We get behind the wheel of VW India's hottest hatch ever and unleash its 192 horses.
What is it like to drive?
The GTI’s appeal really unravels when you slide into the driver seat, tip the gearstick into ‘S’, wrap your hands around the steering wheel and flex your right leg real nice. There is a slight hesitation when you depress the accelerator, before the car really takes off. This is because when the car is at a standstill, the DSG gearbox engages the second gear with one clutch and pre-selects the reverse with the other (the first gear and reverse gear are on the same shaft, and hence cannot be selected by the same clutch, making the selection of the second gear an acceptable compromise). When the car is in kickdown, the first clutch plate deselects the reverse gear and engages the first, causing the slight hesitation; after this, power flows like water through the sluices of a post-monsoon dam. Turbo lag is barely noticeable and peak torque kicks in as early as 1,450rpm, ensuring that the car pulls well enough in the lower rev range. As you climb higher into the rev band, and you do so rather quickly, you notice that the power delivery is meaty but linear all the way from mid-range until the 6,400rpm redline. What is most striking though is the responsiveness of the engine and throttle. Gently nudge the accelerator at any given point of time and the GTI eagerly lunges forward.
Equally sensitive are the brakes. The all-round discs have plenty of bite, so much so that many will find it a task getting used to them. Acclimatise yourself to them though, and you find out how adept they are shedding speed or bringing the car to a complete standstill.
The kinetic experience is augmented by the auditory performance – the exhaust note spat from the twin exhausts round the back is not particularly loud, but it is crisp and sporty. Under hard acceleration, every upshift is accompanied by a satisfying snort and every downshift by a bassy ‘bop’.
The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic DSG gearbox feels like a perfect match for the engine. It is eager and aggressive, upshifting in mere milliseconds, and downshifting willingly (though with a bit of shift shock) when the throttle is depressed hard. In ‘S’ mode (I highly recommend you stick to this for maximum grins), the gearbox obstinately holds revs until the redline and drops ratios quite happily. In ‘D’ mode, upshifts are executed slightly earlier and the sensitivity of the throttle is reduced, to make the car more amiable to drive in tighter spaces such as parking spots and traffic. The algorithm underpinning its ECU is adaptive in nature, which means that the gearbox adapts to your style of driving and changes ratios accordingly. In fact, the DSG does such a great job that you don’t miss the engagement offered by a manual box.
The engine and the gearbox work together to create an impressive repertoire of numbers – 0-100kph is achieved in a claimed 7.2sec, and the speedo needle will spin to a lofty 233kph.
Punching out power is one thing; putting it to the roads is a whole different ballgame, and one that the Polo GTI plays well. Enter a corner at high speeds and you will be surprised by the amount of grip offered and containment of body roll. The nose is a tad hesitant to point into a corner, but beyond that, the Polo GTI goes round bends with remarkable neutrality. It feels composed and tight, gripping onto the road like a barnacle onto a sea-washed rock. In fact, you have to try very, very hard to make the GTI depart from the line you have selected.
The steering adds to the great handling – it is quick, accurate and well-weighted, offering adequate feedback, and while there is a bit of torque steer, it is quite well-contained, especially when you consider the power being belted out by the engine.
The GTI’s handling is complemented by its suspension. While on the firmer side, it is surprisingly pliant. Its sporty setup may have been softened up slightly to deal with India’s poor roads, and while an enthusiast may dislike the absence of a properly taut ride, the ability to tackle bumps, lumps and crests will definitely be appreciated over time. The ride is reasonably absorbent at both low and high speeds, though I did feel the car unsettle a bit when driven over bad roads at a faster pace.