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2018 CarWale Track Day: Volkswagen Polo GT TSI vs Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS

Introduction

The Hulk has power, old-school muscle - loads of it, but also the insanity that tags along. Sure, you can control it, but that requires Zen and a lot of it. The Iron Man is the new kid on the block, a millennial, and a smart man one at that. He builds accessories that give him superpowers when he needs them and at the same time, allows him to have a routine. Well, we do have two warriors here and both clad in red suits. One comes from Germany, the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI and the other, the Maruti Suzuki Baleno, RS comes all the way from Japan. And because we are almost midway, at the Madras Motorsport racetrack, we had to fake an apocalypse.

What makes them special?

Let's start with the older of the two - the Polo GT TSI. The GT is the classic German sleeper. It lLooks exactly like your everyday Polo and until you don't see the GT badges, you won't be able to tell one. But under this cloak of simplicity lies potential that wants to be harnessed. VW was the first one to get a turbo-petrol into the regular hatches. The 1.2-litre 3-cylinder engine pumps out 103bhp of power and 175 Nm torque. Fun part is that it also comes mated to one of the best gearboxes in the business - the seven-speed dual clutch DSG. With their chemistry working wonders, you have a combination that can be seriously quick.

Maruti, as usual, made a star out of the Baleno in the mass market. But thankfully, after many years, they thought that it is the right time to do something for the enthusiasts. So, the Baleno gets the first-ever turbo petrol brought down straight from Japan. And yes, some fancier bits in and around the car to make it look a bit special as well. This turbo-petrol is a 1.0-litre engine called the BoosterJet and churns out 101bhp of power and 150Nm of torque. And Maruti gives you a five-speed manual gearbox to play with, just the way enthusiasts love it.

What I think they can do?

The Polo is typically German. Understated and capable and rock solid. But underneath, it's stock. The motor is quite tractable with the turbocharger offering the extra boost. The smart gearbox should hold the engine in the meat of the power band without me having to worry about it. Which means, I can concentrate more on my lines, my turn-ins and braking points. So will it be faster?

The Baleno, on the other hand, typically personifies the Japanese. Flashy wheels, sharper bumpers and a dash of chrome. New generation platform means that it is 159kg lighter. And it gets disc brakes in the back too. So, I can brake later and chuck it in and get off the blocks faster. So, then, will this one be faster?

The track test

If you still remember, we are at the track and that means ‘hot’ laps. And to make sure we get the best out of the cars, we handed them over to our ‘Nick Fury’ - National Karting Champion and race-driving academy owner Rayomand Banajee.

Rayomand likes manual gearboxes more but he left no stone unturned to get the best out of the Polo. His best lap was 2.18.3 minutes and to put things in perspective, the fully blown John Cooper Works Mini did a 2.08.9. Now, that is respectable. Rayomand said, ‘What works for the Polo is its weight. It keeps the car planted and the intuitive steering means that you are moving in the direction that you intend to.

‘It has very predictable manners and a composed demeanor which means it is easier to go fast’. While the automatic takes away the task of shifting (gears), it is a bane for the real fast guys. ‘Because the gearbox doesn't hold on to the revs even in sport mode and shifts up. Also, when you floor it after the corner, the ESP cuts power to manage traction and there is a lag when the power comes back as well. A manual could have made it at least a couple of seconds faster’.

The Baleno had a lot of things going on. It stands a little taller and hence rolled around a little more. Rayo said, ‘it was quite a handful and hence delightful as well. Since it is lighter (by 15 per cent), the less power (2bhp and 25Nm of torque) didn't make any difference. I was braking late (thanks to the four discs), carry more speed into the corner and it was faster off the blocks as well’ (thanks to the better power-to-weight ratio). So a lap time of 2.16.5 minutes wasn’t a surprise at all. In fact, the importance of lesser mass and good brakes stood out.

Last words

So, as Vikrant aptly put, the era of 'no replacement for displacement' is gone. Shedding weight to gain speed is now the trend. And the Baleno, the millennial, has done that pretty well. It has the drama and speed - the Iron Man way of things. And also the added accolade of being a crowd favourite for its looks.

The Polo is old-school in the way at approaches speed as well as aesthetics. And at the same time it packs modern day technology like DSG and a stability program. It certainly has its own charming way of caressing around the racetrack and that is definitely adorable.

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