Volkswagen Virtus: Beauty of a sedan
It all starts with three boxes and ends up in a life-long obsession with cars. Before enthusiasts played top trumps, and before us motor noters started to wax eloquent about the Thrill of Driving, our love for cars stemmed from a common place — sketching a three box ‘car’ in our school notebooks. We have always associated sedans as the ones bearing the fundamental styling elements of a car, but of late, the popularity of the sedan has taken a hit, thanks to the various new varieties of cars and SUVs that have been conjured up to create new segments and to attract new buyers. Everything from full-blown SUVs to their smaller derivatives are eating into the pie of what was traditionally the domain of the sedan.
But it’s not like sedans have thrown in the towel either. The classic shape is coming back in vogue, now that our roads are clogged with all manner of crossovers, and cashing in on the trend is the Volkswagen Virtus. There’s no mistaking the silhouette for anything other than a stately ‘car’, and to gain insights on what makes sedans such as the Virtus so beautiful, we have a tête-à-tête with Sudhir Sharma, a renowned designer who is no stranger to automobile design.
To provide some context, 40 years ago, when cars were still considered a luxury, Sudhir was pursuing a postgraduate degree at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. Incidentally, he happened to start his design company, IndiDesign, in Pune, which is a hub of major automotive manufacturers. Sudhir recalls those days and says, “What I learnt from the industry people, is that I must travel to the Frankfurt Motor Show, very early.” He recalls, “All the brands were there, and they didn’t just present the car to you, they presented the full philosophy behind that car. They even presented the full design process behind the car to you.”
Sudhir’s expertise in working with automotive manufacturers also led him to meet up with ‘Bossman’ Adil Jal Darukhanawala, and Sudhir has been on award juries for automotive magazines on multiple occasions. Clearly, Sudhir is an authority on car design, and when we pulled up to his residence on the outskirts of Pune, the veteran designer’s eyes lit up at the sight of the Virtus GT. The wild cherry red paint made the sedan a head-turner, even in a garage that did not lack for luxury cars.
Glancing at the silhouette of our Virtus, Sudhir comments, “Sedans have always meant a complete car. It means an engine is at the front and there’s a place in the back for luggage and there’s room which I have in the centre. Suddenly with hatchbacks and SUVs, because the engine is up front and I’m in the middle, there’s no space for the luggage!” Sedans have been a mainstay of Volkswagen’s model lineup, be it with their mass-market offerings such as the Vento or their more upmarket offerings such as the Jetta and Passat, and the Virtus continues to follow in their footsteps, with quintessentially Volkswagen design language.
“One thing which comes across extremely positively is that these are no-nonsense cars. They are very clear about the purpose with which they are building the car and they stick to that. They’re not trying to entice you into thinking they are something that they’re not. Very functional, very reliable, and trustworthy engineering is what comes across. You can see how they have translated that over to the design by looking at the kind of curvatures and straight lines used. Look at the nose of any Volkswagen car for example, there are no unnecessary extra lines there.” Moving on towards the side of the Virtus, Sudhir proceeds to look at the shoulder line and adds, “Whatever lines are there, they are not unnecessarily thinner or thicker. It’s just right. The design is minimalist in that sense but very to-the-point. That actually adds huge value to a person who is spending a lot of money,” Sudhir proceeds to points out.
Design is personal but it is hard to deny the handsome proportions of the Virtus. There are visible cues inspired from earlier Volkswagens, in particular, the Jetta, yet the Virtus looks and feels a lot more contemporary and youthful. The design is not overboard with chrome, the lines are timeless, and Sudhir proceeds to comment, “The Virtus is a very tight, beautiful, aesthetic and proportionate form. That’s the first thing that strikes you. Then you look at this and you say this couldn’t have been two years earlier. It’s a very modern form in that sense.” This feeling is only enhanced by the visual elements that are unique to the GT Line variant that you see here.
