Abhishek has waited a long time to drive the Volkswagen GTI. But has it been worth the wait? And what happens when you pit it against another hot-hatch icon?
If this were a movie, the opening sequence would include panning shots of that sleek red line stretching across the front of the VW’s grille, while a voiceover announces the fact that Volkswagen’s iconic GTI moniker has finally made it to India! As slo-mo shots of various design elements such as the LED headlights, twin tailpipes and coupe-like window-line are played out, the VO further enlightens viewers about the GTI badge (which came into being in the late 70s) and how enthusiasts swear by it. After all, Volkswagen has been known to make small cars with the capability to embarrass many a performance car.
This, of course, was fantasy. In reality, I couldn’t have been more stressed as the keys to the GTI were handed over to me. You see, I’d been awake since way before dawn and it was now evening – and I was exhausted! The catch here is that I needed to get to Pune the same night to rendezvous with the other machine you see here – the Cooper S JCW. And if we hadn’t got there in time, we wouldn’t have been able to get our hands on the Mini – and the planned early morning shoot would have been ruined. So, as Mumbai traffic went off the charts, I packed my belongings and opened the boot, only to realise just how spacious it is for a three-door hatch.
Getting into the car, a familiar dashboard greets you, except for a new instrument cluster housing seemingly more upmarket dials, a new steering wheel and a new centre console with a upgraded touchscreen infotainment and climate control system. Apart from that it’s really back to basics here, as you only get front and rear parking sensors (no camera), no sunroof and not even a start-stop button.
I turn the key in the ignition, and am surprised to find just how quiet the engine is – considering this is an out-and-out performance car. You can simply slot the 7-speed DSG auto-box into D and enjoy driving an essentially noiseless car. Driving this car in traffic is an absolute joy. It’s just so quiet and refined and easy to drive that you don’t mind being stuck at all. And when a gap does open up, you only need to prod the long pedal once, and before anyone else can react your GTI will have taken the space in an instant. Herein lies one of the many joys of driving a hot hatchback – they are just so agile, quick and compact that absolutely nothing else can compete in urban environs.
As I leave New Mumbai and put my foot down, everything simply goes into fast-forward and before I know it I’ve hit the speed limit. VW’s 189bhp 1.8-litre TSI is a gem of an engine. It’s unbelievably smooth and power delivery from this turbo-petrol motor is so linear that you begin to think this is a naturally aspirated engine, no doubt courtesy of VW’s slick-shifting seven-speed DSG gearbox – not to mention the 250Nm of torque from as low as 1,250rpm to 5,300rpm, post which 189bhp kicks in at 5,400rpm and goes all the way up to 6,200rpm.
In the real world, this means that from the moment you put your foot down the Polo GTI lets out a nice racy snarl and charges forward with relentless energy. The rev counter needle frantically moves back and forth as the car goes through the gears, but the transmission is so smooth that you simply don’t feel the gear changes at all. To call it impressive, and just leave it at that would be an understatement at the very least.
As the night progressed, what was supposed to be a tiring drive turned out to be an exciting one. You can cruise at such high speeds in this car so effortlessly that it feels like you’re doing not more than 60km/h. Put your foot down, and apart from the traction control light blinking frantically, there’s no other indication that the car is having any difficulty whatsoever with the vast reserves of power. And a clever front differential ensures that no torque steer comes into play. Entering wide expressway corners and coming out the other side was pure joy, as the car is just so nimble and balanced. Zipping through highway traffic was sensational too, as the tiny GTI just whizzed past everything – including big fast cars, leaving them both embarrassed and in awe. Boy was it fun! And thanks to the GTI’s immense performance, we made it well in time to pick up the Mini.
With just three hours of sleep, I was up in the wee hours of the next morning again to drive the Mini. Now I’m familiar with the Mini Cooper S but this is the JCW tuned version so it makes more power and torque at 204bhp and 300Nm respectively. So, on paper, this loud yellow car is more powerful than the GTI. A slower 6-speed gearbox, combined with what feels like a slower revving engine and torque steer makes you realise quite quickly though that the Cooper S JCW just doesn’t have the real world performance to catch the Polo GTI. On top of that the car feels heavy and the numb steering doesn’t help much either. So it wasn’t just the straights where the GTI was faster, but the more nimble VW would just dart in and out of corners while the Mini took a little more effort when following suit.
The Cooper S JCW has more kit than the GTI though – in the form of keyless start-stop, a dual panel sunroof, leather seats, and more. But the GTI is more practical, with rear seats that can actually be used, a bigger boot and beautiful tartan seats that don’t burn your back on a hot summer’s day.
The Cooper certainly makes a lot more of an impact on the road though, with its racing stripes, bright paint shades and a louder exhaust note, whereas the GTI is a lot more subtle and tends to fly under the radar for the most part. Let’s just say that most people will have a tough time telling it apart from a regular Polo.
So there you have it – the Polo is certainly the more capable hot hatch. It’s just not one to shout about it though!
- Volkswagen Polo GTI
- Mini Cooper S JCW
Engine: 1,798cc / In-line 4-Cylinder/ Turbocharged
Transmission: 7-Speed DSG Automatic / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 189bhp @ 5,400-6,200rpm
Torque: 250Nm @ 1,250-5,300rpm
Price: Rs.26.06 lakhs (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: This one certainly lives up to its heritage – it flies under the radar, while embarrassing much faster cars with ease.
Engine: 1,998cc / In-line 4-Cylinder / Turbocharged
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 207bhp @ 4,700-6,000rpm
Torque: 300Nm @ 1,250rpm
Price: Rs. 34.10 lakhs (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: It’s loud and has stripes. Needless to say, it grabs attention and admiration everywhere it goes.