Words: Amit Chhangani
Images: Amit Chhangani and Yatharth Chauhan
After having driven all sorts of exciting machines in my career as a motoring journo, I’ll have to say, I’m a minimalist. I prefer hatchback to sedans, everyday cars to exotics and understated sophistication to flash. I’ve had various favorite hatchbacks over the years. I absolutely loved the previous generation Swift 1.3 DDiS Swift which I had for more than a year as my ride. The communicative steering wheel (they’ve killed it on the new one), the light yet balanced body and the shitty, grip-less 165 section JK Tyre Tornados helped me feel like one Ken Block around twisties. I took the car to a 1200 km roundtrip to Konkan (the deserted coastal heaven) once. When I set off, the wheels were more akin to a lanky lad with Afro hair. By the time I came back they were fit to have been fielded for the position of the President of the Baldies’ Association of India.
I loved the Fabia 1.4 diesel for its fuel efficiency, its vice like grip and poise on the road. I loved it for the space it offered and its sunroof, and I loathed its initial lack of grunt. To sum it up, I have driven a multitude of production hatchbacks in India, quite a few of which I have been impressed with, but none of them have been able to blow my mind away completely.
Until I drove the car in question here, that is. The Polo 1.6 TDI – the single most exciting and engaging mainstream production hatchback I have driven in this part of the world. Having always been a sucker for torquey diesel machines which make going fast in the real world a hassle-free affair, the Polo 1.6 TDI absolutely floored me. This review, thus, is more a mark of respect to the explosive hatchback than a technical drilldown.
Any discussion on the Polo 1.6 GT, especially in our world of visibly fit, but in point of fact asthmatic cars has to revolve around its engine, the fountainhead of all its stimulating vigor and zest. It’s a demon with an angelic smile. It’s got the mischief of Loki with the power and sensibilities of Thor. The 1.6 liter turbo diesel in question here is a polar opposite of its smaller 1.2 sibling, powering the regulation Polo cars.
Unlike its little brother who loves to get playful, makes a lot of noise and cannot resist itself from touching that redline every now and then, this one’s got substance where it matters the most. This one’s more linear with much less turbo lag and enough sub 2000 rpm punch to let you surge ahead without having to touch the shifter stick. While the 1.2 wants you to hold it by its collar and throttle it before it goes to work, this one performs at your faintest command.
Let’s talk about the yummy specs first. The big TDI diesel which also powers the Vento and Rapid in India has a peak power output rating of 105bhp at 4400 rpm. More importantly, it produces the class topping, 250 Nm of torque at a low 1500 rpm. Now, with 1156kg of kerb weight the GT TDI is about 10 kg heavier than its 1.2 TDI (Highline) propelled sibling, but that doesn’t matter when you have about 30bhp of extra power and 70Nm of additional torque.
The GT TDI is urgent right from the word go with the restless engine allowing it to accelerate hard from a standstill. Although not as noisy as its 1.2 brethren, this engine is as rev-happy and keeps spinning fervently all the way up to 5000 rpm. What that means in effect is that the Polo GT TDI, apart from offering fantastic in-gear acceleration has a commendable top whack too, and it doesn’t pant or puff getting there. How does a top speed of 190km/h sound for a small hatch? And the way this thing gets there has to be experienced to be believed.
The most impressive thing about the GT TDI’s engine is its low rev (1200-2000 rpm) response – the engine speed region where most cars spend more than 80 percent of their lives. The engine has some life to it even when the turbo has not spooled up properly; it pulls with some faith even below 1500 rpm, after which the turbo inducted torque begins making itself evident. The whip gets cracked post 2000rpm, after which you can feel a strong torrent of torque flowing through the machine’s mechanicals. It surges ahead with unmatched urgency even in higher gears. No need for a downshift, no hassle of building revs – just dab that right food and the speedo needle will trace the curve clockwise at an unusual pace. With all that power and torque available within the useable spectrum, the GT TDI feels like one hell of an effortless car to drive fast.
The icing on the cake is the small hatch’s baffling poise and predictability on the limit. The underpinnings of this German machine have been honed in the Mecca of well engineered performance automobiles for the past 43 years. There is absolutely no nervousness, no twitchiness and no sense of doubt even at the very peak of its performance range, especially when compared with its peers in India. The Polo is endowed with a set of four very confident 15 inch wheels shod with equally capable 185 section Apollo Acelere rubber. Riding on McPherson Struts up front and a semi-independent trailing arm unit at the rear, the Polo in both its GT and regulation avatars forms the absolute benchmark for dynamic ability in a straight line. Even the less powerful 1.2 TDI comes shod with wide 185 section rubber, underlining Volkswagen’s focus on vehicle stability than artificially achieved fuel efficiency figures.
