As the only small car in its portfolio, the Polo was Volkswagen’s first major launch and also its major disappointment. As a global product, the Polo had a lot going for it: a classic design, robust build and unmatched ride and handling. But VW was so new to India that it did not pull off the execution of its plans well. Launching the car a week before a Union Budget when excise cuts were expected was proof enough. In its second innings, has VW given the Polo enough chutzpah to script a comeback? We find out.
No major change, inside or outside
It is never easy to provide a radical makeover to a time tested classical design like the Polo’s. The dimensions remain more or less the same and so do the overall design and stance. It gets new front and rear bumper but beyond the chrome strip, there is nothing significantly fresh. There are some modifications inside the cabin. The steering wheel has turned flat at the lower end, mostly seen in sports-oriented cars. Also on show are a brushed aluminium finish on the central console and new buttons and instrument panel. It still boasts very good build quality and impeccable fit and finish. The lack of flamboyance only aids its case. The major grouse — cramped rear seats — are still unaddressed. Though the wheelbase is marginally increased and the front seats are scooped out; seating three at the rear is still a squeeze.
New diesel engine makes it a true-blue hot hatch
The new Polo retains the 1.2litre petrol engine that like most other cars with similar specifications, feels under-powered. No change on that front. The talking point is the replacement of the lazy 1.2-cylinder diesel engine with a more adaptive 1.5-litre motor. Essentially, they are both part of the 1.6 litre mill that does duty on the Vento. In the old edition, one cylinder was removed to make it a 1200-cc motor. This time the stroke has been reduced without compromising on the overall size. The result is impressive. The new Polo is a power-packed performer, with no trace of the infamous turbo lag of the older version.
Power and torque output also bump up and are now almost at par with segment topper Hyundai i20.
But the Korean car feels too raw in handling, as the softer suspension leaves the car unsure on how to handle all that torque. In the Polo it is a best fit. The suspension allows you to make full use of the low end torque that spreads out well to 2,500 rpm. By that time you are already into mid three-digit speeds. There is no wobble or disconcerting bounce as the car has enough grip to counter any curve or bend on the road. For all the prowess of the Swift diesel and the turbocharged energy of the i20, the new Polo now easily takes the trophy as far as diesel hatches are concerned.
With the new i20 due in a mere 10 days, Volkswagen has returned the ball in the Korean side of the court, with enough top spin.
In India, the Polo was always priced on the higher side. It questioned the buyer — do you want a well-built, safe and balanced car, or one that costs less and offers more features? The fate of the car as an also-ran in a crowded premium hatchback segment proves which way the consumer went.
The new Polo does little to change that aspect. It still costs more than the Swift and i20 and cannot match Maruti on value for money or Hyundai on features. The diesel engine, though, alters one variable in the equation. It is a better performing car than the peers by a distance, and the price premium now seems justifiable. It may not burn the sales charts yet, but Polo’s second innings may be jollier than the first.