You are here
Driven: 2018 VW Polo GTI
The Polo has survived in India, in the same generation, more than most cars do today. It's been 10 long years that Indians have been buying a car that's not gone through a generation change. Of course, it's received mid-life updates, but nothing that can be called significant. Two major reasons for that: the Polo looks and drives better than some of its recent competition even today and VW India isn't prepped to make the new Polo in India. 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 manufacture than the platform the current Polo is based on. While it's going to be a while that VW India setup up a manufacturing unit for the MQB architecture, the first new Polo that comes to our shores, through the CBU route, maybe this, the Polo GTI.
India isn't new to the GTI name anymore, with about 200 of them already on the roads. And if you have to get one for yourself, you probably can't as VW has already sold off all the ones it imported. And that brings us here, on the lovely racetrack called Ascari circuit, just off Malaga, Spain. The new Polo has grown in dimensions and it's also made to look more mature and grown up. It's still peculiarly Volkswagen, but it's now got sharper lines and a face that'll remind of its bigger brother, the Golf. To distinguish itself from the regular version, this, the GTI version, gets a different grille with red inserts on it. The overall styling, just like the previous generation, isn't overdone and things are meant to be understated.
The biggest upgrade that this Polo gets, in terms of design, is the way the cabin looks. Unlike the one before, this looks modern - it's got a big touchscreen with satnav, Bluetooth telephony and all the multimedia features you find in a modern car. There's a lot of use of bright colours in the cabin, like ample use of red on the dashboard and blue on the upholstery. The instrument cluster has gone all digital now 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 can even have more place for luggage.
This Polo has a lot of badges all over its body that says GTI. And that means business. Under the hood, making this hatch unimaginably quick, is a 2-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 1355kg. How fast? 6.7 seconds to 100kph fast. And what that means is that you can beat a BMW 330i to 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 doing this task and with all that tech and mechanicals to its aid, the Polo does come out as a well balanced hot hatch.
We drove the Polo GTI both, on road and on a racetrack and it's safe to say that it doesn't disappoint in both conditions. 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 an adaptive suspension, which may not be a great thing on the road. Spain, too, like India has got patches of broken road, and the GTI lacks in absorbing them. There's a loud thud every time it encounters a pothole, and the lack of travel on the suspension means it bottoms out if the pothole is slightly deeper. But with the way the GTI piles on speed and the way it handles curves, the harsh ride isn't that bad a bargain.
The GTI started as a secret project in the VW factory in the '70s and now, 40 odd years down, it's become a cult with three GTI models on offer. The Polo that sits between the Up! And the Golf is a perfect blend of fun and speed. It's predictive even while it's at its limit and you actually start enjoying the way it wiggles around hard braking or while you throw it hard around bends. There's a sense of connection between the man and the machine, making it one of the most fun hot hatches around.
The Polo GTI is your first ticket to the world of performance cars, and that itself is rewarding in a lot of ways. It's a big step up from an already capable car and with its bigger dimensions and more matured styling, it's certainly here to make a strong case for itself. While VW takes time to produce the regular MQB Polo in India, this might actually come into the dealerships before that. When? We don't really have an exact time frame, but it should be here the next year. Price, you ask? Well, as we reported earlier, MQB platform is expensive to produce and that will make the Polo GTI worth about Rs 30 lakh (ex-showroom). But what you get in that is a hot hatch in its real sense - it's quick, it's powerful and it'll be more than willing to put in a few hot laps around a racetrack.
Specs: 1968cc, 4cyl, 196bhp, 320Nm, 7A, FWD, 0-100kph: 6.7 seconds, top speed: 237kph, estimated price: Rs 30 lakh (ex-showroom)
Verdict: Matured in terms of styling, offers more space and is better balanced and quicker than the outgoing model