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Volkswagen comes with the new VW Polo GT TSi

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Eight years ago, someone in the ministry of Heavy Industries sent a proposal to the Finance Ministry to allow tax concessions for small cars of a certain length and cubic capacity in the country. What followed is an explosive growth in the auto industry, something most of us have been witness to. Trouble is, no one really used the concessions to the benefit of auto enthusiasts; i.e., there haven’t been small capacity, forced induction hatches that leave a trail of dribble down your chin. So, after all this while, someone has come forward to satiate the requirements of the small, merry band of enthusiasts, and then married it to an automatic transmission and stiffled the power with ESP. Clearly then, the new VW Polo GT TSi can’t be termed enthusiastic by that argument. Or am I getting too old for this job?

To find out, VW was kind enough to hurriedly organise a few cars in Goa for us to get a taste of its newest offering. Now, the German firm has been a rather astute developer of small capacity, turbocharged petrol motors for years. Yet, it ignored this very motor when it planned a ‘hotter’ Polo and went in with the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre motor instead. This motor is different from the naturally aspirated 1.2-litre mill on the Polo, on account of being a four-potter, instead of three. It uses an aluminium crankcase and a small turbocharger to churn out 103.6 bhp@5000 rpm and a solid 17.7 kgm of torque from 1400 to 4000 rpm. Akin to the Jetta 1.4 TSi in terms of technology, the 1.2 TSi also gets direct injection and VW claims a very impressive 17.2 kpl (ARAI ratified) for this turbocharged petrol. What is even more interesting is that it’s mated to a seven-speed DSG box that has been further engineered to improve the lifespan of the box by installing an improved mechatronic unit, an upgraded clutch steering and changes to the software. Expect these changes to be carried forward to all DSG-equipped VW-Group cars in the forseeable future.

Crank it up and the first thing you notice is how silent and refined this motor is vis-a-vis the 1.2 and even the now defunct 1.6. Interestingly, the car doesn’t come with paddle shifters, though changes to the interior include new seats that will be carried on to other Polo variants as well (with improved legroom at the rear by scooping the front seats out), while the rest of the car is pretty much what you will see on the Highline trim. For India, the DSG box gets a set of ratios designed to improve driveability in Drive and Sport mode, with the manual mode allowing you to kiss the 6,000 rpm redline, all day long! There is an abundance of torque, pretty much from low revs, and I’m talking relative to cubic capacity given that it’s a petrol. Get going and the Polo 1.2 gets a touch vocal and sounds pretty nifty too, though most of that sounds like a hint of exhaust roar. A nicely tuned intake and sports exhaust would only amplify it more, and in turn sound better. In drive, the gears change reasonably quickly, though they tend to hold a touch longer on downshifts, although none of this is as slow as a large number of torque convertor boxes, mind you. Keep the throttle pinned to the firewall and it feels like it can do a 0-100 kph time of around 11 seconds or less. If that’s indeed the truth, it would become the quickest acceleratingB-segment hatch in the country!

Slip the lever into Sport and the car gets a bit more vocal and holds gears for even lesser time. The best solution for enthusiastic driving is to slot the lever into manual. It seems to then behave like a proper manual box, allowing you to explore all the revs and stay in the meat of the power band pretty much all the time. The steering on the 1.2 also feels a touch sharper than on the 1.6 – it’s a bit more direct and doesn’t slack like it used to earlier.This has probably got to do with the fact that there’s more weight on the front-axle now, given the weight of the gearbox, turbocharging and ancillaries. In fact, the car now weighs a good 50 kg up on the 1.6!

Despite the increased power, the Polo continues to ride on the same suspension gear and brakes as well as 185-section, 15-inch tyres like the 1.6. Volkswagen has made some minor changes to the damping at the front on account of the increased weight. At high speeds, on flat surfaces, the Polo shows great grip and feels planted, though if you hit a bump, the soft dampers increase the car’s vertical movement a tad. Throw the car into corners and the softer sprung 1.2 TSi tends to bob and roll, robbing some of the fun factor that the motor otherwise provides. Ride quality, like the regular Polo is good, if a bit soft. Given the car’s overall stiffness, it doesn’t really feel lost out at sea, though we would have preferred a stiffer suspension setup.

What comes to the aid of this car is the addition of ESP, another first in the segment apart from the turbocharged petrol motor and a twin-clutch box. You can choose to switch it off and the car becomes more alive and less prone to understeer, which is the natural setting of the ESP on the Polo.

So, with Volkswagen being the first to exploit the use of excise duty concessions for the enthusiast, has it hit the nail on the head? In terms of outright performance, probably yes, but we wish it just were a little tighter and had a better sense of flow, like the Maruti Suzuki Swift for example. Other than that, the host of features, tech and sheer engineering might give the Polo a chance of being more than ‘just’ a warm hatch. Now to see if tuners will bite the bait and explore further hidden talents of this motor.