Abarth Punto Evo  v VW Polo GT TSI

Abarth Punto Evo v VW Polo GT TSI

Fiat fans rejoice. In fact, fans of all things small and fast rejoice because come this Diwali, you’ll be able to walk into a Fiat showroom and buy this tyre-smoker. The Abarth Punto Evo’s got 145bhp under its pretty hood, has reworked spring and damper rates, a lower ride height and in case I forgot to mention it, it’s an Abarth! Woohoo! It could be our first bonafide hot hatch, so I suggest you chew on that thought for a bit and feel your pulse quicken.

Handles well and rides well. Bravo Abarth!

I say it could be our first hot hatch because there’s still plenty of stuff that needs to be measured before it gets our certificate – the gearing could be wrong, the engine could be tuned for efficiency (ugh!), the ride could be too hard to live with and so on and so forth. There’s only one way to find out if the Abarth Punto Evo is the genuine article and that is to take it to our favourite road. As a subjective measure, we’ve also brought along India’s only other petrol ‘hot’ hatch – the Polo GT TSI. Like the Abarth, it’s turbocharged and unlike the Italian, it’s available only with a (very capable) twin-clutch automatic. Also, the Polo costs circa Rs.10 lakh and that’s what Fiat says they will be asking for the Abarth Punto Evo. 145bhp for `10 lakh! Gosh! That’s value for money peeps. It’s bang for buck.

Polo GT TSI available only with a seven-speed DSG auto

That 145bhp manifests itself through quite a bit of lag and then, as the engine crosses 2000rpm, a great big whump of torque forces the front wheels to break traction. It will spin to 6500rpm, but is at its best when you keep it running in its strong mid-range. You keep it spinning there via a five-speed manual that, sadly, is quite rubbery and imprecise but you’ll learn to accurately guide it through the gates soon enough.

1.4-litre T-Jet makes 145bhp

Drive it correctly and the Abarth will hit 100kmph in 9.3 seconds which makes it the fastest budget hatchback in the country. Yes, that’s about a second faster than the GT TSI which, by the way, doesn’t have the same mid-range punch as the Punto. The Polo is quick in its own right, but the Abarth feels far beefier on boost. The Polo’s TSI engine makes up some ground by being more refined than the Abarth’s 1.4-litre T-Jet and if you stick the DSG gearbox in manual mode, you’d be surprised by how enthusiastic it is when you ask for downshifts.

The Abarth’s magic isn’t in the numbers though – where it really shines through is the way the boost surges in when you’ve got your foot down. The gearing feels short and close ratioed, so everytime you snap up the next gear, the revs drop to where the boost begins and it’s another rush to the redline. I don’t think it will have the top-speed capability of the Polo GT TSI because of its short gearing and fewer gears (seven to five), but on a hill road, it’s an absolute hoot. The Punto finally has an engine that allows you to exploit its excellent chassis.

The Abarth does a 0-100kmph sprint in 9.3 seconds

And so the day goes, Abarth and GT chasing each other up the road. Driven well (and that means managing on-boost understeer), the Abarth will pull quite the lead on the Polo. It feels better poised, turns in sharper, feels more settled through corners and thanks to its sharp, strong brakes, allows you to get on the anchors later as well. You can thank the 20mm drop in ride height and the disc brakes at all four corners for that (the Polo gets drums at the rear).

Abarth gets disc brakes on all four wheels

Puntos have always been good handling cars and this one is even better. The steering feels a bit tighter than the one in the regular Punto and it likes quick changes of direction. As long as you’re not on full boost the front tyres will find enough grip to take you round the corner at shocking speeds. If you do insist on leadfooting it through the corner, the car slips into progressive understeer and, in extreme cases, spins away power through the unloaded inside wheel (there’s no ESP or traction control). Drive it smoothly though and you won’t believe the staggering real world pace it has.

Dash looks a bit old school now but who cares

Corner hard where there’s less grip in the GT TSI and the traction control steps in and cuts power to keep you on the road, which can be annoying. Even when you turn it off, it will cut back in if it thinks you’ve lost your marbles. The brakes feel soggier, the soft suspension allows a lot more float over the crests and dips of this road and that, more than anything else, forces you to back off and allows the car to settle on its springs again.

There’s not a single Fiat badge anywhere on the Abarth

The other thing about the Abarth – the suspension, for the handling prowess it allows, is superb in the way it deals with bumps. It’s important because it makes for an exciting car that you can easily use everyday without having a chiropractor on your emergency dial list.

There are some really annoying things about the Abarth though and it has everything to do with the way you sit when you drive it. The steering doesn’t have enough rake adjust, there’s no reach adjust, and this has implications especially if you, like me, are of average height. When you adjust the seat for the correct distance from the pedals, the steering is too close to you. Because you’re not entirely comfortable, you take more time to adjust to the car, to get a feel of what its doing.

Even the pedals have the scorpion on them

The Polo on the other hand offers reach and rake adjust for the steering and you generally feel like you are sitting in the car rather than on it. Also, the Polo’s plastics and finish is better than the Abarth’s. That squared-off steering wheel, the silver accents on the dashboard, the high-quality gearlever they all point to the German attention to detail.  The Punto’s dash feels a bit old school in comparison and, you don’t get i20 levels of equipment either.

But really, when a car is this much fun to drive, who cares? The Abarth Punto Evo is fast, it’s fun and it is a genuine hot hatch. Time to break out the bubbly.

Abarth Punto Evo specifications:

Engine: In-line 4-cyl, 1368cc, turbo-petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power: 143bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque: 211Nm @ 2000-4000rpm
Weight: 1150kg(est)
0-100kmph: 9.3sec
Top speed: 200kmph(est)
Price: Rs.10 lakh (est)

Evo India rating: 4/5

VW Polo GT TSI specifications:

Engine: In-line 4-cyl, 1197cc, turbo-petrol
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Power: 103bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque: 175Nm @ 1500-4100rpm
Weight: 1158kg
0-100kmph: 10.8sec
Top speed: 195kmph
Price: Rs.9.09 lakh

Evo India rating: 3.5/5

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