India has had its fair share of hot hatches and it all started with the Palio almost a decade ago. After the Fiat Palio 1.6 went out of production a few years back the only ray of hope for the hot-hatch enthusiast was the Polo 1.6. But of course, the onslaught of diesel hot hatches followed with cars like the Swift VDi, the Punto 90HP, the i20 Sportz and more recently, the Tata Indica Vista D90. But with an oil-burner under the hood, they never really felt as exciting. Nevertheless, they promised better fuel economy and with the rising cost of petrol the scenario also led to the discontinuation of the Polo 1.6 from a market a little while back. The only ray of hope for the petrolhead was gone. Fans were disappointed – they thought that Volkswagen had abandoned the hot-hatch enthusiast. But that is not the case, for Volkswagen was planning something more exciting!
It is called the Polo GT TSI – and the name itself sounds quite intimidating if you compare it to the humble ‘Polo 1.6’. In fact, it also makes the Polo 1.6 ‘look’ relatively humble thanks to the additional design elements that is wears to differentiate itself from the rest of the cars in the Polo line-up. The most significant addition is the ‘GT’ badge on the twin-slat front grille. Its positioning is a lot like the ‘GTi’ badge that the other Volkswagen hot-hatches wear in the global arena.
The fascia also wears the new headlight design that debuted on the Polo Highline last year. It has black accents around it and that coupled with the matte black surrounds for the fog-lamps and the black colour of test car – gives the Polo GT TSI a mean stance. In fact, these headlights look the best on the black car than any other colour in the line-up, because the internal elements look narrower.
The other changes to the car include a new design for the alloy wheels called ‘Estrada’. It is a ten-spoke layout and has a 15-inch diameter. The body kit from the Polo 1.6 also makes it on to the GT TSI and therefore you have the skirts all around. On the C-pillar you get a shoddy ‘GT TSI’ vinyl – much like the new ‘SR’ decal that you get on the special Polo. The GT and TSI badges are found on the boot-lid too, but thankfully, they are chrome emblems.
The overall design of the Polo GT TSI is slightly more aggressive than the Polo 1.6 and goes very well with the hot-hatch attitude of the car. Until now, it has been the red colour that has been out favorite for the Polo – but with the new car, it has to be the black!
Any changes on the interiors then? Read the User Experience Review.
User Experience Review
Like any other Polo, the GT TSI also gets a black and beige colour combination for its plastics. There’s the black dash with beige lowers and a matching treatment to the door pads. The upholstery on the other hand has a black and grey combination and is called ‘Milan’ Titanschwarz. That is the colour combination that I would have liked to see on the rest of the cabin too. An all-black cabin like the Swift or a black and grey combination all around, would have made the cabin appear sportier and sinister like the rest of the car.
There is no change to the seat design as such, nor to the cushioning – therefore the comfort levels at the front and at the back are more or less similar to that of your neighbor’s Polo. In a nutshell, the front seats are adequate for the average Indian and the rear bench is good enough for two and a half men / women. But if you have Charlie Sheen’s proportions, then you might end up feeling claustrophobic as the Polo’s cabin does feel cramped – thanks to the low roofline.
Compared to the Polo 1.6, the GT TSI gets a new audio system in the centre console. It looks very classy with black display and the Skoda Superb-esque layout, It is compatible with USB and auxiliary inputs (finally) and gets steering mounted controls as well. It also supports phone pairing and had no problems syncing up with an iPhone 5. The audio quality for the music and the telephony is decent – but the racer-boys are going to end up craving for more.
The Polo’s interiors have always had a premium feel to it. Now, there is leather wrapping on the steering wheel and on the gear selector, which contributes towards making the cabin appear more premium than the usual. The overall treatment of the interiors is very good and the fit and finish in top notch. But as I mentioned earlier, an all-black scheme could have just taken the interior design a notch higher.
The GT TSI badging that we see all around the car actually points towards the new engine under the hood. It is a 1.2-litre turbo-petrol that has a four-cylinder configuration and VW’s acclaimed fuel stratified injection technology. The unit is significantly more powerful than the regular 1.2-litre mill that powers the Polo petrol. It produces 105 PS of power and 175 Nm of torque which is available between 1,500 to 4,100 RPM. The bigger news though, is that this engine comes mated to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission (DSG)! That makes the Polo GT TSI the smallest car in India to get the acclaimed DSG tech.
We sampled this car on the highway, through some crowded city streets, a fair fit of hill climbs and around some twisty roads too. The DSG transmission and the turbocharging make sure that you have power and torque on tap – unlike the 1.6, which needed to rev quite a bit to bite into the powerband. The gearbox will quickly upshift or downshift, depending on your throttle input and torque requirement. Not once did the gearbox feel confused or overworked and that is the inherent beauty of a dual-clutch tranny.
This gearbox offers three driving modes to choose from – Drive, Sport and Manual. In drive mode, the engine is pretty chilled out – more so in the Goa mood I guess (that’s where we tested the car). It aims at achieving better fuel economy and therefore the gear shifts happen in the 2,000-2,700 RPM range. In Sport mode, the engine and the gearbox livens up and shifts this range to 2,500 – 3,200 RPM. The downshifts are also sharper. Bury the throttle and the engine will rev all the way close to 6,000 RPM and give you a really quick acceleration.
Slot the selector into Manual mode and you will be disappointed. It is a DSG and there are no paddle shifters behind the wheel! That is like ordering a pizza without any cheese on it – it just takes away half the fun. The Manual mode also doesn’t perform as I would have expected it to. Its part-throttle shifts are fine, but when you go pedal-to-the-metal, the g’box won’t let you hold the revs at a high RPM – it will quickly accelerate to the red-line and upshift on its own. That can sometimes lead to miscalculation of the shift points in manual mode.
Also noteworthy is the engine note. It’s a tiny 1.2-litre engine but it sounds amazing! More so when the autobox is downshifting in Sports mode. As far as the handling dynamics of this car go – the Polo was always a sweet handler with minimal body-roll and sharp turn-ins. The Polo GT TSI is no different – if anything, it is just a notch better. The new engine seems lighter and therefore the turn-ins feel quicker. It is a front-wheel drive configuration and therefore you do have the inherent understeer – but you don’t feel it unless you are pushing the car really hard. We did not encounter it in our test runs. The Polo GT TSI also happens to be the only hatchback that has electronic stability program. Yes, you read that right – ESP! The grip levels from the 185/60-R15 tyres are very good too and there was no tyre squeal throughout the drive. But a proper road test will reveal more.
Volkswagen hasn’t made any performance claims yet and given the testing environment we had, we could test the sprints and top speed runs either. But the Polo GT TSI does feel quicker than the 1.6 it replaces. What VW has claimed though is the fuel economy – 17.2 kmpl under ARAI’s supervision. That is also with higher octane fuel is what we are told. On the regular 87-octane petrol we got in Goa, the car wouldn’t cross the 9-10 kmpl mark – which is acceptable for the performance we got from the car. In the real-world and in your regular driving cycle, we expect this car to return an economy in the vicinity of 12-14 kmpl.
Let’s sum it up then! With that brilliant DSG, the Polo GT TSI is undoubtedly one of the best automatic hatchbacks in the market right now, making it a convenient city commuter. As for its hot-hatch nature, it is an able performer on the highway and around the twisties too and if you are enthusiastic enough, the car can also be a good companion for a track day. But with the sort of kit and technology it packs, the Polo GT TSI isn’t going to be a cheap car to own. But it is the same technology that makes it more than a worthy replacement to the Polo 1.6 and also makes it one of the most desirable hatchbacks in the market, right now!