Too hot into a corner? Just turn in and yank the handbrake
Too hot into a corner? Just turn in and yank the handbrake

Thrill of Driving or Riding? Volkswagen Polo GTI or Ducati 959 Panigale?

AM1: It has taken a while. The Polo GT TSI time and again comes to our office, shows us the great potential in the Polo chassis and goes back with a glimpse of Polo GTI in it. Just a glimpse. The Polo GTI is its daddy, the car that uses the compact dimensions to its advantage, its familiar hatch design to stay under the radar and that quick shifting DSG ’box to gain a decisive edge over other hotter hatchbacks. For the first time since its launch, the Polo GTI’s keys were mine for more than a weekend, the Lap of Mutha just outside our home base of Pune sent me an open invitation and after the weekend, I proclaimed the Polo GTI to be the most fun to drive thing on wheels in our backyard. Aatish disagrees.

Words : Anand Mohan (AM1) & Aatish Mishra (AM2)

AM2: The hills around the city suit a car like the GTI – nimble and powerful, but not so powerful as to get you into trouble. I can see why he likes it. However, the thing about Anand is he tends to be slightly one-dimensional in his approach to vehicles. He calls himself a ‘car guy’ and will drive anything under the sun. However, he refuses to swing a leg over anything on two wheels. The twisties around here though, are perfectly suited to a fast motorcycle. Small wonder then that any biker worth his salt can be seen caning his (or her) crotch rocket up the Lap of Mutha on any given day of the week. Time to erm… ride the talk then. Yes, we’re going to settle this on the road. Anand, meet the Ducati 959 Panigale.

“A motorcycle can out-accelerate a car, but give it a corner and everything slows down”

AM1: I’m cruising on one of the short straights when a Panigale on one wheel overtakes the GTI, screaming at twice the revs the GTI can think of. I tug the gear selector to Sport, drop two gears with the paddleshifter, and go pedal to metal. You never let a friend overtake you on one wheel and let him get away. Never. A few corners ahead, I spot the Panigale, only the rider seems to have had a change in wardrobe. The realisation hasn’t yet set in, all I’m thinking about is showing Aatish what it feels like to be overtaken round a bend. Round the outside. A motorcycle can out-accelerate a car, but give it a corner and everything slows down. Plus, Aatish on one wheel, how did that happen? I had to solve that mystery. The Polo GTI in its muted growl chasing a shrieking Ducati… good day at the office?

AM2: Maybe the Panigale is overkill. 155bhp – nearly as much as the Polo GTI, but in something that weighs nearly a sixth of the car? Overkill is an understatement. However, Anand needs to learn how much more fun something on two wheels can actually be. And just to scare him shitless I’ve brought along our resident stunter. Hrishi Mandke is a guy who loves motorcycles so much that he refuses to wear out the front tyre, riding around on one wheel wherever he can. He already showed up the GTI once, and is currently hiding in a bush somewhere up the road. I don’t think Anand has figured it out yet. In my rear view mirrors, I can see a determined face behind the wheel of the GTI chewing up bend after bend, his car leaning out of every corner as I lean in to them. We’ve reached the tighter section of the Lap of Mutha hill-climb and the Polo is gaining millimetres on me with each passing bend. Catching me is one thing, overtaking me is quite another.

AM1: Millimetres? A couple of car lengths is more like it. The Polo GTI does the 0-100kmph sprint in 7.2 seconds, which is fast, but compared to that beautiful Ducati under the not-so-beautiful man, it’s only half as fast. But I’ve got traction, loads of it. Four tyres staying glued to the tarmac, a pointy front end, a gearbox that drops gears faster than he can say his name properly, a chassis that doesn’t flex. He may have brought a gun to a sword fight but I’ve got the fastest sword in the business, slaying corners quicker than he can gobble up straights. Plus I’ve got air conditioning (and airbags – Ed). You know what a superbike does in the peak of summer in India? It doubles up as a barbecue stand. The heat must be cooking his thighs a medium rare while cutting out the chances of ever procreating. A quick approaching Polo GTI in his mirrors must be weakening his will to win because from the last time I saw him bolt past me, it’s a different Aatish riding.