The GT Line is only available with the 1.5 TSI engine and it looks very sporty, especially in the red shade that you see here, contrasting with the 16-inch alloy wheels which are finished in black. The roof is all-black too, giving the Virtus an aura of aggression as well. Closer inspection will reveal that the Virtus actually rides higher than a conventional sedan, with its mid-size SUV-like ground clearance for the lack of a better word. But the added practicality that the increased ground clearance offers does not mar the silhouette of the Virtus in any way. “The higher ground clearance has been well-integrated,” adds our design expert, and judging by the way that Sudhir has been checking out the Virtus, the sedan certainly seems to have won him over from the outside.
Sudhir is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of DesignIndia Magazine, and while his short commute to work isn’t too much of a hassle, Sudhir being primarily self-driven means that he places a greater emphasis on the functionality of the interior, not just the form factor. The two-tone dashboard of the Virtus is a fairly quick study even if you have not driven a Volkswagen for the first time, and Sudhir comments from behind the ’wheel, “When I was driving it, nothing felt like it was out of place. It’s all there. It’s very well laid out.”
The Virtus GT also gets body coloured accents on the dashboard, and while they add to the liveliness of the cabin, the youthful touches have not been overdone. The black leather upholstery with red contrast stitching adds to the premiumness of the Virtus, and if you’re worried about how these seats would fare in our Indian conditions, fret not, because the Virtus also gets seat coolers. The sedan body style also translates to more room and comfort at the back, and when you consider nifty features such as ambient lighting, a digital cockpit and a responsive touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it feels a lot more expensive.
Sudhir explains that integration of form and function in a vehicle is often the greatest challenge for a designer. “In a car, I am in an environment which is safe, secure, known, pleasurable and hygienic as well as healthy. It is a bubble in which you travel from one place to another. How secure and safe you can make that bubble, how affordable you can make it, is what makes it good.” Another factor that carries more relevance with the sheer number of new car models is desirability. “For a lot of people a car is not internal. They don’t understand what the car is, but they understand the impact their car has on another person. It announces ‘you’, tells where you stand in life. Vehicle design starts with that. It needs to be desirable, having aspirational value for the person who buys it. But then it needs to keep them safe and secure and move very well. The functional part, absolutely no compromise on that. So it needs to be safe, secure, all that. On top of that, the design part should be desirable. Many times when we say this car is sexy, what we mean is that it’s a car which you desire, you want to have, you want to get into.”
But what about the cars of tomorrow? With an increasing number of EVs pushing the design envelope, would the design of cars change fundamentally from what we know it to be? Sudhir’s answer is an eye-opener. “I think it would be wrong to get attached to the shape of a car. Shapes are dictated by technology, not just fuel. As long as cars keep the desirability factor, when you look at one and you have the capability to fall in love with the car, it will work.” Pointing out our common fondness for a classic sedan shape such as the Virtus’, Sudhir adds, “It just so happens that in a certain age group, we’ve grown up with the idea that ‘this’ is a car. So when you see that back on the road you feel good about it. You say, that is how a car is supposed to be. It’s all nostalgia. But it’s not the nostalgia of seeing an old car. When you see an old car, it’s a different kind of nostalgia. What you like is that a modern sedan, such as the Virtus, is building on your memories. It’s a car with a taste of yesteryear, but it’s a futuristic car. That will always stay, as long as you have a car which is relevant in terms of technology, functionality and desirability. Sedans will always have a place. I don’t think they will ever go away.”
At this point I find myself looking back at the Virtus longingly. All my life, I wanted to drive a timeless sedan that was a sign of having made it in life. Of having grown up. And after driving around in SUVs, I warm up to the styling of a sedan even further. It’s partly the rose-tinted nostalgia that makes me feel so, but it’s also the fact that the Virtus is a beautiful looking machine that warms the heart without compromising on any front. There might be more outlandish looking machines coming our way soon, but I like to believe that the Virtus and its sedan silhouette might just become a modern classic for the future. And despite the fierce competition today, the Virtus continues to remain a style star.
Read more about the Volkswagen Virtus in the latest issue of evo India magazine. Click here to order your copy.