• Volkswagen Virtus first drive review

Volkswagen’s all-new made in India, for India sedan is as impressive as its Germanic predecessors

We’ve seen a steady influx of new SUVs over the past few years, across pretty much every segment there is. Heck, car makers have even gone out and created new niches within niches! But new sedan launches have been far and few in between, especially in the mass market segments. That said, like a lot of other enthusiasts, I’ve always had a soft corner for three-box sedans and I’m certainly glad to see more new sedans coming our way this year! Volkswagen’s new Virtus is of course the newest of them all and a rather strategic product for the German car maker for India, considering it is the second product under the brand’s India 2.0 strategy.

That also means the Virtus is underpinned by the same, MQB-A0 IN platform as the Taigun, besides sharing a lot with Skoda’s Slavia. More importantly, the Virtus joins a league of some interesting names. You see, every sedan launched by Volkswagen in India has been an excellent driver’s car and a great all-rounder too, be it the Vento, Jetta, Passat or even the Phaeton for the matter! So expectations from the Virtus are sure high, given that the car has some serious benchmarks match up to! 

One of the first things you’ll notice about the Virtus is that like all Volkswagen sedans, it looks sharp, with clean lines. The front end even reminds me of the Jetta, which has always been a very smart looking sedan. The Virtus thus looks very sleek and also has an air of elegance to it, especially from the front, thanks to the design of the headlamps that also integrate L-shaped DRLs that merge into the chrome-lined grille seamlessly. The fog lamps are rather large in size too and sit at the far ends of the bumper, making for a distinctive appearance. A good news is that Volkswagen has ensured there’s enough visual distinction between the 1.0 TSI powered versions of the Virtus and the 1.5 TSI powered ones.

The GT Line which is exclusive to the 1.5 TSI powered versions looks sportier, thanks to detailing like the GT badge on the grille and front fenders, along with a gloss black finish on the front bumper. Alloy wheels on the GT Line also get a more distinctive-looking gloss black finish. As far as exterior dimensions go, the Virtus is the largest car in its segment and its size also helps in making for excellent road presence. Ground clearance stands at 179mm, which helps the Virtus clear speed breakers and potholes with ease. But on the flip side, the higher ground clearance affects the sedan’s visual appeal and the Virtus looks a little too tall, especially from the rear, given the design and angle of the rear bumper. 

That said, I foresee many buyers wanting to get their cars lowered to make for a sportier stance – I’ve had two friends discuss the same with me already! I liked the tail lamp design too, as the lamps look very distinctive. The GT Line also gets a boot lid spoiler, adding yet another dash of sportiness. Overall, the Virtus looks properly German and full marks to Volkswagen for retaining the quintessential stance we’ve always liked about its sedans!

And this is a sedan, so you lower yourself into it (despite the 179mm ground clearance) and don’t climb into the car! Step in and you’ll instantly notice how familiar looking the interiors are, as they are nearly identical to the Taigun. Like most Volkswagens the design is simple and functional with impressive fit-finish levels. I also like the fact that the infotainment screen is slightly angled towards the driver, hinting at the car’s driver centric approach! The screen is a 10-inch unit that looks bright, has a very crisp resolution and adds to the car’s premium feel, besides offering excellent responsiveness too. Volkswagen has maintained visual distinction between the 1.0 TSI and 1.5 TSI powered versions inside as well.

So the 1.0 TSI powered versions get blue accents on the dashboard and in the instrument cluster display, while the GT Line gets sportier looking red accents. The GT Line uses black leather for the seat covers with red stitching to add to the sportiness, while the 1.0 TSI powered versions get beige and black seat covers. A flat-bottomed steering wheel adds to the sportiness, while the instrument cluster display is the same as the Taigun’s. More importantly, the cabin feels spacious and very roomy given the dimensions and I also liked the sense of space when driving the car. The centre console is well-laid out and in typical Volkswagen fashion, houses the the engine start/stop button too. AC controls are the same as the Taigun again, while switches for the seat ventilation are positioned next to the gear lever.

