German engineering at an affordable price is what the Polo aims to offer in the Indian market.
The success of the Indian Polo is a very big deal for Volkswagen. On the crisply styled shoulders of this all-new hatchback rests not just the weight of its own future, but the hopes of VW in India. If the Polo is a hit, it will give the company the scale it needs for a faster payback on its huge investments in India. It will make selling other VW models easier and establish the German automaker as a volume player in India. Whichever way you look at it, the Polo is a car the German auto giant just has to get right. There’s been no lack of effort for sure. While getting the Polo’s price right was priority number one, the car has also been considerably re-engineered with lots of changes to suit Indian customer requirements and pockets.
On paper the Polo looks a winner – German build quality, engineering, comfort and legendary attention to detail, all at a reasonable price. But has VW sacrificed too much in its quest to price this car aggressively, has the car lost some of its character, is it good enough to make us rule out other premium hatchbacks? It’s only a grueling road test that can give all the answers.
At first glance, there’s nothing wildly exciting about the interior design but neither is there anything to offend the eye. It’s typically VW – top quality and functional. The black-and-beige combo looks classy and the switchgear feels great to operate. The interior plastics feel hardwearing and the dashboard texture is not as ‘soft feel’ as we would have liked but the overall plastic quality is a class apart.
The dials are large and legible, the centre console is neatly arranged, and there is a surplus of storage space – from well-thought-out slots beside the handbrake to the massive 294-litre boot. Generous door pockets all round, a huge glovebox and clever hooks on the B-pillars give the Polo’s interiors unmatched practicality. But is passenger space as good? Up front, the driver’s seat with its long seat travel, generous headroom and massive footwell will comfortably accommodate members of the NBA basketball team but short drivers don’t have it good in the base Trendline which doesn’t have seat height adjust. This is especially so because the dashboard is set a bit too high. Also, a dead pedal is missing. The seats are deeply contoured and very supportive with the right amount of cushioning.
Rear passengers though are not as well looked after and rear seat space is not the Polo’s forte. While the rear seat is quite comfy with decent under-thigh support and acceptable headroom (if you are not too tall), you sit lower than usual and kneeroom is quite poor for a premium hatchback. The high waistline eats into the window area and adds to the restrictive feeling in the rear. Sitting three abreast is not as bad as it seems, thanks to the Polo’s decent width.
The Polo comes in three variants. While the Trendline gets only basic features, front power windows, power steering and air-con, Comfortline is only slightly better equipped with power windows all round, metallic paint, body colored door handles/mirrors and split seats. It’s only the Highline that gets a CD MP3 player, rear wash/wipe, multi-function display, remote locking, alloy wheels, fog lamps, ABS and airbags. However, it’s very obvious the accountant’s axe has been liberally wielded on the equipment list. Even on the top-end Highline version, features that we have come to expect like steering-mounted controls, electronic climate control, height adjustable seatbelts and power mirrors are all missing.
Performance & Economy
A pair of three-cylinder engines – a 1.2 petrol and a 1.2 turbo-diesel (coming only in May) – power the Polo. A 1.6 four-cylinder petrol is also expected later in the year. The 1.2 petrol is based on the same three-pot motor that powers the Fabia but it’s been substantially upgraded (see box) to develop more power and torque. This three-cylinder motor now produces 74bhp and 11.2kgm of torque, which on paper are quite modest. However, the petrol Polo surprised us with its driveability and refinement. It’s still not a smooth as a four-cylinder motor and you can feel it rock on its mounts during idle but it’s not really obtrusive. Increase the revs and the engine instantly smoothens out and as long as you don’t rev it hard, this motor is pretty silent too. Unlike the Fabia’s motor which has a very weak bottom end , there is no hesitation or tendency to stall at slow speeds and the engine pulls cleanly from even low speeds. As in the Fabia, the midrange is the engine’s strongest bit and now it’s more responsive and slightly punchier too. If the revs drop too low, the Polo gets lethargic and a downshift is useful to get a move on but that’s not a bad thing. The light, crisp and short-throw gearbox has the best shift quality of any hatchback.
