaq mid-SUVs, the Virtus is the sister car to the Slavia running the same underpinnings. You get the same 2651mm wheelbase which is the most generous in this class along with the same 4561mm overall length and 1752mm width. And just like the Taigun and Kushaq twins are only differentiated by their front and rear end styling, so too the Virtus and Slavia are identical in profile including the over-large gap in the wheel arches. Thanks though to the visual trick of painting the GT’s wheels black, this kind of masks the wheel arch gaps and makes the Virtus look more proportionate that its twin.
The Virtus is clearly inspired by the Jetta’s face and it has that typical Volkswagen-ness in the crisp, sharp lines that flow into the strong shoulder lines. The narrow and blacked-out grille is framed by chrome strips that run into the headlamps to form the LED DRL signature, the overall effect being to visually widen the car. The air dam is massive, finished in gloss black and defined by a thick chrome strip that runs along the bottom lip. Similar to the Taigun, there’s plenty of chrome on the Virtus too but here it doesn’t look overdone and the deliberate lack of over-the-top detailing along with the strength in the character lines gives it a similar timelessness that stood the Polo in such good stead over its enormous 12 year lifespan.
Details unique to the GT include the badge on the front fender, blacked-out 16-inch wheels (of a similar design to the other variants), black roof and tiny little boot spoiler. The taillamp design also reminds you of the Jetta, though there’s Virtus written big and bold on the boot to correct that impression. And similar to the Slavia there’s chrome detailing on the bottom of the bumper and no exhaust cutouts, despite the 1.5 actually having twin exhaust tips that are almost apologetically hidden away under the bumper.
Interiors of the VW Virtus GT
Plenty of components on the inside are shared with the Slavia, but the overall styling is significantly differentiated between the two. The GT gets dashboard and door panel inserts in a similar shade of red that contrast really well with the gloss-black central component of the dash — the overall effect being again to visually stretch out the car and also neatly integrate the 10-inch infotainment screen. The GT we tested was in the Topline trim and that includes the 8-inch digital cockpit, the latter backlit in a deep shade of red to differentiate it from the other variants. The GT also gets black leatherette seats with red stitching, and while these seats are cooled in terms of tactile feel and suitability to the Indian summers I feel the Taigun’s fabric seats were a much better bet.
The engineers have listened to our past criticisms and the quality of the roof lining has been considerably improved over the SUV. The dimpled and flat-bottom steering wheel is a tactile delight and with the height adjustable driver’s seat along with reach-and-rake-adjustable steering you can get a very nice driving position. Space at the back is good, if not overly generous, and the head room is also good enough for my 5-foot-9-inch height. The seat back angle feels a bit more upright than in the Taigun SUV and similar to the SUV the middle seat is not very comfortable; the Virtus works best as a four seater. You do get a massive 521 litre boot and there’s enough space in the wheel well for a 16-inch spare.
Dynamic and Performance Line on VW Virtus
That’s how Volkswagen are differentiating the 1.0 TSI from the 1.5 TSI. The Dynamic line is also available in the fully-loaded Topline trim and the only real visual differentiator is the removal of the boot spoiler and blacked out elements on the exterior, while the black seats of the GT are replaced by a lighter trim and the red of the digital cockpit is replaced with light blue. Otherwise in terms of equipment the 1.0 TSI can be had with everything that the 1.5 TSI has, including paddle shifters for the automatic gearboxes. Except the engine of course!
1.5 TSI and DSG on VW Virtus GT
All the praise we’ve showered on the 1.5 TSI engine in the past holds true for the VW Virtus GT; if anything the proportions and dynamics of a proper ‘car’ only serve to enhance the pleasure of this motor. The 4-cylinder engine is beautifully refined with nary a murmur at idle but taking on a nice sporty tone when you floor it. With 148bhp on tap you get a 0-100kmph time well under 10 seconds while the 250Nm of torque makes it effortless at cruising down highways; there’s always sufficient grunt in reserve to make quick overtakes.
