Call it childish but when I first heard I was heading to Sardinia, I could only think of sardines! That isn’t far off the mark—after all, the fish was named after the island in the Mediterranean, now an autonomous region of Italy. I travelled there to test the all-new Volkswagen Polo, a significant model for VW and for our market too, since it will be launched in India in January.
Minutes after touching down at Olbia, we got a short briefing about the car and possible route. It was a 25-minute drive to Porto Cervo, and I picked the 1.4 litre petrol for the first leg. The countryside was part brush, part rock, and every now and then I got a glimpse of the gorgeous emerald Mediterranean.
At the hotel, we got to switch cars—and this time I opted for the 1.6 litre diesel in fiery red. On the diesel variant, in fact, I tried both the six-speed manual and the seven-speed DSG transmissions as well.
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The roads in Sardinia were perfect for testing this car since they weren’t too wide, and the surface was rough and broken at times—somewhat like our roads. Some winding hilly stretches added to the fun. The car’s handling is very sweet, taking to both high- and low-speed driving with panache. The new Polo is very much like its big sister, the Golf, in that sense. The Golf has always been the performance-oriented hatch, while the Polo and Fox were considered more utility-oriented, compact cars from Volkswagen. But not any more. The new Polo is a treat to drive, though we will get a slightly different version in India. Our Polo will have a raised ground clearance, higher spec tyres and different engines too. Plus, there will be no automatic transmission—at least for starters. The Polo will debut with the same 1.2 litre petrol engine currently available on the Skoda Fabia. This will be followed by an all-new 1.2 litre turbo diesel and a 1.6 litre petrol engine. The expected price range is Rs5-6.5 lakh. A longer wheelbase sedan variant will follow a few months after the Polo debut.
Hot wheels: VW’s Polo makes its India debut in January.
The Splash has debuted in India as the Maruti Ritz. It doesn’t come with just a new name: It has slightly different styling from the European car, and a new 1.2 litre petrol engine. The Ritz is tall and roomy for a car in its class. The rear is attractive, though I find the front styling a bit boring. The looks fit in with the Swift and A-Star-like styling DNA that Suzuki has evolved. On the inside, the design is refreshingly different, especially the AC vents and central console. The part I love best is the two-toned dash with blue and grey plastics, depending on the exterior paint colour. The Ritz drives well, and that includes the 1.3 litre diesel engine borrowed from the Swift. I found the petrol to be the better ride of the two. The diesel seems a bit clunky, with vibrations creeping into the cabin. But overall, the Ritz gets my vote as the ideal city hatch.
The prices were indeed a surprise, since the Ritz was expected to be a touch more expensive than the Swift. It is, in fact, priced right on par, at Rs3.90-4.99 lakh. And here is the point I would like to make. The Ritz was meant to be Maruti’s way of taking on the Hyundai i20, Fiat’s Grande Punto and even the upcoming VW Polo and Honda Jazz, to some extent. But seeing the value proposition and the compact size of the car, the Ritz seems more likely to eat into the share of the popular Swift. And that could be a potential problem for Maruti rather than its competition.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor (auto), NDTV. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org