Driven: Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI

The VW Polo gets the new 1.0 TSI motor and mild visual tweaks. Is it worthy of your attention over the Nios Turbo and Swift?
The Polo with the new 1.0 TSI engine retains its fun-to-drive traits
The Polo with the new 1.0 TSI engine retains its fun-to-drive traitsVolkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI

Ten years after being launched in India, the Volkswagen Polo has got yet another lease of life with the new 1-litre TSI engine. It goes up against the only other turbo-petrol hatchback, the Hyundai i10 Nios Turbo, now that both the Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS and Tata Tiago JTP haven’t been upgraded to the new BS6 emission norms. And of course it also rivals the other naturally-aspirated cars in the segment including the best-selling Maruti Suzuki Swift, Baleno, Hyundai Elite i20, Ford Figo and the new Tata Altroz.

Volkswagen Polo is unchanged, both inside and out

First impressions from the crew are quizzical looks and, “this is new?” questions. Visually there really isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before. The nose is very mildly tweaked with the GTI-effect black honeycomb grille with a chrome strip at the bottom. There are new side skirts and a mock diffuser effect on the rear bumper. In fact the most obvious visually cue is the TSI Power sticker on the rear door and a honeycomb sticker above it — which I would take off immediately were I to buy this car. That said, it’s a testament to the inherent rightness of the Polo’s design that 10 years later it still looks handsome. Clean, uncluttered, unfussy and elegant lines means you slap on a new colour on the Polo and the photographers insist on positioning it in the centre of a group shot because it enhances the picture.

The Polo is poised through the corners
The Polo is poised through the corners Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI

The stickers are unique to the TSI Edition along with a blacked-out roof, spoiler, and wing mirrors. On the inside it gets all-black interiors that are as familiar as the heat in summer but, and again a testament to the inherent rightness of this car, aren’t an eyesore. In fact the flat-bottom steering wheel is the nicest you will find on any car at this price, both a tactile and visual delight. Of course it gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and though the 6.5-inch screen is small by today’s standards it does do its job rather well. The seat is height adjustable, the steering adjusts for reach and rake (which, surprisingly, most cars in this segment do not offer!), the ergonomics are spot on and there’s no sunroof. VW’s chassis engineers refusing to compromise torsional rigidity and safety to pander to this sunroof obsession that we have. And, oh, I’d forgotten how horribly cramped the back seat is! Basically, on the outside and inside nothing has changed.

New 1.0 TSI engine on the VW Polo

The new 1.0 TSI engine makes 5bhp more than the old GT TSI to put out 108.5bhp and the torque remains the same at 175Nm. The main difference, with this manual gearbox, is that you can launch it properly. To ensure longevity, the electronics on the GT’s DSG gearbox didn’t let you make full-bore standing starts, taking off lazily till the turbo spooled up at 2000rpm and got a proper move on. With the manual you can rev it to 4000rpm, slip the clutch, spin up the front tyres and launch it with full energy — and that is what cuts nearly a second off the 0-100kmph time, to now dip just under 10 seconds. The engine revs happily to 6700rpm but it does it best work in the mid range, and it’s best to shift around 5500 rpm. As for the crucial low- and mid-range this new engine is on par with the old 1.2, which is a good thing indeed. With the engine on the boil above 2000rpm there is a strong rush of turbo-torque, and mashing the throttle tips your head back into the headrest (and eliciting grumbles from your passengers). Below that? Well, turbo lag is not massive but you don’t really have much on offer and won’t be making swift progress. In terms of the fun to drive factor, if the GT TSI was an 8 on 10, this new TSI is a 9 on 10.

The heart of the matter
The heart of the matterVolkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI

Refinement of new 1.0 TSI engine

This new engine is an exemplar of downsizing. You don’t lose out on power, you get better efficiency (claimed 18.24 kmpl), the power delivery remains as strong, and it delivers more smiles. What it doesn’t improve upon is refinement. The 1.2 4-cylinder motor was smooth and lovely. This 3-cylinder is, how do I put this, 3-cylinder-y. There is that typical irregular idle that you can feel though the seat of your pants and the motor is no paragon of silence. Unlike Japanese engines that are so silent while idling that you think they’re switched off, this motor is audible and gets progressively more vocal as you go up the revs. There’s only a hint of turbo whistle and barely any blow-off noise but overall I like the engine noise. In normal course I’d slam it as being gruff but the crucial difference here is that the increase in noise is accompanied by a proportional increase in speed — which means your brain equates it to a sporty noise. This is unlike, say, the Polo’s naturally-aspirated 3-cylinder that is similarly noisy when revved hard but hardly moves and thus gets grating. So all of your wondering about the refinement, don’t worry, more than anything you will enjoy the noise.

Manual gearbox on the 1.0 TSI

You also enjoy using the manual gearbox. This, too, is no exemplar of slickness and has a typical Volkswagen shift action in that it is a bit beefy, and takes a little more effort than the (cliche alert!) hot-knife-through-butter Japanese ’boxes. But it is precise, direct and encourages you to row through the gears. Is it better than the DSG? Are apples better than oranges? If you want an automatic you will definitely miss the DSG since the new GT will now get a 6-speed torque converter and I cannot imagine it coming close to the DSG’s benchmarks. On the other hand enthusiasts have always cried about the omission of a manual gearbox in the TSI Polo — and this now answers their prayers. I asked Alameen, our filmmaker, for his opinion as a keen driver and owner of a GT TSI, and he says this new Polo with the manual is 15 per cent more fun to drive (he’s a very precise chap, our Alameen). And going forward you will have plenty of go-faster parts to play with as the Polo TSI will be rallied, the engine will find its way into race cars, tuners in India will go to work extracting more horses from the engine, and in any case there’s no dearth of parts in the global tuner market.

Excellent ride and handling of the VW Polo

In terms of the ride and handling, nothing has changed. The ride remains planted and rock steady, capable of maxing out the speedo on the expressway and not turning your hair or knuckles white. The VW Polo is the most planted and stable hatchback on sale today and that’s thanks to the very high torsional rigidity of the body shell. It is the reason why it is so heavy (190kg more than the Swift for perspective) but also feels (and is!) so safe. It delivers sure-footed handling with plenty of front-end bite, and an absolute refusal to do anything funny unless you yank the handbrake (no traction control or ESP any more). The steering remains lifeless and there is body roll but the chassis grips tenaciously, there’s a determined resistance to understeer and aided by the Goodyear tyres on our test car (195/65 R 16) the Polo can be flung into corners at surprisingly high velocities. It makes you smile, like no ten year old car should.

Corners it's happy to tackle
Corners it's happy to tackleVolkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI

Volkswagen have got the pricing right!

What you see here is the TSI Edition, priced at Rs 7.89 lakh rupees. That’s very good pricing! To put that into perspective the Nios Turbo (with less power) is Rs 7.7 lakh while the top end Swift (with much less power!) is Rs 7.58 lakh. In fact it is only the Skoda Rapid TSI that undercuts the Polo TSI on price, and that is the Rider variant with considerably less equipment. Makes you wonder, had VW got the pricing right from day one we’d have a new Polo already. But the past is the past. This is the new VW and while the engineers have made the best driver’s car in this segment even better, the accountants have also realised that without the right pricing nobody will be interested. On this mega-important aspect then, the Polo TSI is now sorted. In fact you could say this new(ish) Polo is the first fruit of VW’s India 2.0 game plan, and the all-round excellence of this (kinda) new Polo bodes very well for the Taigun that’s coming next year.

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