The 0-100kph time of 16.5 seconds suggests that performance is at best modest and on the highway you feel the need for more power, especially with a full load of passengers and the entire luggage the Polo’s big boot can swallow. Overtaking isn’t effortless but the Polo does the job. It’s just that we have come to expect more pep from today’s premium hatchbacks. While the petrol motor is a derivative of the Fabia’s motor, the 1.2 common-rail three-cylinder diesel is brand new and in fact makes its global debut in the Indian Polo. This new diesel hails from the same family of engines as the 1.6 common-rail diesel but with a cylinder lopped off. Again, it’s fairly quiet when it’s not revved too hard but it can’t match the refinement or performance of the four-cylinder motors from Fiat and Ford. The diesel Polo is a pretty relaxed cruiser but under load it’s quite audible and at times you do feel VW could have done a better job of insulation. But the big issue with this motor is the severe turbo-lag it suffers from – it goes completely off boost below 2000rpm and it takes forever for the turbo to spool up. This problem is exacerbated on twisty uphill roads, where you need to work hard to make sure you are in the right gear all the time. As a result it’s best not to allow the revs to drop substantially and employ a press-on-driving style. However, once you cross 2000rpm, then whoosh, the turbo kicks in strong and fast. The mid-range is strong and the diesel Polo shoots forward quite convincingly when in the right part of the powerband. Once on the boil, the motor provides adequate thrust spinning all the way to 5200rpm. The enthusiasm to rev does wane after 4500rpm and so flat-out acceleration again is not very impressive with a 0-100kph time of 17.6sec only faster than the Fiat Grande Punto. The fact is that both engines deliver only average performance and enthusiasts will have to wait for the 1.6 petrol.
Ride & Handling
For city driving and at low speeds the Polo has an almost-perfect set-up. The relatively pliant set-up of the springs and dampers allows the Polo’s light body to skip over poor bits of road without the suspension crashing through, and bump absorption is relatively silent as well. A bit of road noise filters through but that’s only over abrasive tarmac and sharp bumps. There is also some vertical movement from the long-travel suspension over rough and undulating surfaces but the generous ground clearance allows the Polo to tackle most surfaces with aplomb. On the whole, the Polo rides brilliantly and ride comfort, especially at low speeds, is its forte. The steering is also well suited to city traffic. It’s arcade game light, you can literally twirl it with a single finger and that’s perfect for doing the samba in choked streets.
The soft set-up does, however, mean that there is a bit of roll when you corner hard and the Polo understeers strongly at the limit. However, for normal driving, there is plenty of grip from the very impressive 185/60 R15 Apollo Aceleres. Enthusiasts will, however, be disappointed with the Polo’s electric steering which, though accurate, is devoid of feel and doesn’t weight up in a linear fashion. The brakes are superb and the Polo stops very effectively from high speeds and despite some constant and aggressive use of the centre pedal, there were no signs of fade.
German engineering at an affordable price is what the Polo aims to offer in the Indian market. You get a high-quality car built to exemplary standards for a starting price of Rs 5.08 lakh (on-road, Mumbai) for the base model. On the face of it, it sounds like a great deal but it’s only when you delve into the specification sheet (a lot of essential equipment is missing) or realise that the price ‘walk’ between the base and top-end variants is quite a bit, the Polo doesn’t quite set a benchmark for value for money. But that’s not the reason to buy a Polo. This is a premium hatchback and, apart from the average range of engines, it lives up to the part. It’s contemporary, smartly styled, has a plush ride and a special premium feel that no other hatchback offers. The built-to-last Polo is for those who want a safe, solid and sensible hatchback.
Installation Front, transverse
Bore/stroke 76.5/86.9mm, 79.5/80.5mm
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Valve gear 4 valves per cyl, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl, DOHC
Power 74bhp at 5400rpm, 74bhp at 4200rpm
Torque 11.2kgm at 3750rpm, 18.3kgm at 2000rpm
Power to weight 71.84bhp per tonne
Torque to weight 10.87kgm per tonne
Type Front-wheel drive
Gearbox 5-speed manual