With auto makers in India having slowly killed off their hot hatchbacks over the years, is the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI the car every performance hungry petrol head in the country been waiting for?
The term “hot hatch” is pretty much ingrained into Volkswagen’s DNA ever since the mid-1970s when the Golf GTI showed the world how ‘fun to drive’ and ‘affordable’ weren’t mutually exclusive. Since then, a lot of European auto manufacturers have had plenty of such hot hatches in their product portfolios and even today, Volkswagen pretty much leads this charge with hot versions of the Golf, Scirocco and Polo setting new benchmarks in the segment in the European market. So, back in 2009, when VW had announced that the Polo was coming to India, expectations were naturally high, and when the rumour mill started talking about the car coming in with a 1.2-litre engine, auto enthusiasts throughout the country (us included) were doing cartwheels in anticipation of the 105 PS TSI mill.
Sadly though, while we got the said capacity, what it ended up being was a slightly weedy naturally aspirated 3-cylinder motor with nowhere close to that power output. Thankfully, a little while later, we did get that much promised 105PS in the form of the 1.6-litre Polo and boy, did we love it. But as is the nature of such things, the only performance hatchback left in the Indian market, the 1.6 Polo, was killed off some time back and it seemed like hatches were back to being the affordable, practical beasts of burden that car buyers in general always perceived them to be. Until now that is…
It looks like Volkswagen heard the collective cry of all motoring enthusiasts in the country and finally brought us the car we’ve been pining for all this while, or has it? Called the Polo GT TSI, this new car packs the company’s award-winning 1.2-litre TSI motor (that’s Turbocharged Stratified Injection for all the technology geeks out there, but more on that later) making 105PS of power coupled with a 7-speed twin clutch transmission, making it the most technologically advanced hatchback available in the country at the moment. So what does this mean? Has it reclaimed the crown of India’s hottest hatch? Well, let’s take a closer look.
On the outside
As far as the exterior is concerned, this new car really looks no different than the standard Polo that’s available in the market. It has the same blackened headlight surrounds from the recent Polo facelift, the same 15-inch alloy wheels which are standard on the Highline model, et al. In fact, apart from the GT badge on the front grille and boot, a TSI badge at the back and GT TSI stickers on the C-pillars, there is virtually nothing to differentiate this car from any other regular Polo. On one hand, it’s a good thing that it doesn’t scream vulgarity with some gaudy sticker job or racing stripes, and maintains its cool, suave composure.
But then on the other, this is supposed to be a ‘hot hatch’ and some fiery treatment would’ve been a welcome change to set it apart from the rest out on the streets. While we would’ve loved to see the GT TSI with some fancy bumpers, side skirts and racy alloy wheels, even something as subtle as a couple of red elements on the GT badging would’ve gone a long way in increasing this car’s appeal among the youthful enthusiasts. But it seems Volkswagen has decided to play it safe to retain its universal acceptance.
What happens inside?
Again, pretty much nothing new. The GT TSI gets all the standard Highline kit which includes a two DIN audio system with Bluetooth telephone connectivity, automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, electrically adjustable mirrors and the works. The only slight bit of difference is the new seat cover design which features a sort of a two-tone treatment, which not only looks elegant, but also being made of textile instead of leather, should remain a comfortable place to park your rear on all year round. Of course, when you look right in between the two front seats, you’ll notice that the standard manual gear stick has been replaced with an automatic drive selector with tiptronic controls for the DSG gearbox and inside the foot well, the clutch pedal is missing. To add that slight pizazz, the pedals get a metal treatment on top.
Underneath that hood
This is where all the magic of this new Polo happens. The 1.2-litre motor really is a serious bit of kit. This 1,197cc four cylinder unit might feature just an 8-valve top end, but thanks to a clever use of direct injection and turbocharging, the maximum power output is 105PS @ 5,000rpm and a maximum torque figure of 175Nm which comes in a very linear manner right from 1,500rpm all the way to 4,100rpm. But the most interesting feature is the inclusion of a 7-speed DSG twin clutch gearbox which provides lightening quick gear changes, whether pootling around in ‘D’ mode, or really going for it using the tiptronic ‘M’ mode.
