You are here

We bring out the i20 and the Polo all over again for a battle for the ultimate premium automatic hatchback

Share this image: 

This is not the first time that the Hyundai i20 and the Volkswagen Polo are coming face-to-face in TopGear’s clash for the ultimate premium hatch. All you loyal TG fans might recollect that these cars fought out in April 2010, when the Polo was just out. The battle was intense and the decision was tough. But in the end, the i20 took away the title.

Now, it’s been more than three years since then and both the cars have stood up well against the test of time. But a lot has changed in the past years too. Both the cars have gone under the knife to get an updated face, some cosmetic upgrades and some changes under the hood. Time for round 2, then.

Share this image: 

The Korean hatch comes with an option of one diesel and two petrol engines – 1.2 litre and 1.4-litre. Here, we’re interested in the bigger petrol block. Why? Because it’s the only engine that’s mated to an automatic gearbox. The 1396cc engine puts out a good 99bhp and 136Nm of torque. Compared to the smaller 1.2 litre petrol mill, it churns out 16 horses and 23Nm more. But the bigger engine comes with its own set of drawbacks – the cost and the efficiency. More on that, later.   

The Germans haven’t relied on added displacement for more power. Instead, what they’ve done is plonked their award-winning 1.2-litre direct-injection turbo-charged petrol engine under the hood of the new Polo GT TSI. With all that tech going in, the engine develops a whopping 103bhp and 175Nm. The numbers might not sound too great if you’re used to checking out spec sheets of sportscars, but for a hatchback, it’s more than you can crave for. And don’t be too disheartened with that ‘turbo-charged’ word. Because the power makes its presence felt at as low as 1500rpm. And post 2000rpm, there’s abundance of it. It continues that way till it redlines at 6000rpm.

Share this image: 

Now to the crucial part. The gearbox. The Koreans have stuck with the old-school method of giving you the convenience of an auto ’box. It’s a regular torque converter with only four ratios to play with. It even has ‘L’ and ‘2’ slots (apart from the regular ‘D’, ‘N’, ‘R’ and ‘P’) that come handy in case you want to stick to lower ratios, say on an incline. The first three gears are short, the fourth being on the taller side. The tranny won’t upset you when you’re driving in the city, but take it out on the highway, and you may end up fuming over it. It takes its own sweet time to upshift and downshift. The larger gap between third and fourth gear means it pulls all the way through the rev range in third and then upshifts, if you’ve buried the throttle, making the engine rather noisy. It does get irritating.

In the Polo GT TSI, the silky smooth engine has been mated to an equally smooth gearbox. It’s no torque converter; it’s a modrn, dual-clutch gearbox with seven cogs to work with. It gets a Sport mode and Manual mode to solve all your problems in case of a red-light drag race. And the briskness in terms of shifting, you ask? Well, look at it this way; it’s like Usain Bolt against school-level sprinters. Get the gist? Good. It’ll never ever keep you in a wrong gear or leave you thirsty for power. And if you’re easy on the pedal, it’ll shift to the sixth gear before you’d even know.

Share this image: 

The brakes on the Polo GT play a bit of a spoil sport. Although they bring the car to a dead halt from 80kph in respectable distance, they don’t have great feel and you won’t be too confident in panic-braking situations.

No bonus points for guessing the GT, with its smaller engine and more ratios, is more efficient. The GT will go 13.9 kilometres on the highway as against the i20’s 11.8. And in the city – with the lower ratios usually in play – the GT beats the i20 by a good 2.5 kilometres for every litre of petrol. The GT is quicker off the mark too; it’ll hit a ton in just 10.85 secs vis-à-vis the i20’s 13.18 seconds. The ECU on the Polo restricts the revs to just 1200rpm before taking off, with that out of the way; I reckon it can shave off a second and a half without much stress. The in-gear timings of the Polo GT are far quicker than that of the i20’s. And you need to be bonkers to think that Polo GT won’t have a great top whack. The Polo GT maxes out at 172kph and the i20 does that at 151kph.

Share this image: 

Both these cars are tuned to have a soft suspension setup to cope up with the horrible state of our roads. The i20 does the job of filtering the bumps a tad better than the Polo. Not that the Polo is bad in any way, but there’s always room for improvement. Its suspension makes a loud thud while going over larger potholes.

In the handling department, though, there’s a clear winner – the Polo GT TSI. The steering is light but not vague by any means and feedback too is good. There is a bit of weight movement on the body, but certainly not as bad as the i20. Overall, it gives you more of a sporty feel than the Hyundai.

If you stop reading right here, it’s a no brainer that the Polo GT wins this shootout by a fair margin. But hold that thought, there are more things worth considering.

Share this image: 

Features, for instance. The i20 gets a music system with USB and AUX inputs and Bluetooth connectivity, remote locking and a four-way adjustable steering wheel with audio controls like the Polo. It also gets a reversing camera and electrically folding mirrors that the German hatch misses out on. But you’ll be surprised to find the driver-height adjust missing on a car that’s otherwise well loaded.

In terms of cabin space, the i20 again has an upper hand. The rear seats are spacious and there’s enough room for three. The boot, at 295 litres, is a tad bigger too. There’s ample space behind the gear lever to stow your bottles and other tiny bits.

Share this image: 

Both these automatic hatches are not cheap by hatchback standards and the i20 auto is pegged at Rs 7.87 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), which is one and half lakh more expensive than the similarly specced 1.2 litre i20. That’s because the government doesn’t extend its excise benefits to that bigger engine. But it’s still cheaper than the Polo GT TSI, which will set you back by Rs 7.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi).

In spite of having similar power ratings and price tags, both these hatches have a completely different approach to having an auto ’box. The i20 is more of city dweller while the GT is out there to have fun on open roads. But although the GT misses out on some features, it packs in a lot more tech than the i20. It marks the beginning of a new era for hatches, or hot hatches if I may call it that, in India.

These premium hatches have fought hard one more time with their own upgrades and an auto ’box, but things are about to change in Round 2 of TG’s shootout of premium hatchbacks. With a superb small-capacity-high-power engine, super-sleek DSG and sufficient features, the Polo GT TSI has a clear edge over the i20 1.4 auto.

(Words: Agasti Kaulgi, Photos: Gagan Gupta & Nitin Rose)

Share this image: 

Hyundai i20 1.4 petrol 4-speed auto

1396cc, 4 cyl, petrol, 99bhp, 136Nm, 4A, FWD, 0-100kph: 13.18sec, 30-50kph: 2.67sec, 50-70kph: 3.87sec, 80-0kph: 2.28s, 26.06m, Max speed: 151kph, F.E.: City - 9.1kpl, Highway - 11.8kpl, Cost: Rs 7.87 lakh (ex-Delhi)

Rating – 5/10

VW Polo GT TSI

1197cc, 4cyl, petrol, 103bhp, 175Nm, 7A, FWD, 0-100kph: 10.85sec, 30-50kph: 1.89sec, 50-70kph: 2.48sec, 80-0kph: 25.35m, 2.27s, Max speed: 172kph, F.E.: City - 11.5kpl, Highway - 13.9kpl, Cost: Rs 7.99lakh (ex-Delhi)

Rating – 7/10

Next Story