Heavy lies the head that wears the crown. It’s an old saying. The Honda City has ruled the roost with an invincible dominance of the premium C-segment. Who could fault its combination of attributes: style, the Honda badge, good fuel-efficiency, effortless performance and the aura of being the ‘Car of the Year’? The swagger was inevitable.
But then stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight comes a car with huge ambitions. The Volkswagen Vento is a car we’ve all been waiting for. We drove it and loved it. Now it must scale the ramparts of Fort Honda in an attempt to usurp the crown.
Beauty, ‘tis said, lies in the eyes of the beholder. The Vento is the newcomer here, yet, in my eyes, the City is the better looking of the two. That’s not to fault the VW in any way; its taut lines and crisp detailing are austere. In comparison, the City appears festive. Open and shut the doors to feel the difference. While the current City is a big step up from its tinny-feeling predecessors, the Vento feels like a mini tank in comparison.
It is when you step inside that the Vento appears to unleash a series of fast jabs. I’ve never been a fan of the City’s interior. Its plastics and colour scheme never did appeal to me. In comparison, the black interior with chrome highlights on the Vento look so much more appealing. Yes, some of the buttons, like those for climate control, feel a bit old-school and straight from Volkswagen AG’s parts bin, but just run your hands over the dashboard to feel the grain and texture and you immediately know the difference. Use any of the switchgear and this sense of quality gets only heightened.
The City has nicer looking upholstery, though, and the seat cushions are softer into the bargain. While the City may feel plusher at first, it is the Vento which will be more widely recommended by the chiropractor. Both have amazingly voluminous interiors, but the City just ‘out-spaces’ the Vento in rear knee room, recording a maximum of 930 mm to the German’s 890 mm.
On the move, the two cars transcribe completely different sensations to your being. Honda’s iVTEC engine is a jewel, endowing it with remarkable flexibility. Numbers don’t lie and the City out-punches the Vento in every department. Not only is it over a second quicker in the sprint to 100 km/h, it takes six seconds less in the fourth-gear slog from 40 to 100 km/h. The braking figures are similarly much better in the case of the City, although, to be fair, the Vento was hampered by a damp surface and our test car was not equipped with the anti-lock braking system (ABS).
In terms of numbers alone, the Vento suffers a bloody nose at the hands of the City. Then there’s fuel-efficiency. Despite producing greater outright power, the Honda engine is much more fuel-efficient too, returning 17.7 km per litre overall to the Vento’s 14.1 kpl, which is a difference of more than 20 per cent. Simply put, for every five kilometres you’ll travel in a Vento, you’ll do six in the City. That the City sounds nicer when revved up is an added bonus.
But then there are other aspects to be considered too. The Vento is a better car to steer, for example. The feel through the ‘wheel is better judged and more precise, which is a good thing when you’re at speed on the highway. In comparison, the City’s lighter steering might not feel as confidence-inspiring on the highway, but it is much easier to steer through traffic. The Vento fights back with a better ride quality too, especially over the jarring sharp-edged potholes of our monsoon-ravaged roads. You need to watch out for the Vento’s nose, though, which has a pronounced overhang like its little sibling Polo.
Thus far, this is a fight which has been progressing from round to round with both throwing some heavy punches. But is there a knock-out waiting to be delivered?
Just as the City appears to be taking a breather after a frantic rounds early on, the Vento unleashes a left hook that just might stop the king in its tracks: price. At Rs 9.26 lakh (OTR, Pune), the German car is a cool Rs 1 lakh cheaper than the Honda City. Spec for spec, the two are evenly matched, with the Vento actually having bonuses such as climate control and a seat adjustment lever in the rear. One hundred thousand rupees is no laughing matter, mind, and for value, the Vento has the City licked.
This bout will have to be called on technicalities; neither party seems to be able to knock the other to the canvas just yet. It’s been hard and fast, bloody and thrilling. A match well fought and fought fair. In the end, though, by a hair’s breadth, I’d hand it to the Vento. The City is a staggeringly good car, but the Vento’s no pushover either. At Rs 9.26 lakh, it’s almost a bargain in comparison.