So what does that mean?
Simply put, it means that the Polo GT TSI is bloody quick when you put your foot down. Pedal to the metal, it will hit the 100km/h mark from a standing start in just 10.8 seconds and while that might not be ‘sports car’ levels of performance, it does make this GT the quickest hatchback in the country and it can even give some high end sedans a run for their money if it has to. For driving around normally, the ‘D’ mode is really the best option and the computerised gearbox can quickly shift up or down as required with absolutely no need for intervention. The only slight bit of concern we did encounter was that in bumper to bumper traffic, it kept shifting between first and second gears a little too harshly, making the drive feel a bit more hectic than a regular slushmatic gearbox.
Of course, when you’re really giving it the stick, you would want to keep the gearbox in the ‘S’ mode, which holds the car in each gear until the tachometer needle hits redline, and holds revs without upshifting or downshifting if you lift off the gas. Brake hard though, and it will smartly shift down to keep the power handy for the next time you hit the throttle. Real enthusiasts would prefer to just slot the ‘box in ‘M’ to manually control shifting, but that being said, developing proficiency in using this mode while driving enthusiastically does require some getting used to. What is sorely missed is the inclusion of paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which would’ve really made this task easier.
Mastering the curves
On the handling front, nothing really changes from the regular Polo as the underpinnings of the car are almost unchanged. As we’ve come to experience on the Polo, the steering doesn’t offer much in the way of feedback and can feel a little over-servoed at times, but the chassis of the car remains brilliantly communicative, letting you understand grip levels literally with the feeling from the seat of your pants. As with all Polos, the ride is stiff, but not jarringly so and is definitely set up more for handling rather than outright comfort. On the other hand, with the increased power and torque figures, the GT could’ve really used some better tyres, as the stock 185/60 R15 Apollo Aceleres had a tendency to produce lots of understeer when pushing it hard into corners, or trying to exit corners with your right foot nailed to the firewall.
Kitna deti hai?
The most important question when it comes to most hatches, but probably not so much of an issue considering the appeal of the GT. Still, it needs to be addressed and after an extensive test on the roads of Pune, the city efficiency figure we managed was 11.6kmpl, while out on the open highways, that figure jumped up to 15.4kmpl. So while the overall figure of 12.5kmpl might be a far cry from the ARAI claimed efficiency of 17.2kmpl, in our experience, you really can’t expect any more from a car outputting 105 horses and drive through an automatic gearbox.
While it seems that the VW’s techno-wizardry with direct injection has certainly paid off and we, for one, are quite impressed, that fuel efficiency figure has a bad habit of quickly dropping off into oblivion if you really decide to get heavy with your right foot. So much so, that during some of our more spirited times behind the wheel, along twisty mountain roads around Pune, the mileage indication on the dash had even dropped well south of the 8kmpl mark.
While most of us here at ZigWheels really enjoyed driving the GT TSI during its week-long testing stint, the high asking price of Rs 7.99 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) does beg questions such as whether it’s really worth buying or whether it will satisfy the cravings of the Indian auto enthusiast looking for a hot hatch. Having to shell out quite a bit over 9 lakhs of your hard earned Rupees, making it the most expensive hatch in the country (barring the Skoda Fabia Scout), is something that might discourage even the most ardent petrol heads, who till recently could pick up something like a Fiat Palio 1.6 or even the Polo 1.6 for a lot less. But then again, in a market that seems to have dried up its supply for hot hatches, the lack of choice simply might be reason enough to choose the GT TSI.
Then again, we really think VW should address some small, but key, issues such as the lack of paddle shifters or unimpressive choice of tyres or the lack of stylistic flair, if it really wants to attract the proverbial moth to the flame. Till then though, the Polo GT TSI will have to be satisfied getting labelled as a premium automatic hatchback as opposed to a proper ‘hot hatch’. And in that role, it really is quite brilliant.