The Indian VW Polo claims superior German engineering. The car’s engine line-up however, is nothing more than mediocre. The three-cylinder, 1.2 litre petrol and diesel are fuel efficient but in no way quick. The ‘hot’ 1.6 litre petrol also fails to deliver the excitement to match the car’s sharp looks. Volkswagen is however, looking to turn tables with the Polo GT TSI. This car features a modern, turbocharged, direct-injection petrol motor that replaces the 1.6-litre engine and brings along quite a few firsts to the segment. These include a seven-speed, twin-clutch automatic gearbox and Electronic Stability Control (ESP).
The GT TSI’s technology-laden engine may displace just 1.2 litres but it makes as much power and torque as the now defunct Polo 1.6. The power doesn’t come at the cost of fuel efficiency either. The motor is from VW’s EA111 engine family and develops 103bhp and 17.8kgm of torque, which is a substantial 2.2kgm more than the old 1.6. Other changes for India include a beefed-up clutch plate to handle our intense stop-start traffic.
The car’s throttle response is reasonably linear and the car feels very peppy. Peak torque is made all the way from 1400rpm to 4100rpm, the mid-range is particularly strong and the engine will pull happily to its 6200rpm redline as well. The DSG box on this car has three modes – ‘D’, ‘S’ and ‘Manual’. In ‘D’, it is programmed to upshift at the earliest, maximising fuel efficiency, whereas in ‘S’, it will stay in the lowest gear possible.
The problem with driving in ‘D’ is that when you need that burst of power, you are usually in a gear too high and have to wait for the gearbox to kick down. ‘S’ is more responsive, but it is the manual mode that gives you the most control, and is the most enjoyable. You can downshift from pretty high revs, unlike most automatics that won’t let you. However, it will upshift automatically at the redline and you can’t hold it in gear against the rev limiter.
It is in Sport and Manual modes that one can feel the true performance of the car – it will get to 100kph in just 10.9sec, which is 0.7sec quicker than the Polo 1.6. In fact, it is the quickest hatchback around and finally eclipses the fastest time set by our previous quickest hatch, the Fiat Palio 1.6, way back in 2002. The rate of acceleration slows down past 140kph and it takes another 26 seconds to do 170kph before going on to a top speed of 190kph.
In traffic, we did have some problems – the DSG isn’t at its happiest ambling along at slow speeds and, as is the case with most twin-clutch transmissions, it can occasionally be jerky in stop-start traffic and simply doesn’t have the seamless shift quality of a torque-converter unit.
While the engine is very quiet and smooth at low speeds and when you’re cruising, it does get a bit thrummy after 5000rpm, and it isn’t as smooth as, say, the bigger 1.8 TSI motor in the Laura when you rev it hard.
Now, because the car is called the GT, you might expect a sporty suspension setup, but that is not the case here. Ground clearance remains the same as the other Polos in the range, while the spring and damper rates have clearly been tuned with comfort in mind. That’s not to say that the car is soft and wallowy; in fact it is quite the opposite. Push it hard through corners and the Polo GT will stick with you most of the time. There’s decent body control, the steering is direct and accurate enough and there’s good grip from the tyres.
However, it’s as you approach the limits that the Polo shows some looseness from its soft suspension and the steering that doesn’t weigh up as much as we would like. Still, with the enthusiastic engine and agile handling, you get a car that is fun to punt down your favourite twisty road. Push it to the limits, however, and it will show its limitations in the form of some understeer and bobbing over undulations. The ride, on the other hand, is quite good and the suspension handles most bumps quietly and efficiently.
The Polo GT TSI looks identical to its lower-powered siblings, and this might be a bad thing. The only external clues are the GT badging on the front grille, some rather aftermarket GT TSI stickers on the C-pillar and, you guessed it, GT and TSI badging on the bootlid. Strangely, there is no ‘Polo’ or ‘Volkswagen’ badge anywhere on the car. It even has the same alloy wheels as the regular Polo Highline.
On the inside, the seats now get sportier black and grey fabrics with contrast stitching, the climate control system from the Vento, as well as a new 2-DIN audio system that incorporates USB, Aux-in, an SD card reader and Bluetooth connectivity. Sadly, the sound quality isn’t all that great. The GT TSI also gets rear parking sensors. Plastic quality and fit and finish are very good, but not exceptional like on the bigger VWs. Space and comfort are exactly the same as you would find on a regular Polo, which means there’s good space up front, cramped rear quarters and a fairly big boot.
In terms of efficiency, we got 10.5kpl (city) and 15.9kpl (highway), the tall seventh gear, direct injection and the smaller displacement helping here.