The only two auto segments in demand in India right now are the compact sedan and the compact SUV. If you do not have a product ready for venturing into these segments, what does a company like Volkswagen do? Adopt the European concept of generate a "Cross" version of its existing small car.
Bigger, but not necessarily better
Basically this caters to people who want the practicality of a small car for negotiating city traffic, but also like to rough it out once in a while. Volkswagen believes that SUV-crazy India is clearly a market for such a vehicle.
The Cross Polo, then, without being a complete off-roader, could spawn a niche that may attract its share of followers.
Any different from the Polo?
Outside of India, the Cross Polo inculcates a lot of changes to the car. It grows bigger in size, has a higher ground clearance, bigger 17" wheels and a host of additional features.
Sadly what we get here is a watered down version of that. The overall dimensions are bigger but only marginally with no enhanced visual or functional appeal.
The only changes that one can make out are chrome accents on the grill, black side cladding and moulded covers for the wheel arches and silver roof rails.
The size of the wheels too remain the same - 15"- but you do get better looking five-spoke alloy wheels. And there is also halogen headlamps with a black finish. All these do make the car look smarter and sportier especially in the red colour where the black couture is the most noticeable.
There is little change inside either, barring the all-black dashboard as opposed to Polo's dual theme beige combination. Black interiors are increasingly becoming a fad in India, coming in any car with 'sporty' performance, be it the Swift or Stingray to the Cruze.
The Cross Polo toes that line. But the lack of features is still palpable and we wish that were addressed. While it has rear parking sensors it would have been nice to have a camera like in the i20.
And there is no touchscreen panel in the music system, either. In short, the Cross Polo remains largely a Polo inside.
Performance, ride and handling
Available only in diesel, Cross Polo shares the 1.2-litre 3-cylinder engine of the existing Polo, which develops 75 PS power and 180 Nm of torque. The performance of the car is also largely identical: Cross Polo develops a good midrange and decent in-gear acceleration in the 3rd and 4th gears.
Keep the car revving at near 2,000-2,400 rpm and the vehicle gives enough thrust. But on the highway the lack of power and a 6th gear become evident.
Its handling is the best in class, and coupled with well sorted and supportive seats, the ride quality is decent as well.
On the flipside the three cylinder engine is noisy and feels coarse at times. Ground clearance, unchanged at 168 mm, leaves the car rather incapable on bad roads. Another annoying aspect is the horn,which is embarrassingly squeaky.
Critics may say it is an act of desperation, but credit is due to Volkswagen for trying to experiment and create niches with the small fleet they have in India.
So the Polo petrol GT TSI launched earlier this year has been followed by the diesel GT TDI, and will be lapped up by those who want a performer in a small car.
The Cross Polo, however, needs more work. It had the potential of being a souped-up versatile compact car capable of swallowing up bad roads. But at a premium of Rs. 60,000 over the Polo diesel highline, all you get is a cosmetic makeover.