2020 Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI review, test drive

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What is it?

First launched in India in 2010, the Volkswagen Polo is more than a generation old, but it has been in a constant state of evolution. Over the years, it has been powered by no less than eight different engines. However, it’s the 2020 Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI that gets the most accomplished engine yet.

An International Engine of the Year award winner, the 999cc direct-injection TSI petrol is both densely packed with technology and finely engineered to deftly balance the conflicting requirements of both power and fuel economy. So how does it stack up on paper?

Compared to the previous 1.2 TSI rated at 105hp, the new 1.0 makes 110hp. And despite its smaller capacity, it makes an identical 175nm of torque, albeit from a  slightly higher 1,750rpm (vs 1,500rpm for the 1.2 TSI). The 1.0 TSI also has a cylinder less and, hence, a more apples-to-apples comparison is with Hyundai’s 1.0 -litre, three-cylinder TGDI motor which develops 100hp and 172Nm of torque.

What is significant is that the new 2020 Polo 1.0 TSI gets a 6-speed manual gearbox for the first time, to strengthen driver appeal. What is missing though – apart from a diesel option – is VW’s quick-shifting 7-speed DSG or twin-clutch automatic. In its place, the new Polo GT will get (it isn’t in showrooms yet) a conventional torque converter-equipped 6-speed auto.

Apart from the engine, little has changed on the 2020 Polo. VW’s baby was given a facelift recently, and despite its age, it doesn’t look dated. The perfectly proportioned shape is timeless and still exudes that solid Teutonic feel. The crisp details still elicit long appreciative looks, and what adds to the appeal is the new GTI-like nose. There’s also an extra bit of cladding that stretches along the running board and around to the rear, merging with what looks like faux diffuser.

What’s it like to drive?

Let’s start with performance, which by any yardstick is very strong. The tug from 3,000rpm to around 6,000rpm delivers a strong push in the small of your back, and shift up a gear and there’s not much of a let-up in performance. Acceleration is so strong, the 1.0-litre does the 0-100kph sprint in just 9.97sec, making it one of the fastest hatchbacks around. Only Fiat’s Abarth Punto was quicker but with most of the hot hatches discontinued, the Polo 1.0 TSI stands unchallenged.  The regular 1.2 Swift comes closest but it’s a still a full two seconds slower in the race to 100kph, and that’s despite its massive 190 kg weight advantage. Also, find the right road and the 1.0 TSI will hit a maximum speed of 192kph – gives you an idea of just how much grunt there is in the motor.

The 1.0 TSI is also a full second faster to 100kph compared to the outgoing DSG- automatic-equipped 1.2, and by the time you get to 160kph, the gap to the 1.2 is more than 6sec! Competition for the Polo 1.0 TSI is more likely to come from Hyundai’s new Grand i10 Nios, which gets a 100hp turbo-petrol as well. To give some reference, the Venue powered with the same engine and a 6-speed gearbox does the dash to 100kph in 11.24sec.

The 1.0 TSI also pulls cleanly from low engine speeds, making it light and easy to drive in traffic. Get off the clutch, even from as low as 1,100rpm in any gear, and there isn’t too much judder or hesitation – the Polo gets going smoothly. Acceleration, however, is a bit flat and power doesn’t come in strong until you pass 2,500rpm. So in-gear acceleration isn’t very strong, with 20-80kph in third taking 12.3sec and 40-100kph in fourth taking 14.7sec. To illustrate, the discontinued Baleno RS that also had a 1.0 turbo, did the same in 9.48sec and 12.53sec.

VW Polo 1.0 TSI vs Maruti Baleno RS vs Fiat Abarth Punto: Acceleration
VW Polo 1.0 TSIMaruti Baleno RSFiat Abarth Punto
20-80kph (in third gear)12.36s9.48s10.44s
40-100kph (in fourth gear)14.73s12.53s13.55s

Rowing through the gearbox to keep the engine on the boil adds tremendously to the driving experience and the well-chosen gear ratios squeeze the most out of this compact engine. The 6-speed gearbox, however, is not one of VW’s best units; it takes a bit of effort to slot the well-finished knob through the gate, and on occasion feels a bit notchy.

Lopping off one cylinder has also compromised refinement to some extent and the discordant beat of the three-cylinder engine is noticeable. Idle is a bit lumpy and you can feel a few pulses coming through the clutch The lack of a balancer shaft means it certainly isn’t as smooth as Ford’s 1.5 three-cylinder Dragon – which is still the benchmark for refinement – and 1.2 TSI owners will clearly miss the silky smooth responses and seamless punch of the bigger four-cylinder unit.