The delightful engine on the Polo TD GTI is married to a five speed manual transmission. The clutch on the car has the right weight, but a tad longer travel than ideal. The gear stick falls perfectly to the left palm and the shift action is short, sweet and smooth with just the right feedback. While we don’t have any complaints with the transmission offered as standard with the Polo GT TDI, we would have loved to see the dual clutch DSG perform duty here. The smaller engined GT TSI, with the addition of the DSG has become one of the most advanced drivers’ cars in the segment – and we’re sure the 1.6 TDI would have delighted even more with some help from the auto tranny.
The electric steering on the car feels light at slow speeds, and weighs up reasonably as the speed builds up, though we wouldn’t have minded an even heavier, more German feel at higher speeds. The lightness doesn’t take anything from the precision of the steering though, and it’s a point and shoot affair with the Polo’s wheel in your hands. Look, adjust speed, and go – the Polo tackles the bends like an adept acrobat. There is a wee bit of body roll, but its well within acceptable limits and perfectly acceptable for a production car meant for the real world.
While we would not be able to pin point the changes made to the suspension in terms of spring ratings or other details, the fact remains that the GT TDI has more torque to handle with a bigger engine in the bay. While the basic architecture remains the same, the engineers at VW have made changes to the suspension in a manner that the car doesn’t feel reluctant to turn or inundated with torque around corners. I still remember having once driven the Getz 1.6 CRDi around some twisties near Pune – the car suffered from massive understeer, the wheels overpowering the car’s natural trajectory with the uncontrollable amount of torque at hand. The car had a tendency to run crazily wide every time you threw it around bends. Thankfully, there is no such problem here. There is a wee bit of understeer when you enter sharper corners too fast, but we don’t think that’s anything worth a worry. The boffins at VW should be congratulated for being able to deal with the substantial addition of torque without letting the neutrality of the car getting affected at all.
The Polo has its ride quality and handling as one of its USP’s. It handles all surfaces well without getting jarring, and is at its very best when at higher speeds. Unfortunately interior space is not much to write home about, even with the impeccable quality and finish inside the cabin. You can read all about the Polo’s interior and cabin features in our previous Cross Polo review here.
With the nose getting heavier thanks to the bigger engine, and the brakes remaining the same as on the Polo 1.2 TDI, the GT TDI does feel a wee bit wanting in terms of stopping power. Not that the GT TDI doesn’t have sufficient braking power, but a bit more bite, sharpness and feel for such a powerful and heavy car would have been welcome.
In all, in terms of power, handling and fun to drive factor, the Polo GT TDI presents itself as a one-of-its-kind package. It outclasses any other model in its class with its engineering prowess and entertainment value. The Polo 1.2 TSI GT is equally entertaining with a punchy engine and the beautiful 7 speed DSG dual clutch auto transmission manages to win it some extra brownie points. However, with a petrol burning unit it isn’t as frugal or economical to run. Also, it doesn’t have the all conquering diesel torque which makes a car incredibly easy to drive fast. We’d rate both cars equally in terms of fun to drive factor, with the GT TDI taking the cake for its mightier punch and higher top whack.
The cramped cabin is the biggest negative quality of the Polo that we could put a finger on. Having said that we don’t really think this particular variant is meant for the family oriented blokes – it’s a fun machine and would be bought and enjoyed by those who’re looking perennially at excuses to drive.
In addition the car is not distinguished enough from its less expensive variants. A GT badge on the grille and the hatch are the only two differences between the GT and the regulation variants. While I personally prefer that, being a subscriber of the ‘sleeper racer’ school of thought, I am sure most people putting their money on this expensive car wouldn’t concur. Side skirts, special color schemes, more aggressive bumpers – there could have been a thousand ways this go-faster Polo could have announced its arrival more loudly. VW, however, took the pains to make vital changes in areas that mattered and left the cosmetic bits unaltered.
The Polo GT TDI is available in only one, top of the line Highline variant will all the bells and whistles. The equipment level on the car is commendable and the quality, as with all VW products is immaculate. Inside the car, you get a set of aluminium pedals with rubber studs and unique Polo GT branding on the front door sills as differentiating elements.
Just like the rest of the Highline trim Polo cars, the GT TDI also gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake along with twin airbags and ABS. Other important features include parking sensors, steering mounted audio controls, driver seat height adjustment and a tilt-telescopic adjustable steering wheel. Moreover, you really have to see the quality of the interior to believe it for this segment – its’ head and shoulder above competition.
The Polo 1.6 TDi may not be the most correct choice for a market driven by low price tags and high fuel efficiencies. However, for the discerning customer, a car cannot get more correct than this. I am a sucker for diesel cars, as I appreciate their usability, performance and frugality in the real world. I also love the fact that their efficiency, unlike petrol cars doesn’t swing too drastically depending on your driving style.
Space is one of the lacunae with the Polo in general, and so it is with the GT TDI as well, but apart from that, I believe that it’s the best machine you can buy for Rs 8.1 lakh ex-showroom if going fast, and getting entertained is the only thing on your mind. It’s officially the best mainstream drivers’ diesel hatchback I have ever driven in India.
Polo GT 1.6 TDI Tech Specs and features
Features as specified in the official brochure (Click to Expand)
VW Polo GT TDI Image gallery