There is nothing more convenient than owning a hatchback in the city. They’re easy to drive, easy to place in traffic and, most importantly, easy to park. All these strengths are ideal if you drive the car yourself. But, if you add an automatic transmission, it takes the ease of driving to a whole new level.
The problems with automatic hatches are that they come with expensive price tags and return low fuel efficiency. However, where you stand to lose on price and higher fuel consumption, you stand to gain tremendously in terms of convenience.
The i20 automatic has been around for eons (pun intended), but it never really caught on. It was launched at a time when diesel cars were the way to go and the fact that it was only available powered by a petrol engine meant running costs would be high. But now, with the diminishing gap between petrol and diesel prices, the i20 is back in contention. It’s got a large 1.4-litre motor, has space for five, and is easy to drive too.
The focal point of this comparison, however, is the new kid on the block and the more powerful 103bhp Volkswagen Polo GT TSI. VW has equipped the GT with technology never seen before on a hatchback. It brings direct injection and a dual-clutch automatic gearbox to the party. Priced at Rs 7.99 lakh, the Polo GT is only Rs 13,000 more expensive than the i20. So, is it an easy win for the Polo or does the i20 still have some fight left in it? Continued..
What are they like inside?
Step into the Polo GT and it’s clear why this car costs so much more than its rivals. Everything from the well contoured seats, the switchgear and the upholstery is well made. In terms of the quality of materials in the cabin, the Polo is the better of the two and the attention to detail is also very good. But all this is somewhat negated by the rather plain-jane dashboard. It comes finished in dull grey and simply looks boring.
The front seats are well contoured, but if you’re planning to travel with more than two people, the Polo is not for you. The rear bench lacks sufficient space and the tapering roofline means even headroom is in short supply. It’s not as wide as the i20 either, and the small windows and large front seats make you feel claustrophobic. It is tight in the back, for sure.
The i20 is pretty attractive on the inside. It was recently refreshed, but the changes to the inside are very subtle. The basic layout of the dashboard is the same. But there are new bits like the new, dark grey surround for the audio and the leather-wrapped steering wheel, among others. The big seats also really give you a feeling of space. Also, that other i20 advantage remains – its spacious cabin. Although the rear seats aren’t as important for a predominantly self-driven car, the i20’s comfy backseats make this an ideal family car. The rear bench is very comfortable and, thanks to the car’s width, sitting three abreast is not an issue. There is loads of space up front too and even six-footers will fit comfortably. The driver’s seat, however, doesn’t get height adjust. You won’t complain about the large boot either. Continued..
What are they like to drive?
The Polo is powered by the most technologically advanced engine and gearbox combination ever seen on a hatchback. For starters, the 1.2-litre petrol motor uses direct injection and a turbocharger to enhance power, with maximum power output rated at 103bhp. The direct injection motor also makes a massive 17.84kgm from just 1500rpm, which is really low down in the rev range for a petrol motor.
The lusty midrange and strong top-end holds the key to the GT’s terrific performance. Manually switching gears using tiptronic via the gearstick allows you to really carry on at a quick pace and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox offers you the right gear at most times. The key advantage of this seven-speed gearbox when you are in Sport mode is that it can put you in the strongest part of the powerband in an instant.
Stay in the punchy midrange with the turbo spinning past 3000rpm and you get a very nice thrust of power. The smaller engine capacity can be felt in city traffic though, especially in D. There’s a bit of a shortage of pulling power when starting off from a standstill and throttle responses are relatively lazy initially, which means it’s not as effortless to drive in the city.
In fact, the biggest advantage the i20’s engine has over the GT’s turbocharged unit is that it responds well to throttle inputs at low engine speeds. There is also plenty of useable power between the 1500 to 3000rpm band and this, combined with the smooth gearshifts, makes the i20 easy to drive in the city. There are none of the jerks you experience with the dual-clutch gearbox of the Polo either. But as soon as you start going faster, the lack of punch from the motor becomes apparent. Post 3000rpm, power is in short supply in the i20 and what makes it worse is the fact that the old-school four-speed gearbox is slow to respond. So, overtaking needs much more planning compared to the GT and the motor gets vocal as you try to squeeze more power out of it.
Overall, the Polo GT feels much quicker. It does 0-100kph in 10.91 seconds whereas the i20 takes 15.45 seconds to do the same. The i20’s 1.4-litre engine simply cannot match the Polo’s for refinement. VW’s modern motor is far quieter and smoother than the Hyundai’s. Continued..
Ride and handling
The Polo’s good high-speed manners and the unfazed style in which it does away with bumps gives you great confidence at high speeds. It’s got good body control and grip. The steering is a bit of a dampener though; it’s quite accurate, but is very light. But the trade-off for the Polo’s high speed manners is a slightly stiff low-speed ride. It crashes through potholes, the suspension is a lot more audible than in the i20, and it transfers a lot more of the road surface to your backside. But the light steering and compact dimensions make it easy to pilot through traffic.
Over a set of corners, the i20 won’t be able to keep up with the Polo. It doesn’t feel as composed and surefooted as the VW and there’s a lot more body roll. The steering is vague and doesn’t weigh up consistently. On the highway, it drives with confidence but wanders a bit over uneven road surfaces. Hard braking also tends to unsettle the rear. Low-speed ride though, is absorbent and comfortable, and clearly, the better of the two. Continued..
Equipment & safety
The Polo TSI has an edge over the i20 Automatic when it comes to safety equipment. It comes with safety kit like ESP (a first in the segment) and ABS. It also comes with dual front airbags, pinch-guard for all four power windows, a hill hold function and rear parking sensors. The i20, on the other hand, comes with ABS with EBD and only a driver’s side airbag. The parking assist system has sensors for the front and rear. Rain sensing wipers are also part of the package. It also comes with daytime running lights and a reversing camera. In terms of features, the Polo TSI comes with a heat insulated windscreen, 15-inch alloy wheels, and a Climatronic automatic air conditioning system. It also comes with a 2-DIN music system with four speakers, USB, Aux-in, Bluetooth connectivity and an SD card slot. The rear windshield wash and wipe along with a defogger come as standard too.
The i20 comes with 14-inch alloy wheels, a 2-DIN integrated sound system with USB and Aux-in with four speakers and two tweeters, but no SD card option. Automatic climate control and four power windows are standard. Verdict and specifications..
The i20 automatic would appeal to practical minded drivers. Its 1.4-litre motor is perfect for city traffic, it is smooth to drive and the motor is pretty refined at low engine speeds. It is also large and comfortable on the inside, very well equipped and has a suspension that handles bad roads well.
The Polo has an air of quality about it and there is a feel-good factor about the car, which the Hyundai just doesn’t offer. Since these cars are both going to be owner-driven, what matters more than rear sear space is how well the car drives and performs. Here, the Polo GT is leagues ahead and so, wins over the Hyundai.