The rear seat feels comfortable to sit in given the angle of the seatback and underthigh support, while legroom and kneeroom are excellent too. This should certainly help the Virtus score brownie points with family and chauffeur driven buyers. Fit-finish levels are very impressive overall and so is the choice of materials, adding to its appeal as a premium German sedan. The instrument cluster display lets you choose from three different views, besides letting you customise the information you wish to see. The infotainment screen also offers information like trip details, tyre pressure alerts and other warnings. Like the Taigun, the Virtus also features like wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity besides wireless charging. The Virtus is also equipped with four Type-C USB ports – two at the front and two at the rear. There’s a sunroof as well and overall the Virtus is well kitted out.

The Virtus instrument cluster display lets you choose from three different views, besides letting you customise the information you wish to see on the go. The infotainment screen also offers information like trip details, tyre pressure alerts and other warnings and information, as you would expect of a modern-day sedan. Like the Taigun, the Virtus gets features like wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a dedicated app store, sunroof, wireless charging and four Type-C USB ports - two and the front and two in the back below the rear AC vents. That said, 360 degree view would have been a good addition to the feature list. 

Powertrain options are identical to the Taigun so you can choose between the three-pot, 1.0 TSI engine that can be had with either the six-speed manual or six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, or the 1.5 TSI that can be had with the six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic. I first drove the 1.5 TSI powered version with the DSG and it feels as impressive as ever in terms of refinement and performance both. With 150PS and 250Nm on tap, acceleration is very quick and motor makes the Volkswagen Virtus is the most powerful car in its segment, equalling its own cousin, the Skoda Slavia which also uses the same engine. The engine also gets the same active cylinder technology as the Taigun so two of the four cylinders are shut down when engine loads are low, like say, when driving at a constant speed on a highway, with a light foot.

The 1.5 TSI also feels very refined though it tends to get slightly noisy at higher revs, especially when downshifting aggressively using the paddle shifters. The 1.0 TSI is the surprise package though. It feels very refined and offers quick acceleration, given its outputs of 115PS and 178Nm. We only got to drive the automatic version and I’m happy to report that the six-speed torque converter is very impressive too when it comes to gear changes, feeling nearly as quick as the DSG when it comes to swapping cogs! The 1.0 TSI also feels particularly refined for a three pot motor, especially at high revs and power delivery is very linear, with barely any turbo lag. In fact the 1.0 TSI does a brilliant job of masking its relatively lower displacement.

The other good news is that from behind the wheel, the Virtus feels exactly like a Volkswagen should. The steering feels direct and precise, the suspension setup offers lots of confidence and overall stability is very good. Volkswagen’s cars have always been a driver’s delight and the Virtus is no different. It feels thoroughly engaging to drive with its well-weighted steering wheel, while the firmness of the suspension lets you make directional changes quickly. The car also feels perfectly planted around bends and very stable at highway speeds, something the arrow straight roads on the outskirts of Amritsar allowed us to experience with ease.  

Cabin quietness is excellent too, as NVH levels are low, with barely any road, wind or tyre noise creeping inside. So enjoying your favourite music on a long highway drive is going to be a given, something I expect a lot of Virtus buyers to do. What’s also impressive is that despite the suspension’s firmness the Virtus offers a very impressive ride quality. The suspension soaks up bumps and ruts well and in fact the ride only gets better at higher speeds, something that’s always been a trait we’ve seen in European cars. The MQB A0 IN platform is the India-specific version of Volkswagen’s ubiquitous MQB-A0 platform and while driving the Virtus, it’s thus easy to tell that you’re driving a thoroughbred German sedan.

The Virtus thus comes across as a very impressive new car and one that has the right ingredients to make it feel like a proper German sedan. Volkswagen India is being vocal about the fact that the Virtus is more than just a Vento replacement and I cannot disagree, as the car feels closer to the Jetta in many ways. It also feels solidly built and drives well, while being spacious, comfortable and well-equipped. When launched next month, the Virtus will face off against the Hyundai Verna, Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, Honda City and of course its own cousin, the Škoda Slavia. So pricing will be a crucial factor and a starting price of around Rs 10 lakh ex-showroom should give it an edge, considering it is quite a wholesome package already.

Cars First drives

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