BY ANDY ENRIGHT
It's not often that Volkswagen fires a blank, but back in the Nineties, in trying to differentiate the Vento saloon from its Golf hatchback sibling, it did just that. The Vento's predecessor, the Jetta, was never really able to forge its own identity, many just perceiving it as a Golf with a huge boot tacked onto the back. Determined not to repeat this error, Volkswagen attempted to position the Vento as a model that sat halfway between the Golf and the Passat. Both figuratively and literally, the British public didn't buy it. Our natural suspicion of small saloon cars coupled with the fact that the Vento didn't offer enough over the Golf ensured it remained a minority interest. As a used buy it's very clever indeed, commanding less of a premium than a Mark Three Golf yet possessing many of the same hardwearing attributes.
Models Covered: Four door saloon - [1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 2,8-litre petrol, 1.9-litre diesel, 1.9-litre turbodiesel (L, CL, GL,VR6)]
Although the Mark Three Golf debuted in February 1992, it was another eight months before the Vento made an appearance. At the same time, cars like the Rover 400 series and the Volvo 460 were attempting to elevate a more upmarket segment of a market that had briefly sparked with the Ford Orion and the Vauxhall Belmont. The Vento offered a rear end that aped the styling of the Passat and also featured a lighter touch when it came to interior trims than the resolutely black and grey Golf cabins. Unlike the Golf, it didn't open with a 1.4-litre engine either, the Vento opting for a 1.8-litre powerplant to initially get things moving. A 75bhp 1.9-litre 'Umwelt' turbodiesel was also offered, as were a sparky 115bhp 2.0-litre powerplant and the headline grabber of the range, the 2.8-litre 174bhp VR6. Although this car seemed to be bought largely by police forces, it nevertheless made a very good private buy, despite its stiff £19,031 original asking price. A 1.6-litre engine was slotted into the Vento line up in January 1994 and lasted until January 1996, while for those really looking to cut costs, a normally aspirated 1.9-litre diesel made an almost unnoticed appearance from April 1994 to January 1996. The Vento range as a whole was discontinued in January 1998 when the all-new Bora was introduced.
What You Get
The Vento is solidly built, if a little predictable both inside and out. The mechanicals are largely straightforward and safety provision is better than many cars of its era. The VR6 still feels slightly exotic and makes a canny used buy. The folding rear seats can be locked into the upright position with a key, rendering the Vento even more secure than the Golf. There's also a little more knee room in the back of a Vento than you'll find in a five-door Golf. The boot is absolutely huge, offering a full 19.4 cubic feet with the seats in position.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Vento has a strong reputation for reliability, but it still has a few areas that need to be checked carefully. One is the manual gearbox in high-mileage cars. These can have worn bearings which need expensive repairs - if there's a lot of noise from the gearbox, get it checked. Corrosion is rare on a Vento, which speaks volumes for Volkswagen's rustproofing methods and the quality of the steel it uses. A VR6 with rust should scream "badly repaired accident damage" at you. Steer well clear, as a bent chassis will probably have caused mis-aligned panels and subsequent corrosion. Check for head gasket issues with the VR6 engine.
(approx based on a 1994 Vento 1.6 ex Vat) An exhaust system is about £65. A clutch assembly will be around £70 and a new catalyst will be around £60. An alternator should be close to £50. Brake pads front and rear are about £25 and £23, respectively. A replacement headlamp is close to £65. A windscreen should be in the region of £90. Major and minor services are around £75 and £35 respectively.
On the Road
The Vento's stiffer chassis means that, if anything, it actually handles a little better than the Golf. Only the 1.6-litre petrol and normally aspirated 1.9-litre turbodiesel struggle to haul the heavy body around, the other engines offering a decent amount of go. The 2.0-litre petrol is rightly popular and makes a very good compromise between economy and excitement. It'll get to 60mph in 9.7 seconds and the lowered ride height and lower profile tyres means that you feel more in touch with the road surface than you would in a Golf. The steering is meaty and assuming the car's suspension isn't too tired, body control is very good. One area where the Vento does feel its age is in terms of road noise, which is higher than most contemporary cars. The VR6 model is the one to look for is driving fun is a priority. Able to notch off the sprint to 60mph in 7.8 seconds, this is a genuine 140mph, well built car for little more than £2,000.
The Vento is a car that will never get you noticed but if you want the subtle speed offered by the VR6 model, that's possibly a good thing. There's nothing exciting about most of the other models but they do offer solid Volkswagen build quality, a whole lot of practicality and modest running costs. Well worth a look.