Calm and composed, leaning in smoothly, but exiting corners with the fear of the wild thing snapping out from under his crotch. I’m on his tail, loving the surefootedness of the Polo GTI. The ride height on this car has gone up for India, ruining the stance, making it a peach on the speedbreakers in town and contributing to noticeable body roll in corners. Nothing alarming because the damping is just right and the steering is direct, the beautifully bolstered seats keeping you in place during enthusiastic cornering and, most of all, I don’t have to bother about shifting gears or falling off the car. For something that packs 189bhp in such a small footprint, it isn’t overwhelming. You can drive it like your regular Polo on most days, but on the day you visit your favourite driving road in your backyard, this VW is very potent. I suspect Aatish is having more fun though. The Polo GTI is clinical on these roads, but I could have done with a sport exhaust. He probably sees me in his mirrors but he can only hear the Panigale.

AM2: What instability? This is one of the most surefooted superbikes I’ve ever ridden! Three levels of ABS, eight levels of traction control, three levels of engine braking control, anti-wheelie, wet mode that limits the bike to 100bhp – that’s Ducati’s idea of a safety net. It really makes sure it can catch you no matter how big an idiot you are. But through all this, the Panigale delivers a more visceral experience than the Polo GTI ever can. It surges ahead every time I crack open the throttle, the twin cylinders of the desmo engine hollering through the twin pipes. Grip from the Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIs is mega, allowing you as much lean as you dare on a public road.

“You can see the passion, the sweat, the blood that goes in to making every motorcycle. There’s a reason their bikes are red”

It isn’t comfortable by any measure. Anand is right, my thighs are cooking and you sit all crouched up on the seat. This may not be much fun while pottering through traffic, but hit the twisties and you’ve got to be a real knob to be thinking about discomfort. Because on the twisties, the Panigale demands focus. It forces you to connect with it on a deeper level than simply man and machine. You sit inside it, and once you get in to a rhythm, you never want to stop. I’d pick this any day over the comfort of a car. Who needs air-conditioning when you’ve got 300 explosions happening between your legs every second (talking about the engine here, perverts).

The GTI badge sure has history – 40 years of it. But then Ducati’s is slighty (actually, a lot) more illustrious. You can see the passion, the sweat, the blood that goes in to making every motorcycle. There’s a reason their bikes are red.  And beyond that, it is just stunning to look at. At a standstill, it oozes sex appeal. On the go, it oozes more sex appeal. There’s not an angle that looks ungainly, not a curve that looks out of place. In comparison, the Polo looks… meh.

But then again, that’s what makes the Polo GTI special. It packs a punch, but never goes about shouting it from the ramparts. It looks sombre, almost mundane but will whoop cars twice its size once you let it off its leash. It has its own appeal, appeal that is the complete antithesis of everything that the Panigale stands for. Where the Italian is all about flair and panache, the German is more clinical and calculated in its approach.

AM1: Turns out Aatish found a few words of appreciation for the Polo GTI. It is that kind of car. You don’t shower it with praise, put it on a pedestal and worship it. You warm up to it. It’s your everyday hatch that happens to also go as fast as proper sportscars, only in a very unassuming manner. The thing is, it’s quick off the line with max torque available at a low 1250rpm, the turbocharger gives it a very strong mid-range, but somewhere near 5000rpm, there’s little steam left in it. That’s around the engine speed the Ducati enters its mid-range, and since it’s got a highly strung motor, it goes ballistic all the way to over 10,500rpm. Thankfully our favourite driving road isn’t an expressway. Honestly, you’ll have to hold me at gun point to make me say nice things about motorcycles over cars, but the Panigale is different. It’s one of the few motorcycles I find to be absolutely, soul stirringly, beautiful. And it’s bloody quick! Quick enough to get in to my good books.

All things considered, when the road twists on itself, the Polo GTI and the Panigale are perfect sparring partners. It’s also a nice dialogue between men and their machines, two wheels or four. If you go on rides with your mates on motorcycles all the time, try asking a guy in a fast car if he’d like to join. It’ll be a lot more fun.

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