It’s a tough choice to make, actually. Both the Hyundai i20 and the Volkswagen Polo are high quality, premium hatchbacks. Somehow, their advantages and disadvantages seem to cancel each other. For instance, when you want performance, the i20 wins, but when you want great road dynamics, the Polo wins. If you want space, the i20 gives you that, but if you want clean European looks, it has to be the Veedub. And so on and so forth, almost like a yin-and-yang of sorts. We pitted both the cars and drove them extensively to put together this quick reckoner. Hope it sorts your life out!
We Indians have taken a huge liking to the i20’s lines and the prominent snout and muscular curves are a big hit. It looks funky and youthful, all right. The i20 looks like a premium, expensive hatchback, which means the design has worked. Though I don’t like it too much (I think Hyundai seems to have tried very hard. Besides, I feel it will age faster), a random poll in our office revealed that many liked it.
Hyundai i20: 4 stars
An Italian Volkswagen! There is no grey area with the Polo’s looks. Except for the tame and unassuming rear end, the Polo is a very good looking car. In red, with the 15-inch alloys, it really looks smashing. The aggressive Scirocco front end that has now become a hallmark of all the new-gen VWs, has worked. The architecture of the Polo is a bit more traditional compared to the taller i20, so it looks like a conventional hatchback. But it’s a good looking car for sure. Releasing the hatch by depressing the VW badge is a neat effect too.
VW Polo: 4 stars INTERIORS & FEATURES
The Hyundai is quite packed. All that the Asta version that we had needed was perhaps parking sensors – it’s that loaded. Electrical folding mirrors, anyone? Steering mounted controls? Seatbelt warning? ORVM turn indicators? There are not many boxes left to tick. The new blue-lit fascia is quite pleasant and the ergonomics are quite good as well. As far as interior space goes, the i20 is not as commodious as the Getz was, but it’s still better than the Polo. And yes, the doors shut as nicely as in a German car.
Hyundai i20: 4 stars
For all its Italian flamboyance outside, the Polo seems under-designed inside. The dash layout is so traditional and sober that, as I have mentioned before, it’s almost retro. Still, the Polo is a nice and cheerful place to be in, though three adults at the rear are not exactly nice and cheerful – it’s a tight fit, in shoulder-, leg- and head-room. Compared to the i20 Asta version, the Highline (though marginally cheaper) is not as specced out. Well, what the Polo has and the i20 doesn’t is an electronic multi-information display that spews out a lot of information.
VW POLO: 3 stars POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
The 1394cc 16-valve DOHC diesel motor is paired with a six-speed (no less!) manual gearbox. This i20 is the quickest and fastest diesel hatchback in production today – though the i20 with the older five-speed tranny was quicker to 100, this one offers a better top speed. The inline-four develops 89 bhp at 4000 rpm and a cool 22.4 kgm of turning force between 1750 and 2750 rpm. Hyundai has been plonking fabulous diesels in their cars ever since the three-pot CRDi motor in the Accent and this one is no less brilliant. It is a refined engine that offers usable performance across all aspects – be it in city crawl speeds or keeping up with other bigger sedans on the highway. The engine allows the car to pull easily in any gear, especially if you are above 2000 revs. And I thought that sixth gear is overkill, until I realised that I was actually using it quite frequently on the highway. Cruising comes easy to this hatchback and it is even more relaxed in sixth cog. Shifts are slick and the clutch pedal is not too heavy, and that makes the i20 diesel good for the city as well.
Hyundai i20: 4 stars
Well, it may be a new engine with one of the first applications anywhere in the world for the VW Group, but it still is a three-cylinder engine. Volkswagen has managed to extract 74 bhp at 4200 revs and 18.35 kgm at 2000 revs from the 1199cc unit. Sending power to the front wheels is a five-speed manual transmission that is weirdly notchy when you have to put it into first (it felt like my Beetle’s non-synchromesh in first!). Obviously, the Polo diesel cannot match the i20’s accelerative powers, while at the same time the three-pot motor remains noisy – but credit should go to VW for managing to keep the vibes away when the revs climb. Upto 2000 rpm, the Polo diesel is sleepy and unwilling to move on, but it does have a sweet zone, between 2000 and 3200 rpm. The moment you enter the zone, the VW suddenly becomes manic as if you pressed the equivalent of an M button – it simply takes off! That’s when the Clark Kent Polo transforms into a Superman Polo. With a small diesel engine, the Polo manages to stay happy even at 140 kph. It’s a bit cumbersome to drive in the city, especially if you encounter stop-and-go traffic.
VW Polo: 3 stars DYNAMICS
Well, everything cannot go the i20’s way, right? When it comes to ride, the i20 manages to keep most of the bad stuff on the road away. It cushions well as if it’s a bigger car. But show it a couple of corners and the i20 loses all of its composure. Somehow, Hyundai has not given it the balance required between ride and handling – it wallows around curves and feels directionally challenged when you attack them. The steering setup doesn’t help either – it doesn’t tighten up when speeds increase and there is barely any feedback. The underpinnings of the i20 are not nimble and the car is best driven at moderate speeds around turns. Panic braking also tends to unsettle it. These weak points – in terms of handling and steering – are surprising actually, considering Hyundai has taken great efforts to engineer this car.
Hyundai i20: 3 stars
As you’d expect, here’s where the Polo beats the i20 comprehensively. Like I’ve mentioned several times before, the Polo is a brilliant car to chuck around corners. It sticks to its trajectory beautifully and the electric power steering also gives you adequate feedback as speeds increase. It feels phenomenally grippy and seems to egg you on to push harder. Find an empty, curvy road, keep it in its sweet spot and you can have a great time. The Indian Polo’s ride has also been tuned for comfort, so rear passengers are also pampered. But this damping seems a bit excessive – especially when you experience the way it dives when you brake. The Polo’s running gear feels as if it can take quite a bit of abuse and not transfer it to the occupants. A hot 1.6-litre motor with 105 bhp would be nice in this car, thank you!
VW POLO: 4 stars VERDICT
Here comes the hardest part. To sum up, the i20 is not a bad looker, it makes you feel special inside, is built well, is quite feature rich, is mighty quick and fast, but is not a great car to drive. The Polo, on the other hand, is good looking, is also built well but is not as loaded as the i20, offers adequate performance and is a fun car to pilot. When it comes to the pricing, at Rs 6.88 lakh versus the i20’s Rs 7.29 lakh (both prices ex-showroom Mumbai), the difference is not too much. So you are actually getting a huge bang for your buck with the Hyundai as compared to the VW. Understand its dynamic limits, that’s all, and the i20 it is!