Even after losing one cylinder, that slick DSG transmission, and some additional features, the Volkswagen Polo TSI continues to be the little wonder that we’ve always known it to be.
The Indian automotive industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. New segments have emerged, the lifecycle of models have shortened, and new players have entered the market. But there is still very little on offer in the sub-10-lakh bracket for enthusiasts.
You see, the appetite for performance in India is still not that high, so the few cars that existed in this segment failed to make a lasting impression on the sales charts. Also, the fact that manufacturers have kept them on sale for only short periods hasn’t helped. The Fiat Punto Abarth, Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS, and, more recently, Tata Tiago and Tigor JTPs are all textbook examples.
But there’s one name that’s become the leading light in the affordable performance class – the Volkswagen Polo, or more specifically the Polo GT TSI. We recently got our hands on one in its latest avatar – it has since ditched the GT badge and now packs a smaller motor and bids adieu to that slick DSG transmission. So, the question is – have the enthusiasts lost the only glimmer of hope in the sub-Rs 10 lakh category, or has that light actually become brighter still?
Change of Heart
Before you shrug off the potential of the 1.0-litre motor, let me tell you that this unit won the Engine of the Year award in the sub-1-litre category in 2018. If that doesn’t reassure you, then how about this? At 108.5bhp, it makes 5bhp more than the 1.2 it replaces. Torque rating, however, remains unchanged at 175Nm.
In terms of performance, the new Polo feels sprightlier than before. Aside from the obvious advantage of increased power and a minor reduction in weight of 37kgs, the improved performance is also a result of the 6-speed manual that the TSI now comes equipped with. The addition of the manual transmission is indeed a welcome change, which will be appreciated by a lot of petrol-heads. While the shifts aren’t as smooth as, let’s say, a Hyundai transmission, there is a notable precision in the shifts that amplifies the overall drive experience.
Just like the GT TSI, the 2020 Polo shines when the turbo kicks in at about 2,000rpm. From there on, the tacho needle climbs rather freely right up to the 6,000rpm mark. But it’s in the mid-range that the Polo feels its best and superbly energetic. Around the twisty stuff, just ensure that it remains in the meat of its powerband, and you can really have a lot of fun. Lower in the rev range too, the Polo is quite amiable. In day-to-day traffic, you can simply slot in 2nd gear, and it’ll crawl ahead without any hiccups or hesitation.
The motor does lose points in terms of refinement – it is a 3-pot unit after all. Those who have experienced the old 1.2 GT TSI might notice the marginal drop in refinement, but it’s a compromise that is easy to live with.
Over the past decade, the Polo has demonstrated its superiority in terms of handling with its performance in rallying and track racing. The new Polo continues that legacy. It’s taut chassis and suspension really endow it with superior confidence. The steering doesn’t feel vague or lazy, which makes driving the car all the more engaging. That said, its ride quality isn’t its strongest trait. At slow speeds, it does cushion sharp edges reasonably well, however, at higher speeds it readily allows the occupants to share its discomfort. But if you’re one of those looking for driving pleasure, it may not be a deal-breaker.
The 2020 Polo doesn’t get any substantial cosmetic updates and continues with the design cues that have remained unchanged for a decade now. While a lot of carmakers have been favouring an ostentatious approach in terms of design language, with massive grilles and oodles of chrome, Volkswagen continues with a clean and charming persona. That said, the Polo does miss out on LED headlamps and taillights, a shark fin antenna, and even diamond-cut alloy wheels.
The interior tells a familiar story. The dashboard remains unchanged, as does space and comfort inside. The 6.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is responsive and does the job well but is considerably smaller than other vehicles in this range. Also, Volkswagen has discarded quite a few features, including a reversing camera, and more. Space and comfort too are indistinguishable from the model before it. For an average Indian, the rear space is more or less satisfactory, but taller passengers will feel a bit cramped. Compare it with rivals like the Hyundai Grand i10 Nios, and that cramped feeling will become even more intense. In terms of build quality, Volkswagen leaves little to complain about.
Alive & Kicking
The Polo TSI continues to have the shortcomings that its predecessors were known for. It clearly isn't the most spacious car in its class, and it lacks depth in the feature list. Also, its interior too has started to look its age. While I personally love how the Polo looks even today, some may find it a bit too familiar for their liking. But, despite all these limitations, the Polo continues to set itself apart in terms of build quality, performance, and handling. The Polo TSI is a classic example of how the sum of its parts can be far more than what its spec-sheet suggests.
Switching to a 3-cylinder motor, sure, has had an impact on its refinement, but the new Polo TSI with the manual transmission packs more punch and feels livelier than ever. It continues to impress in the handling and high-speed stability departments as well. At around ₹8 lakh, Volkswagen has priced it smartly too. All in all, if driving pleasure and performance is at the top of your priority list, there is no better car than the Polo TSI, even today.
- Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI
Engine: 999cc / 3-Cylinder / 12 Valves / Turbocharged
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual/Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 108.5bhp @ 5,000-5,500rpm
Torque: 175Nm @ 1,750-4,000rpm
Price: ₹8.02 lakh (ex-showroom)
X-factor: The Polo remains a quintessential affordable-performance car, even a decade after its debut.
• Superior handling