Unlike the Taigun GT that you could get with the manual gearbox the Virtus GT only gets the 7-speed DSG. As always the DSG shifts with speed, enthusiasm and precision — apart from a slight hesitancy when crawling around town, typical of DSG ’boxes, this is without doubt the best gearbox in this segment.
Complete with auto start-stop and cylinder deactivation (that switches into 2-cylinder mode when you don’t need all the power) this is an efficient engine, delivering 18.67kmpl on the ARAI test cycle. This compares very favourably with the Honda City i-VTEC’s 18.4kmpl though it is nowhere close to the City Hybrid’s 26.5kmpl.
1.0 TSI on the Dynamic Line VW Virtus
On the Taigun close to 20 per cent of overall volume is for the GT engine, and VW expect a similar split on the Virtus. That makes the 1.0 TSI the volume seller; this is the heavily localised engine, and one that delivers solid and enthusiastic performance. The 3-cylinder engine has that typically gruff low end, particularly noticeable at idle, but it’s never coarse and it only goes to give this engine a nice character. Floor the engine and it takes off with more enthusiasm than the 1.5 — to ensure longevity of the DSG gearbox the standing-start launch happens at a rather lazy 1500rpm while the 6-speed torque converter lets you launch from a little above 2000rpm, and thus gives the 1.0 more vim and vigour off the line. Of course once you get going the 1.5 TSI rockets away but I have to tell you that the 1.0 TSI is no slouch, not in the least, and is a damn good motor in its own right. The 6-speed torque converter also shifts quickly enough and you will never complain of it being lazy.
The 1.0 TSI now gets the addition of auto start-stop (also rolled out on the Taigun) and that boosts the ARAI-tested efficiency of the manual to 19.40kmpl. However with the automatic gearbox the fuel efficiency drops down to 18.12kmpl.
On the road with the VW Virtus
The ground clearance of the Virtus remains unchanged from the Slavia at 179mm (145mm when laden) and that means it soaks up bad roads without a worry. No matter how nasty the speed breaker the Virtus will not scrape its underbelly — this is like a mid-size SUV in the ease with which it traverses broken roads. The ride quality too is excellent, far better than any sedan in this class, and it takes to poor roads surprisingly well. If the only reason you switched to an SUV was the ability to deal with horrible roads, then with the Virtus you can switch back to a proper car. In fact in the Virtus you also sit quite high so the visibility aspect is also taken care of, and at the same time enthusiasts will appreciate the fact that the driver’s seat is height adjustable and can go down low for a nice sporty driving position.
The ground clearance and soft suspension does obviously means there’s a fair bit of body roll when you hustle the Virtus. But the torsionally rigid body does deliver great body control and even though there’s roll the front end grips and bites quite enthusiastically. The steering is responsive, if a bit too light, and the Virtus is a fun car to drive, there’s no question of that.
The Slavia retains drum brakes at the rear, but the braking performance is unimpeachable. The drum brakes also mean it retains a mechanical handbrake so you can indulge in a bit of hoonery till the ESP cuts in (it can never be fully turned off).
The GT, while visually differentiated from the 1.0, is mechanically unchained and that means the handling of the Dynamic and Performance Line cars are identical. I wish Volkswagen had taken that extra step and upsized the 205/55 16-inch tyres to 17-inchers on the GT, lowered the suspension by 10-15mm, stiffened the springs and given us a proper GT. A spiritual successor to the Jetta GLi that India never got.
Verdict on the VW Virtus
The Slavia gives us a good indication of what the Virtus will be priced at, starting at just under Rs 11 lakh for the 1.0 TSI and going up to just under Rs 18 lakh for the GT tested here. Until last month, save for the Slavia, the Virtus GT would have had no real rivals but now there’s the Honda City Hybrid that, for a Rs 2 lakh premium, gives you full hybrid tech and a massive (8kmpl) bump in fuel economy along with a raft of ADAS features. Whether it’s worth the upgrade or not depends on your usage pattern. But what’s undeniable is interest is back in the 3-box sedan, and how!