However, where the Polo 1.0 TSI’s hits it out of the park, again, is around corners. Yes, the steering is light, but it is also direct, slack-free and it weights up nicely as you go faster. The new Polo also enters corners with a lot more confidence. It effortlessly carries speed into corners, the turn-in is sharp, body control is decent on its stiff springs, and the big wheels and grippy tyres really allow you to keep cornering speeds up. Use the strong mid-range of the engine to fly out of corners and you are guaranteed a big smile.

It even rides well. There is a hint of stiffness in the springs and that keeps you aware of medium-sized bumps, but the suspension manages to round-off sharp edges quite nicely, and unlike earlier, large craters aren’t much of a problem either. Even the ground clearance is generous.

Keen drivers will really enjoy the well-rounded performance of the new Polo 1.0 TSI, which really comes together as a great driver’s car. In fact, for sheer driving pleasure, you won’t get anything more entertaining for the money.

With its smaller capacity engine and manual gearbox, the VW Polo 1.0 TSI is also more efficient. The official figure stands at 18.24kpl, which means a real-world figure of between 11 and 12 on our city cycle.

What’s it like inside? 

It’s no surprise that the 2020 Polo is very familiar on the inside. The cabin, in fact, feels like it has been carried over unaltered, with only a few important features added. Purists will love the functional, solid and uncluttered design which, like the exterior, has stood the test of time.

The 6.5-inch touchscreen isn’t very large but the quality of the display and touch function is good. In fact, using the system is quite seamless, and Apple CarPlay works particularly well with it. Bigger isn’t always better.

Those who love driving will appreciate the very sporty and clear instrument panel with its white-on-black numbering and the monotone central display. And then there’s the leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, a tactile experience in itself.

Also something you can’t quite ignore is the Polo’s solid build. The ‘thunk’ when you shut the door speaks volumes about the manner in which the car has been put together, and what also lends an air of quality is that the buttons are built to a very high standard. In fact, quality levels are so good, the bits used on the inside could easily pass muster on a car or an SUV that’s twice the price of the Polo . . . and they often do.

The grey-on-black themed cabin with the gunmetal grey inset, however, looks dull. Volkswagen has used chrome highlights and ‘piping’ sparingly, and with the seats finished in black as well, the cabin clearly could have done with some brightening up.

That aside, the driving position is excellent. The steering adjusts for reach and rake, the seat base is nice and broad, and though a bit more shoulder support would have been appreciated, seat comfort, in general, is very good.

Ever since the Polo was launched, rear-seat space hasn’t been its strongest point, and that fact has been further accentuated with the arrival of competition with more spacious back seats. However, that said, the Polo’s rear seat isn’t a bad place to be, especially if you aren’t very tall. Thigh support is good, the cushioning is just right and the backrest is nicely reclined. You do miss a central elbow rest, and though there are air-con vents, there are no USB slots; only a 12-volt socket is present.

The boot is nice and wide, and at 280 litres, it is decently sized too. Those looking for additional cargo space can flip the rear seat down.

When it comes to kit, VW has deleted some essential items. There’s no rear parking camera, no ESP (stability control) and no LEDs. And, unlike the Hyundai Nios 1.0 turbo, there is no wireless charging either. What you do get on the 2020 Polo Highline Plus are stuff like a cooled glovebox, cruise control, voice commands, and one-touch power windows.

Should you buy one?

If you’re looking for space, comfort and practicality, the new 2020 Polo 1.0 TSI isn’t the hatchback for you. However, shift your gaze to the driver’s seat (which is where most owners in this class sit), and the 2020 Polo suddenly emerges as a front runner. Yes, the engine needs to be worked to get the most out of it, it isn’t quite as smooth as a four-cylinder, and some important kit has been deleted. Still, if you are looking at enjoying your time behind the wheel, the gracefully ageing Polo with a new heart is a compelling package.

Outright performance is what sets this car apart, and right now there is no other quicker mainstream hatch. It’s stable at speed, loves to tackle corners, and goads you to drive it quickly. Put simply, this is a brilliant driver’s car with the ability to plant a big smile on your face.

Adding to the feel-good factor is Volkswagen’s legendary build quality. It feels solid both inside and out and you know that even after five years of hard usage, it won’t look the worse for wear.

At Rs 8.02 lakh, it isn’t too far off the car that currently dominates this class – the Swift ZXi+ at Rs 7.58 lakh. For the same money, you can get a compact SUV too but that won’t be half as much fun once the newness wears off. So, if you are looking for a hatchback that’s both fun to drive and very useable on a daily basis, the VW Polo 1.0 TSI is the one for you.

source: autocarindia