The Polo played a vital role in opening the innings for Volkswagen in India, but the Vento is a car of equal importance. VW recently revealed the Vento. We met up with the German car maker's head of development, Ulrich Hackenberg and the Vento near Tirupattur, Tamil Nadu, on a deserted stretch of bitumen that VW traditionally uses to hone the suspension of its Indian models.

VW came to the conclusion that the only way to make headway in countries such as India was with a unique platform structure. The changes to the Polo platform include a longer wheelbase and wider track and, of course, an all-new profile for the boot. The length is up by 96mm to over 4000mm and the wheelbase is 82mm longer to give it the sort of rear-seat legroom to challenge the best in class.

“We have developed the Vento specifically to suit the local market. We have listened to customers and attempted to combine typical German engineering with factors important to Indian car buyers,” said Hackenberg, who has particularly close links with India (Hackenberg's wife is from Chennai and he fondly relates stories about various motorcycle trips across India on his beloved Enfield.)

Vento will be offered with a choice of either a 1.6-litre four-cylinder multi-point injected petrol or a similarly sized common-rail diesel engine — both developing 105bhp. They are the same units offered in the new Polo in Europe and come mated to a standard five-speed manual gearbox that drives the front wheels. The 1.6-litre petrol motor will get a six-speed automatic option along with the five-speed manual gearbox too.

We tried the petrol engine. It's hardly new in terms of engineering but it suits the conservative nature of the Vento well, endowing it with performance. But with just 15kgm at a rather high 3800rpm, it struggles to deliver power at lower engine speeds.

Those seeking added go at lower speeds should try the diesel. With 19.88kgm of torque, it proves to be much more flexible and willing.

While retaining the same MacPherson strut suspension up front as the Polo, the Vento receives a torsion beam arrangement similar to that used on the fourth-generation Golf at the rear — a combination chosen for its toughness and overall lack of complexity, said Hackenberg. It's cheaper and easier to produce than the multi-link arrangement found on the current Golf.

The Vento on its 185/60R15 tyres feels pretty agile and fun to drive. The most promising feature in its dynamic repertoire, however, is the steering — an electro-mechanical system. It is the same as the one used in the latest Polo hatchback, and offers a sporty feel. It is quite light at low speeds but offers a heavier feel and good self-centering properties as speeds rise, which is not always the case with similar set-ups.

Generous ride height, a given in India due to the state of our roads, means there is more lean in corners and pitch under braking than in VW models engineered for European conditions. That said, the ride is superbly controlled. Overall, the level of refinement is highly impressive.

As for the interior, the general design reflects everything VW from Jetta upwards. But what really took us by surprise was the perceived increase in quality from even the Polo. The textures, materials and quality have considerably improved and the Vento feels spacious enough to take on competition.

The buttons, switches and vents on the dash come with additional metallic highlights framing them, as do the steering wheel and gearlever. This lifts the ambience of the entire cabin considerably. Between the seats rests an elongated elbow box and the Vento gets digital climate control as well.

But the biggest difference here is for rear seat passengers. There's plenty of legroom on offer, as well as abundant under-thigh support thanks to the flat, lightly contoured seat with its long squab. The latter will allow for comfortable three-abreast seating. There is an air-con vent for rear seat passengers and a unique feature that, as on a two-door car, allows someone sitting on the rear seat to use a lever and push the front passenger seat forward.

You also get reading lights and coat hooks but steering-mounted audio controls are missing. Boot space is only adequate as the suspension struts intrude a bit.

On first impression, the Vento is a car that should do well in India. Early sales estimates are for 45,000 units within the first year. With two trim levels on offer — Trendline and Highline — the Vento will roll out from VW's Chakan plant and is expected to be launched in India by Diwali and will be priced between Rs.7 lakh and Rs.9 lakh.