Lap time: 2 minutes 13.99 seconds
Power and weight: 109bhp and 175Nm, 1,041kg
Tyres: Front: Goodyear Assurance 195/55 R16, Rear: 195/55 R16
Why more than a 10-year-old product here, you may ask! Now, there are two reasons for the Volkswagen Polo to be at the racetrack. First, Volkswagen brought track fun, made motorsports popular, and Indian racing accessible to the masses. Like arrive-n-drive, where you just pay, arrive at the track, and drive a prepped-up VW! This brand name is quite synonymous with racing. Second, more than 10 years and not much has really changed. That speaks so much about its build quality and durability. Speaking of which, a new engine with a new autobox, well, I know I had to forget stick-shift fun here. Yet, with its huge strength being dynamics, there's no more contemplating. So, could I expect the best possible traction and superior driving dynamics from this everyday hero? There was only one way to find out. Drive!
Race Track Introduction
The Madras Motor Race Track in Chennai is a great place to push the handling envelope of cars. It’s not a track that favours horsepower; instead, a car with great chassis balance is what really shines around this bumpy 3.7-kilometre flowing circuit. Speaking of which, right after the short start finish, straight is the fast and bumpy C1. One must then scrub off a lot of speed for the right-hander C2. The C7, as we found out, is the most difficult corner to master as it’s a long right-hander that is ever-tightening and has a double apex. Getting a great exit out of C7 is important because it leads onto the second of the two really quick sections of the MMRT.
|Lap Time||C5 Apex Speed||C7 Apex Speed||C10 Apex Speed||Top Speed|
And we drove not just 'at' the track, but also 'to' and 'from' Mumbai-Chennai. It does maintain a good pace, thanks to a turbocharged engine that does justice with its low-down grunt. This is a three-cylinder engine whose increase in noise is thankfully accompanied by an increment in the car's speed. Credits to its wide powerband and 175Nm of torque available from as low as 1,750rpm. Whenever the revs are over 2,000rpm, you can feel the car move with zest. There's a strong pull with sharper throttle response. Quite likeable. It's not that you can't make out that turbo lag, but it’s more of a slight kick when the turbo comes on boost. Makes it feel fast and enthusiastic, to go more, asks for it. Of course, there's no neck-snapping thrust but power delivery is instant. And the results are clear with the good speeds that could be carried through C5, C7, and even C10.
Then, its handling is very composed. Its steering is heavy, doesn't have real feedback, but is quick and precise. Its response is impressive even off the centre and with the amount of fluidity, it keeps you engaged. The way its nose grips was beyond my expectation. The Polo just darts into the direction it’s pointed at. Efficient traction management and good grip here is the biggest differentiation factor from the i20 turbo DCT. As a result, the VW with a lap time of 2minutes 13.99seconds, was three seconds faster around the MMRT even if the i20 had a slightly higher top speed. The Polo just grips well, and its ESP manages traction better without cutting out power, resulting in faster corner exit speeds. Yes, the brakes do have a little bit of play though there's enough bite. But come in at high speeds, lift off, tap the brakes, manage the steer, and you can power out of the corners. Also, the Polo's turn-ins in tighter corners are so much better. So, getting in, turning, and getting off is much quicker. Most importantly, all of this is very predictable even on the limit.
It also comes down to the way the suspension is set up, chassis and even tyres work together to hold its line. And it's quite manageable to bring it in line if you come in too hot, or for that matter, brake in too much. Like, for example, at C4 and C8. Also, if you are not careful, especially when you are revving it high and exiting corners, you can hear the tyres spinning and losing traction. But then, its cornering grip is still confidence-inspiring and whether stick shift or no, it doesn't force you to the negotiation table. In fact, the automatic gearbox helps the needle climb up to three-digits really quick. Never felt lethargic or confused in selecting the right gear. Then, be it the straights or corner exits, there's a strong build-up of speed. So, what gives it an edge over the i20 here is its supple ride, secure handling, and poise, despite being pushed quite aggressively.
This Volkswagen Polo, despite its decade long presence, is still in its finest form. The engine, though downsized, complements the chassis well with superb ride and handling. I could do some daring manoeuvres at rapid speeds and still remain planted. And mind you, at heart-thumping high-speed. Yes, the Polo goes on to display strong racecraft, maybe that’s the reason why it was first considered as a race car in these racing championships. It's not just something that will be fun to drive but will help push you to the top step of the podium. All in all, the Polo remains to be the finest hatchbacks to drive. It's occasionally compelling than it should be but is undoubtedly enjoyable and too good for a few grins around a track.
Pictures by Kapil Angane