The Volkswagen Polo GT TDI for a long time was the only performance-oriented hatch with a diesel engine on offer. Now, however, it faces some stiff competition from another diesel-warm hatch, the Ford Figo Sports Edition. Both make an almost similar amount of power, come with only manual gearboxes and promise to be frugal and fun. We put the two through their paces to see which one makes the bigger impression.
What are they like on the outside?
The Polo GT TDI and the Figo S bear a strong resemblance to their regular hatch counterparts. The only thing differentiating the Polo GT from the standard Polo is some 'GT' badges and the more powerful motor. The Figo S, on the other hand, stands apart by way of a new honeycomb design on the front grille, smoked headlamps, black roof, black outside mirrors, body vinyl (at the doors and rear bumper), a new roof spoiler and 15-inch blacked-out alloys with meatier 195/55-section tyres. The larger wheels and tyres make the Sports Edition look a whole lot more attractive than the standard Figo. Amongst these two, it's the Polo with the more subdued design and the Figo with the racier look.
What are they like inside?
The cabins of the two cars feature a few sporty touches. The changes in the Polo GT TDI are limited to different seat upholstery, GT-badged door sills and aluminium-finished pedals. The Polo GT TDI's dashboard is identical to the regular Polo's, with a restrained, clean design conveying a message of quality build. Importantly, a touchscreen infotainment system takes pride of place on the dash. The Polo's steering wheel is flat-bottomed (from the stock car), and the controls are tactile and intuitive. The seats are covered in fabric upholstery and are generally comfortable, well-padded and supportive. Space for the front passengers is adequate, though it could get cramped in the rear for taller passengers.
Changes inside the Figo S aren't substantial either but they do help the overall ambience inside. The things that set the Sports Edition apart from the regular Figo are a leather-wrapped steering (it's great to hold), red double-stitching for the upholstery and gloss black inserts on the dash as opposed to the regular car's silver bits. The Figo S's dash doesn't have the clean look of the Polo GT TDI's and the design may not be to everyone's liking, but it's adequately functional. The central console is dominated by more old-school buttons and a monochrome screen media system with Bluetooth. However, Ford has a clever 'dock' on the dash to hold your phone in landscape mode if you wish to use it for navigation. The seats are also large, fabric-upholstered and comfortable. Space, in general, is more generous than in the Polo GT and three will find the space at the rear acceptable in terms of both legroom and width.
In terms of convenience features, both cars get automatic climate control, driver's side seat height adjust, a multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth and USB. The Polo does offer more though with a touchscreen infotainment system, parking camera and sensors, cruise control, along with a steering wheel that's adjustable for rake and reach; the Figo's steering only gets rake adjustment.
On the safety front, both cars are almost matched. They get anti-lock brakes and dual front airbags as standard.
- What are they like to drive?
The Polo GT TDI and the Figo S are both powered by 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel engines, mated to five-speed manual gearboxes. The Figo S puts out 100hp, while the Polo GT TDI makes a stronger 110hp.
On the road, one thing becomes immediately clear – neither of the two is a hot hatch in the traditional sense. Yes, the diesel engines provide adequate punch but the hardcore performance and hyper agility are absent. But they are still loads of fun and very pleasant to drive all the same.
The Polo GT TDI's engine (it's up 20hp and 20Nm on the regular Polo's) is punchy, with the bulk of the power residing in the mid-range. And this is where the car is in its elements, pushing forward with muscular thrust. It responds only after 1,900rpm and really comes alive after 2,100rpm. From there, power is delivered constantly until 5,000rpm. In our performance test, the GT did 0-100kph in a quick 10.51sec. There is a noticeable clatter from the engine at idle and vibrations filter through the cabin too, but it never sounds strained until 4,800rpm. The gearshifts from the manual box are precise and quick.
The Figo Sports Edition rides well at all speeds and is more entertaining to drive fast.
The Figo S, as with the regular Figo, boasts a great diesel engine. This 1.5-litre unit responds better than the Polo's, pulling from as early as 1,600rpm and it feels quicker to respond. It pulls cleanly until 5,000rpm with a linearity we commonly associate with petrol engines. Performance is also good as it does 0-100kph in 10.55sec, which is as fast as the Polo. However, post 4,500rpm, it starts running out of steam and the noise from the engine increases. Gearshifts are smooth, though not as precise as the Polo's, and the clutch is heavy and springy here.
While the Figo S gets the same powertrain as the regular diesel Figo, its steering system and suspension setup have been retuned to improve its handling characteristics, as would behove a performance-oriented hatchback. And honestly, ride and handling is the real differentiator between the regular Figo and the Figo S. The ride is absorbent, cushy at low and high speeds, and the steering is direct with decent feel. It also has more grip than the standard version. The Figo S really shines when you step up the pace. It feels extremely secure and comfortable at speed, the sharper responses make it a thrill to drive and Ford has improved front grip so much, it turns into corners very nicely and feels planted.
The Polo isn't nearly as involving to drive in the bends. Sure, through corners, the car maintains its line, with ample grip provided at the tyres and the steering is fairly direct, but as with most Volkswagens, it's a bit vague around the centre and feedback or feel is in short supply. The Polo GT TDI has an absorbent low-speed ride but is accompanied by some amount of body movement. While the body movements settle down at higher speeds, it will take road undulations with a muted thud.
Braking on both cars is good. Though not outstanding, the brakes on the Figo S are a bit better.
Which one should I buy?
The Polo GT TDI is more powerful than the standard Polo and the few extra horses make it that much more enjoyable to drive. The pace is pretty rapid, and because VW's diesel engine likes to rev hard, it is well suited to a sporty driving style as well. In addition, the GT TDI is beautifully finished and put together on the inside and the Polo design still looks crisp, fresh and well proportioned. But at Rs 9.32 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) the GT TDI is pricey, more so when seen in light of the Figo Sports Edition that almost looks like a steal at Rs 7.21 lakh.
But the Figo isn't our pick solely for its value. The Figo also wins because it is the more fun-to-drive car of the two. Straight-line performance is almost as strong as the Polo, the engine pulls harder from lower down in the powerband and, unlike the gruff Polo, it feels almost petrol-like to drive at times. What sets it apart is just how much nicer it is to drive around corners. It feels more agile, is better balanced and the steering is so good, it just elevates the driving experience to the next level. Yes, the interiors are nowhere as nice, and you don't get a touchscreen, but if you are looking for a fast and fun diesel, the Ford Figo Sports Edition is it.