2018 Volkswagen Ameo 1.5 TDI DSG track drive
Last weekend at the Kari Motor Speedway was hectic, confusing but also the most fulfilling experience I've had in some time. Seeing the F1600 open-wheel race cars, the touring Honda Citys and the Ameo Cup race cars compete was great but more interesting was the enthusiasm of the competitors and support staff. In the seven or eight hours we spent on the track each day, I couldn't see anyone idle around or not be animated over something.
This was my first ever experience of a race weekend, but what made it even more special was the fact that I also got a chance to drive on track myself! I would have certainly wanted to take the Ameo Cup car out on track for a few hot laps, though it wasn't that. Not that I was disappointed, as were to pilot the Volkswagen Ameo 1.5 TDI DSG on track, which is the donor car for the race cars that Volkswagen uses in the Ameo Cup. This also meant that waking up at 5 am, as the only time slot permissible for us was early morning before the races commenced. Not that I was complaining!
Looking at the line of cars parked in the pit-lane, the Polo-derived design which was once attractive now looks simplistic. This was even more apparent without the decals/bigger tyres/uprated suspension the Cup car gets. Having said that, the car's straight-forward lines mean that it has aged gracefully. The tack-on boot in the Ameo though sticks out sorely, given how cars like the Maruti Suzuki DZire do a better job of integrating the boot into the overall design.
After a quick tutorial, we were driven around the track by Volkswagen Motorsport's driving coaches, Kartik Tharanisingh and Rayomand Banajee. This gave us an idea of the racing lines and braking points. That done, we were finally let behind the wheel. I managed to take soak in the cabin now. The driving position, like most VW cars, is hard to fault. The steering wheel feels nice to hold and the dials in the instrument cluster have large, legible fonts. The quality of interiors is, as expected, top-notch. The design expectedly felt dated but not overly so.
Now finally getting to the driving experience, the first thing that struck me was the 1.5-litre diesel motor. The engine feels smooth and very linear in terms of power delivery, with noise levels being par for the course in this segment. This gave the effect of the 110PS and 250Nm turbocharged four-cylinder being larger than what it was. Even wringing it out on track did not bring about any unwarranted harshness.
The steering complements the powertrain well - a typical VW setup, the steering lacks actual feedback but provides enough precision to counter the effect. It also weighs up nicely at speeds, which made it easier to gun for the apexes.
The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that does duty in many Volkswagen cars also finds its way into the Ameo. The shifts are seamless but despite the transmission's alacrity, I felt shifts could have been quicker sometimes. On numerous occasions, especially when powering out of the first corner at Kari I had the throttle buried into the floor but the gearbox took a while to shift down. Of course, the fact that I was driving a diesel-engined car on track didn't help matters either, and as a novice at on-track driving, keeping up with the more experienced drivers became slightly challenging.
The suspension also had to do a lot of the heavy-lifting, and it did not disappoint. The car maintained composure through corners and I every time I got the corner entry right, I could feel the weight shift smoothly. Cutting the kerbs around high-speed corners did not cause any alarms either. Even during heavy braking at the end of the start-finish straight the car maintained its surefootedness. A lot of these attributes can be put down to the stiff chassis construction. Given that I drove this car on smooth, prepared tarmac, I cannot present an opinion on how the Ameo fares in terms of ride quality. I suspect it will be like other VW cars, a bit stiff at slow speed but smoothening out as speeds rise, which is part of the car's sporty demeanour and also one of the reasons why the Ameo feels engaging to drive.
Unsurprisingly, the 15-inch 185/60 tyres were inadequate on track and protested by squealing through a lot of the corners that dot the Kari Motor Speedway. They also brought with them some of the roll that I felt while going into corners. I should make it clear though that we did not drive these cars flat-out. We put in controlled laps behind the professionals at what felt like was three-fourths of how fast I could go. Having been treated to a ride-along in the Cup car later, the Volkswagen Ameo TDI DSG felt like a viable starting point to what Volkswagen is trying to achieve with the Ameo Cup.
The Ameo has the basics of stiff construction and good-overall dynamic ability, which makes for a youthful feel from behind the wheel, considering the fact the younger crop of car buyers today look for sportiness in a car as much as they look for comfort. The shortcomings are down to the compromises that have been made to appeal to the mass-market Indian buyer, which is understood since the Ameo is positioned as a compact sedan, which is one of the most mass-market segments in the country currently.
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