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The GTI was conceived as a secret project at the VW HQ in the ’70s. Four decades on, it’s grown to be the most desirable suffix any hot hatch would ever want

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Hot hatches of the ‘70s are like start-ups0 of today. They don’t have a lot of resources, have huge potential, can give established players a run for their money and despite their small size, have the ability to plaster a smile right across your face. But hot hatches have come a long way from what they used to be. Take the GTI badge for instance. It started off as a secret project at the VW HQ and now, the project has three capable cars under its belt that can give rivals and even some sportscars, a run for their money. Of the three, the Polo GTI has been in India for a couple of years now, and over that time, VW has had no issues finding homes for all the cars it ordered for India. In fact, there’s so much demand for the little, sober-looking but extremely capable hatchback that Indians are longing for more numbers.  

But there’s a problem – the VW factory in Germany does not make that particular model anymore and internationally, the Polo has moved to a new generation. The new Polo that now sells in most parts of the world is based on VW’s MQB platform. It’s versatile, flexible but significantly more expensive to make than the platform the current Polo is based on. 

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While it’s going to be a while until VW India sets up a manufacturing unit for MQB architecture, the first new Polo to reach our shores through the CBU route, may be this, the Polo GTI. The new Polo has grown in dimensions and also looks more mature and grown up. It’s still peculiarly Volkswagen, but it’s got sharper lines and a face that’ll remind you of its bigger brother, the Golf. To distinguish itself from the regular version, this, the GTI, gets a different grille with red inserts on it. The overall styling, just like the previous generation, isn’t overdone and things are quite understated.

The biggest upgrade this Polo gets, in terms of design, is the way the cabin looks. Unlike the one before, this one looks modern - it’s got a big touchscreen with sat nav, Bluetooth telephony and all the multimedia features you find in a modern car. There’s a lot of bright colours in the cabin, such as ample use of red on the dash and blue on the upholstery. The instrument cluster has gone all digital and you can have all the info on driving data and navigation on it. In terms of space, there’s a bit more for the rear passengers than before and you even get more space for luggage. This Polo has a lot of badges all over its body that say GTI.

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And that means business. Under the hood, making this hatch unimaginably quick, is a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine. It’s the same unit that goes in the Golf GTI, albeit this is tuned to put out 196bhp and 320Nm. And that’s a lot for a car that weighs in at 1,355kg. How fast? 6.7 seconds to 100kph fast. And what that means is that you can beat a BMW 330i in a race to hundred. This engine has got a lot of shove and the turbo gives it a really strong mid- and top-end boost. The engine isn’t a very free-revving one, but when it piles on revs, it really does mean business. Mated to the engine is an excellent seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

It’s the sort of transmission that every transmission ever made should take a lesson from. It’s got a mind that thinks faster than the driver’s and as a result, gives you a shift just at the right moment, every single time. Despite the power being sent only to the front axle, the guys at VW have tuned it to keep the understeer well in control.

An electronic diff at the front helps to a great extent with this task and with all that tech and mechanicals aiding it, the Polo does come out as a well-balanced hot hatch.

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We drove the Polo GTI both on road and on a racetrack and it’s safe to say that it doesn’t disappoint in either environment. There is understeer around fast bends if you’re jerky behind the wheel, but feed in input to the steering nice and smooth, and it goes exactly where you aim it. The Polo GTI has got driving modes that alter pedal response, shift points for the gearbox and a few other things. But it hasn’t got adaptive suspension, which may not be a great thing on the road.

Spain, just like in India, has plenty of broken roads, and the GTI lacks the ability to flatten them. There’s a loud thud every time it encounters a pothole, and the lack of travel on the suspension means it bottoms out in the slightly deeper ones. But with the way the GTI piles on speed and the way it handles curves, the harsh ride isn’t that bad a bargain.

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Of the GTI trio, the Polo sits between the Up! and the Golf. I’d say, it’s got the best of both worlds, the power of the Golf and the enthusiastic, jovial nature of the Up! It isn’t razor sharp with the precision bit, but it’s the most fun to drive among the litter. And just like some of the start-ups of today, it’s got the right attitude and is potent. It may not be dressed to impress like the big corporates but once you dig in beyond that subtle facade, there’s explosive pace that will simply blow you away and get the job done with as much flair, if not a wider grin on your face.

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The smallest of the pack, a beginner’s ticket into the world of fun cars, the Up! GTI. Based on the smallest hatch from the house of VW, but surprising with its handling capabilities. You’d be astonished to know that the power for the Up! GTI comes from a tiny three-pot 1.0-litre engine. The numbers, at 110bhp and 200Nm, might sound modest, but once on the road, the Up! GTI does create quite a riot. It maxes out at just shy of 200kph, but it’s not the outright acceleration or the top speed that’s amazing. It’s the sheer ability to surprise you with the way it handles, the steering feedback and the smoothness with which you can change cogs from the six-speed manual gearbox that makes you fall in love with it. It’s a pocket rocket of the finest sort. It’s designed to do the market runs, but wouldn’t shy away from setting a few hot laps on a racetrack. It’s wonderful.

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Golf GTI

The big brother of the GTI family, the Golf GTI is biggest, most powerful and the quickest of the lot. It’s a proper, full-sized hatch that, in the regular version, will compete with the Hyundai i30. But with the GTI badge, it wouldn’t feel out of place at a gathering of sportscars. It’s got a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol mill that churns out 215bhp and 350Nm of spin. But that’s not all, with the kerb weight as low as a family hatchback, it’s the power-to-weight ratio that draws our attention. It takes just over five seconds to hit triple-digit speeds, and can go onwards to a top-speed of 250kph. With a cracker of an engine, it’s got a seven-speed DSG that changes gears faster than any other gearbox on a hatchback. And with the dimensions, that are much bigger than that of the Polo, it can also handle much more speed through the corners. It’s exactly what mature hatchbacks should be.

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