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The Volkswagen Polo and this magazine are inextricably entwined – so much so, that the Polo was partially responsible for the creation of evo India. We look back over the years gone by to see how the Polo has been the centre of our enthusiast focused stories
If there was a car that was solely responsible for kick-starting evo India magazine back in 2013, it was the humble Volkswagen Polo. You would think a performance car magazine was inspired by the high-octane, fire-breathing supercars of the day but no – it was a humble hatchback with aspirations far beyond the daily commute that did the job. Four car enthusiasts from Pune, including editor Sirish, had formed a team called Slideways Industries to participate in the national rally championship. They were the first to develop the Polo for the INRC, the first to rally it, and the first to claim a class win with it as well – in its debut rally, no less. While hooning around in the Polo, they realised that despite the abundance of automotive media in India, none of them quite portrayed the enthusiasm they had for cars. They decided to put together a magazine that authentically captured the joy they had rallying, but more importantly, reflected the joy of motoring and the fun that you can have with cars. With their combined expertise, they put together the first issue of evo India in October 2013 and there has been no looking back since!
By 2013, Karun had established himself as one of India’s top drivers by breaking in to F1. However, a conversation with Ed convinced him to strap himself into a rally car – something he hadn’t done in quite a few years. What followed was Karun rediscovering the joys of driving on dirt in the Slideways Polo. “The Polo is a very forgiving car to drive. I had no navigator but was able to avert sticky situations without huge drama. The car is very well-balanced and with the short wheelbase and the lack of overhang without a boot it feels quite nimble,” he wrote.
For the launch issue of evo India, we decided to pit the Polo Cup car that had been setting racetracks alight, against the recently launched Polo GT TSI. The GT TSI looked unassuming – much like the Polos that preceded it with their frugal but unenthusiastic 3-pot engines. However, under the hood was the most advanced motor we had seen in a hatchback of its size. Race on Sunday, sell on Monday – the GT TSI was born of that very philosophy. It was a bastion of performance when it was launched and remained so until as recently as last year.
The first Polo (that was not a Slideways rally car) to feature in the evo India fleet was the Polo GT TDI. This one featured a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine that put out a healthy 250Nm and we wanted to see if a diesel car could make a good hot hatch. We took it on shoots, commuted in it, did inter-city runs and even took it on a rally recce! The conclusion? It was “fast, fun and easy on the pocket”.
The first time Global NCAP picked up a bunch of cars from India to crash test, the results were abysmal. Volkswagen was the first manufacturer to step it up on the safety front, making dual airbags standard on all variants. With airbags, the Polo scored a 4-star rating in the crash tests making it the safest car tested. The reputation of the Polo’s safety preceded it, with many buyers recognising the superior engineering and build quality that was inherent in the Polo. Even today, nearly a decade later, the Polo remains one of the safest cars in its class.
A motorsport event like no other, in the lush mountains of the North-East – the Arunachal Festival of Speed, or AFOS, was a proving ground for enthusiasts with its unique format. It comprised a 4km sprint, a hill climb and an autocross section – making it a unique challenge. Gaurav Gill absolutely decimated the competition, winning by a significant margin proving what a great driver he was, and how potent the Polo could be in the right hands!
A few months after the Slideways Industries rally team debuted at the 2013 Nashik Rally, the team grew into the largest in the INRC with 8 Rally Polos being entered including one for Production World Rally Champion, Karamjit Singh. That kick-started development of the R2-spec Polo together with VW Motorsport factory engineers. The silverware pictured above at the 2014 Nashik rally was a regular haul for the team – the reliability of the Polo along with its speed ensuring all the team cars finished on the podium in every class they entered. In 2013 Slideways Industries also lifted the team championship.
The GT TSI made an appearance in the evo India fleet and there was no need to verify its performance cred like on the TDI. Instead, in its short stint with us, we took it to an airstrip where we could properly unleash its performance. We tested it and racked up a 0-100kmph time of just over 10 seconds and maxed it out at 192kmph. And once that was done, we indulged in some hoonery. This may have been a front-wheel drive car but that didn’t stop us from yanking the handbrake and getting some spectacular sideways action.
The cover story of the December 2019 issue of evo India was this – taking the Volkswagen Polo GTI, a bona fide hot hatch to meet the Vento Cup car. The GTI badge is steeped in motorsport history, and it only made sense to pay a visit to the VW Motorsport facilities in India. Both cars ran TSI engines with DSG gearboxes and after spending a day in both, it was concluded that as exciting as the Cup car is, it is too harsh for the road. You need something softer, something less loud. And that car was the Polo GT.
In December 2017, we put together an epic story titled “The Fastest of its Kind” where we brought the fastest cars in their respective genres to celebrate speed. The Polo GTI was repping the hatchbacks, and was in fancy company among Ferraris, Porsches, Audis and Aprilias. The GTI had already impressed us a good deal – earlier that year it won the ‘Thrill of Driving’ award at the Times Auto Awards powered by evo India. This particular picture was taken at the jury round as the sun set on the Kari Motor Speedway.
We took the R2-spec rally Polo built by Volkswagen Motorsport to the podium at the Popular rally! The R2 car has a highly tuned engine, a sequential gearbox, better brakes, revised suspension geometry – a huge step up on the Group N-spec cars like those from the Slideways Industries days. The Ed may have been rusty from all that time away from rallying, but he still managed to bang in two fastest stage times and finish second to Gaurav Gill!
Outside of motorsport, this is possibly the wildest story we have attempted in a Volkswagen Polo – we tried to scale the highest peak in West Bengal in the Polo GT TDI. There is a narrow trail leading up to the peak, one that is traversed only by the most hardy 4x4s to carry supplies to the Army camp at the top. The Polo braved steep climbs, rutted tracks, rain and hail and just about made it to the top before it started raining. The Polo was the first car to conquer the 4x4 track proving its incredible capabilities and its tenacity – a fitting tenth anniversary celebration.
Over the years, the Polo has had a number of engines under the hood – from 1-litre to 1.8-litre and everything in between. For 2020, the Polo gets a new heart – a 1-litre TSI engine that brings modern technology in a compact, fuel-efficient package. The Polo gets this engine across variants and comes with the option of a manual and automatic. The engine has won the Engine of the Year award and has been widely praised in the Up! GTI. The Polo 1.0 TSI was one of the first cars we drove after the lockdown lifted and what a hoot it was!