Two of A Kind: Volkswagen 1-litre TSI
5am, Chandni Chowk, on a cold Sunday morning. No, not the one in New Delhi but the one much closer to our HQ in Pune. I’m accompanied by my colleague Soham and we’re headed to our favourite road — the Tamhini Ghat, in two of our favourite cars — the Volkswagen Virtus and Taigun. The agenda today is simple — to have a great time. But Soham is a bit sceptical. Why you ask? Because both cars are equipped with the more widely used 1-litre TSI engine rather than the enthusiast-favourite 1.5-litre TSI mill. Calling Soham the biggest fan of the aforementioned 1.5-litre unit would be a huge understatement. Whenever a Volkswagen with a ‘GT’ badge turns up at the office, Soham is the first to call dibs. In fact, he’s never driven the 1-litre engine before today and boy, is he in for a big surprise.
Okay, I’m not going to lie. Before experiencing it myself, even I wasn’t too sure if the 1-litre engine would follow in the footsteps of its elder sibling. But a 1000-kilometre road trip in a Virtus TSI to the Rann of Kutch and back proved to be an eye opener. Since then, I’ve made it a point to enlighten people why this engine deserves their attention! Today, it is Soham’s turn.
There’s a certain mystique to getting up at an ungodly hour and heading out for a drive. The roads are deserted, there are no idiots to clog up the lanes or drive up your blood pressure — perfect time for us to come to grips with our VWs then. As the sun comes up, the roads leading up to Tamhini seem to be completely free of traffic, a refreshing sight to behold. This place is hallowed ground for several people who love to drive, including me. Before the fabled Mutha Ghat at Lavasa and the splendid hills of Aamby Valley city near Lonavala, enthusiasts used to come here to brush up on their skills. I’m talking about the late nineties and the early to late 2000s.
A veteran auto journo once told me that Tamhini was their Isle of Man, their playground. One that has served as the proving grounds for many talented drivers and riders. Today, the Tamhini Ghat is better than before. It has been widened, is better paved and flows oh-so-nicely! The main stretch which we’re looking up to begins at the end of the Mulshi village, and goes on for about 43km with more than 60 corners, 15 tight hairpins and WRC-like crests. It’s exciting and also serves a purpose — it cuts across a part of the Sahyadri range into the Konkan region and connects Pune to the coast and vice versa. In the rains, this road simply turns into Mars — with a million potholes as far as the eyes can see. But today? It’s a world-class flawless stretch of asphalt. Time to drive then.
I’m behind the ’wheel of the Taigun and Mr S is following me stridently. I call him and ask him to stay connected. There’s nobody around as far as the eyes can see, so I slot the six-speed automatic in Sport and give it the beans. Soham is surprised by how well the Taigun picks up speed and disappears into the distance. He has had enough and murmurs, “Let’s see what this thing can do.” Due to the silence, I can hear the turbo of his car spool up and in no time, see the carbon steel grey Virtus tailgating me again. “This isn’t what I expected at all,” he mutters softly. Followed by, “Is it really only a three-cylinder, Maddee?” Well, he isn’t wrong. This 1-litre mill is just as smooth as a four-banger. In fact, it also sounds good — a lot better than other three-cylinder turbo- petrols in the market today.
Flex your right foot and with the tiniest of turbo lag, this engine comes to boil in no time. It starts to haul past 2000rpm and gets cracking all the way to 5500rpm. That’s beautifully supported by the torque converter which thinks that it’s a DSG. In the city, this transmission is refined and works completely unobtrusively in the background. But once you’re in Sport, it offers snappy shifts — even better than a few DCTs which some rivals employ — and isn’t far off from the way the DSG responds. With the 1-litre engine there’s also a six-speed manual on offer but we aren’t missing it today.
After a spirited half hour session, I decide to slow down and remind Soham about the power figures — 113bhp and 178Nm. He replies, “I know but that’s because I’ve read the specs. If you blindfold someone and ask them, they’d surely think that there are more horses under the hood.” He also likes the engine’s performance on steep climbs. That’s one area where most three-cylinder power plants seem to suffer. But this isn’t the case here. It never feels out of breath. Yes, it does get a bit loud at the other end of the tacho but it never skips a beat.
Both the Virtus and Taigun are handling benchmarks of their segments and this lighter engine makes them feel just a little bit more responsive. The lighter front end makes the cars feel more flickable in the twisties and urges you to carry more speed into corners. Sure, there’s a smidge of body roll noticeable at first but it is all well controlled and there is no semblance of drama. This engine allows you to make the most of the incredible chassis, which both cars are underpinned by. The MQB-A0-IN platform is so torsionally rigid that it has allowed Volkswagen to use softer dampers which soak up the road imperfections better. And the 16-inch wheels only go to aid that pursuit further. And even if the going gets tough, there’s 179mm of ground clearance on the Virtus and 188mm of ground clearance on the Taigun, which urges you to channel your inner Walter Röhrl and hammer down through rough patches like there’s no tomorrow.
Everything about these VWs puts you in a calmer frame of mind, without compromising on the performance front, even with the 1-litre engine. And after having a ball behind the ’wheel, my colleague Soham agrees. On the way back, I ask him to calm down and indulge in the chill of driving. We take twice as much time on the way back, with a few stops to snap pictures, and pull in at our favourite restaurant near home. And just as he is about to get out, I ask him to check the fuel efficiency of his Virtus. It reads 18kmpl. “That’s without any cylinder deactivation tech,” I inform him.
And this is exactly why I became a fan of the 1-litre TSI engine. It offers the best of both worlds without any compromise. When you’re in the mood for an enthusiastic drive, it doesn’t fail to deliver despite being 35 horses down on its more powerful sibling. But if you’re driving sedately it will also return good mileage and keep your wallet happy. This versatile engine has so much character that it is definitely a no-brainer if you don’t want to shell out the extra moolah for the 1.5 TSI. Don’t believe me? Well, ask my colleague Soham Mayekar. He’s a fan now.