Why should I buy it?
- Punchy and peppy turbo-petrol engine
- Unmatched ride and handling combination
Why should I avoid it?
- Passé features list
- GT model doesn’t stand out over the standard one
- Expensive proposition
The Polo GT TSI has always been and still is an enthusiast’s car. There’s an emotional connection to it that overlooks the practicality and viability aspects – you buy it with your heart and not the head. On the flipside, purists won’t exactly be the happy flock with this downsized engine and jerky torque converter. For everything else, the Polo GT remains an olde-worlde hot-hatch with an enticing charisma about it.
Engine and Performance
New normal means we all walk out only with a face mask on and all Volkswagens in India are only powered by a TSI motor. No more diesel, so no GT TDI anymore. Meanwhile, the 1.2-litre motor of the previous GT TSI has made way for the BS6-compliant 1.0-litre TSI with three cylinders and a turbocharger. Power output is rated at 109bhp available at 5,000rpm and a twisting force of 175Nm accessible from 1,750rpm. You can only opt for the GT with a six-speed automatic, and no, this isn’t the butter-smooth and lightning-quick DSG. In the new normal, there’s only a torque-converter available in the Polo range.
Trust the Germans to do something new and they’d do it the best way possible still. This applies to the new range of 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged range of engine which we have seen an outset of lately. The 999cc TSI can easily be regarded as a benchmark when it comes to the one-litre turbo-petrol class. Crank it up and while idling, it is refined and silent with no vibrations you’d generally associate with a three-pot motor. Pull the lever to D – which again has that typical German finesse – and let go off the brake pedal and there’s a lurch from the eager motor. It’s not as good at creeping as an AMT and you’d immediately need to get on the gas to get any momentum off the line – especially when rolling off the mark at a traffic light. That’s not all, get on the gas just a tad harder and the lurching ahead is even pronounced. So you’d need to master this art all over again.
On the move, the motor is eager. It’s easy to get carried away at times as the Polo GT TSI has a certain enchantment that brings out the bad boy in you. With a free-revving engine that’s quick to throttle response and a good surge of power, it all comes together to assert what that GT badge manifests. At city speeds, you’d be doing slightly higher speeds than you’d realise, and out on the highway triple-digit speeds come quickly and effortlessly. There’s no harsh vibration from the motor even when wrung hard all the way to the redline, only the soundtrack getting a bit whiny past 4,000rpm. Acceleration is quick, no matter where the tacho needle is sitting; just get on the gas and the power spread across the rev range hurls you ahead with little to no delay. All of this before the gear lever is pulled one more notch to the S.
Go for the S Mode and you’d notice there’s no artificial change in throttle response as is the trend these days with faux ‘sport modes’. In this mode, the motor just becomes aggressive in the way it delivers power. The tacho needle now doesn’t sway, just ticks – like one of those needles on an old multimeter. What’s more, it’s got the capability to pin you back into the seat when stomped on the accelerator. This mode would be great for quarter-mile times, but don’t go hunting for ‘traffic-light GPs’.
But it isn’t free of faults, of course. Replacing the legendary DSG with a torque converter was considered a bold move (blasphemy by the purists). And it shows. The shifts on the automatic are pronounced whether it’s going up the cogs or down. It’s almost like a jerk and makes you miss the prowess of the DSG furthermore. For first-timers or new buyers, it isn’t a dealbreaker at all. In fact, it supposedly brings down the price making it more enticing.
Ride and Handling
Ever since its introduction, the Polo has stood out of the ordinary with its ride and handling combination. This trait hasn’t been fiddled over the years and that’s a good thing – you can’t mend something that isn’t broken right? It’s got a comfortable ride at slow speeds yet you are always aware of what the tyres are plodding over. Surprisingly, even the sharp-edged potholes or those ill-made road joints are well absorbed without disturbing the passengers on the inside. When it comes to encountering speed breakers we were reluctant a bit at first – with its sharp lower lip upfront and extended side skirts. But not once we found it having small talks with the speed breaker no matter how nasty it was. Go up to highway speeds and the composure gets even better flattening out even the vilest irregularities or undulations you’d encounter.
One of the talking points of the Polo is how direct its handling is. There’s a certain precision in the way it changes direction. Sure at slow city speeds the heavy setup of the steering is enough to give you a good arms workout. And it doesn’t improve when speed increases. But who wants light steering when you are so connected and one with the car when behind the wheel. Helping its cause is the rigid chassis that Volkswagen is so proud of. So around tight corners, there’s controlled body movement inducing more confidence. Surprisingly though, there’s a very little intrusion from torque steer too when gassing it around a bend. And in a straight line, it’s as stable as a tree in a storm. Overall then, the Polo GT still is the best 'driver’s car’ by a huge margin.
Interior Space and Quality
Similar to the exterior, there aren’t any major changes to the Polo GT’s cabin since the first one rolled out when ISRO launched the Mangalyan in 2013. It’s all-black, minimalistic, function-over-form, and that’s about it. There are no gimmicky features or trinkets to take your mind off the most important thing – driving. You do get plaid-style seat covers now though. Even after almost a decade, the uncluttered layout is likable, and what makes it an even sweeter deal is its built quality. From the solid thud of the doors closing to the sturdiness of plastic used all around – everything inside the Polo has aged like a fine wine.
Some may argue that the old circular analogue dials need to go away in the age of digital driver’s display. But as mentioned above, the way the needle ticks is something the digital age meters will never match. Even the centre console, with its monochromatic screens and tactical switches and knobs, has its appeal. And the seats offer good support with the right amount of bolstering on the side but more under-thigh support would have been appreciated. There are no complaints in terms of visibility all around – even the interior rearview mirror is a perfect size cut out just enough to see the rear windscreen.
The Polo GT is meant to be driven, so the rear bench and its space isn’t something to write home about. There’s just enough head- and knee-room for an average-sized adult with just two being comfortable on the backbench. The presence of centre tunnel and the absence of rear AC vents makes sitting in the middle a tight affair. What’s more, even when no one’s sitting in the middle, the two passengers in the back aren’t provided with the luxury of an armrest, door pad space, back seat pocket, or a USB/12V point. Again, it’s a driver’s car, what are you even doing in the rear seats?
And if you are to carry stuff in the Polo GT, the boot space of 280litre is less in terms of volume, but it’s fairly square and usable. You could put down the rear seats for some additional space. But again it doesn’t fold flat and there’s no split-fold either.
Features and Safety
This top-spec Polo that you can buy in India has some comprehensive features list. It comes with auto air-con, one-touch control for all four windows, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensor, dual-front airbags and ABS, and connectivity options in the form of Volkswagen Connect. There is touchscreen Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but there’s no navigation or voice control. There’s another long list - of features that are still missing in the Polo. This includes automatic headlamps, reverse parking camera, engine start button, LED lamps, sunroof, and a better sound system.
When going through the spec sheet, we realised that there’s nothing much that differentiates the Polo GT from the Polo Highline Plus Automatic trim – apart from spoiler and body kit, a couple of extra features, and the bellwether GT badge. And the GT is almost Rs 50,000 dearer. For the extra money, you get the bragging right of owning the best driver’s hatchback. Its new 1.0-litre TSI motor is a hoot to drive, even if the torque converter is not up to the mark, it’s still fun nonetheless. Everything else we loved or hated about the GT has been carried over. But all of it doesn’t matter when you are behind the wheel. And that’s all that matters, right?
Pictures by Kapil Angane