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The Polo GTI uses the same EA888 engine as the Skoda Octavia.
The Polo GTI uses the same EA888 engine as the Skoda Octavia.

VW Polo goes the hot-hatch way

Volkswagen wants to reclaim the hot-hatch mantle in India, and the GTI-badged Polo is a step in that direction

photoThe hot-hatch market is heating up. With the Fiat Punto Abarth stealing the hot-hatch crown from the Polo GT TSI, Volkswagen (VW) is going to try and reclaim its top-dog position by bringing the ultimate version of the Polo hatchback to India. This one, in fact, wears the legendary three-lettered moniker—GTI.

The Polo GTI, officially launched at the 2016 Auto Expo in the Capital, will drive into showrooms around September.

You may wonder whether there is a market for pumped-up versions of an everyday hatch. The launch of the Punto Abarth reverberated through cyberspace, with fanboys maintaining that it was the best thing since internal combustion—but how many Abarths has Fiat managed to sell? The figure is in minuscule double digits.

The truth is that hot hatches in India never sell because when it comes to signing on the dotted line, buyers vote with their wallets, not their hearts. VW, however, is not interested in numbers, something that’s quite obvious when you consider the two things the company has done that could limit sales to an exclusive group. First, the Polo GTI will be a sold as a three-door hatch instead of a regular five-door. It’s a risky strategy because India has no history of three-doors (except for the Maruti Suzuki’s 2003 limited-edition Zen Carbon and Zen Steel hatchbacks). The second and bigger deterrent could be the price—the Polo GTI is expected to cost upwards of 20 lakh. Not many people will be willing to fork out that kind of money for a hot hatch.

Hard-core (and rich) enthusiasts, however, will know that the Polo GTI isn’t just another hot hatch. It signals the entry of VW’s performance badge into India—the badge has a long history of turning regular cars into ones that you’ll want to tear up the tarmac with. Here’s an account of what it is like to drive.

Only one word describes the grip on the Polo GTI—ceaseless. Its tyres cling to the tarmac as if glued on. The chassis is so well-sorted and the handling so predictable that you almost always end up attacking corners at astonishing speeds. It is also tuned to be sure-footed and confidence-inspiring, which makes the GTI effortless to drive quickly. Unlike a regular Polo, the steering, too, is quick, accurate and nicely weighted. If there’s one thing lacking, it’s a bit of feedback from the road—it feels like you are driving with gloves on. Also, the GTI feels a touch nose-heavy and doesn’t eagerly dart into corners, and its pointy chin and reduced ground clearance may be of concern in India, where speed breakers have to be treated with respect. However, despite the sportier suspension set-up, the ride quality doesn’t suffer greatly and the Polo GTI feels stiff but not harsh. The true test, however, will be on our broken roads.

If there is one thing that can tempt you to part with your savings for the GTI, it’s the 1.8-litre turbo-petrol engine. It’s essentially the same EA888 engine that powers the Skoda Octavia sedan, but is even more potent, cranking out 189 bhp. And unlike the Octavia, the 1,272kg Polo GTI is significantly lighter; do the math and you will find out that this hatch has a power-to-weight ratio not far behind an Audi TT sports car.

According to VW, the Polo GTI bolts from 0-100 kmph in a remarkable 6.7 seconds; that is over 2 seconds quicker than the Punto Abarth. The claimed figure is identical for both the six-speed manual, and the dual-clutch DSG (direct-shift gearbox) versions of the car, though the latter is the only one that will make it to India. Adding to the good news is the rated top speed of 236 kmph, which makes it quicker than many luxury sedans.

Visually, however, there’s no hint of the blistering performance that lurks beneath—the GTI doesn’t look very different from a normal Polo. Yes, it sits squatter, on muscular wheel arches that bulge to accommodate those fat tyres, and there are two doors less, but the body panels are essentially the same. However, you do get GTI cues like the honeycomb grille that merges into the lights, red accents here and there, the flat-bottomed steering wheel with the GTI logo, and GTI badging at the front and back.

The truth is, it is hard to justify a car that asks for so many bucks for the bang. But what a bang it is. In real-world conditions, it’s power-to-size that matters and no car optimizes that ratio as well as the Polo GTI.

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