I have been yearning for hot hatches to come to India; but truth be told, when the Polo GTI was launched, I wasn’t much of a fan. Rs.34 lakhs on road (initial pricing) was way too much money for a hot-hatch. The whole point of a hot hatch is that it’s practical and cheap to buy. This was neither of those things. The idea of spending four times as much as the regular Polo for an engine you get in an Octavia 1.8 TSI (with an even better chassis thrown in for less), was absurd. And the Polo launched in 2009 worldwide, is now clearly a generation old and feels it. What’s more, it isn’t sharp to drive as a Mini Cooper S, the gearbox doesn’t have the best reputation of reliability and you do miss some essential kit from the international spec car. It always left me wanting more.
Now this may come as slightly hypocritical, but spend a few more lakhs, and you make it a better car. This is a Polo GTI from the skunkworks at Pete’s Automotive Pvt Ltd. It has been remapped, given better suspension and driven the way it should be.
The car here belongs to Nishant Jacob of Phoenix Cars- the VW dealer for Thrissur and Calicut. It has all the GTI touches plus some tasty modifications. The 17 inch twin five spoke rims and the lowered ride height are definitely contributing to its looks. There is a subtle Bilstein branding on the roof. VW has done a stellar job of differentiating the GTI with a different front bumper, LED headlamps with red highlights. No matter how many modified Polos you see, the GTI will always stand out and feel special to the enthusiast. And that isn’t down to the three door body style alone; but the details inside and out. The tail lamps are noticeably different, so is the rear bumper. The lack of clutter from rear quarter glass, door frames, door handles and shut lines make it one smooth car when seen from the sides.
Insides too, you can see the GTI has better seats and nicer steering and infotainment. There is a quality air to the whole cabin, although, it can’t quite match a Mini. The Tartan seat fabric is a time honoured GTI tradition and the seats have better side bolstering to hold you in place. The seats have underseat storage bins and the CD and SD card slot are both located in the glovebox. The flat bottomed steering wheel has red stitching as does the gear lever and the seats. Access to the rear is tricky with front seats having to be folded down and space is limited at the back. But then you don’t buy a GTI for practicality and let’s be honest- a standard Polo isn’t very kind to rear passengers either.
It has to be said, this is one of the easiest fast cars to live with everyday. You don’t get the enviable glances of driving a sports car or say something like a Mini even. In fact, you don’t get any attention at all. It just passes off as a regular Polo, albeit being a slightly modified one. In town you can squeeze between traffic and get into narrow roads as you’d in a regular hatchback. You can park it anywhere and not worry about it getting vandalised. And in black, most people couldn’t even spot the missing rear doors, unless you pointed it out. Welcome to the world of ultimate stealth motoring.
What gets you every time is you are sitting in a Polo, looking through a Polo windscreen over a Polo dashboard and this takes off like an Audi TT. Actually when you launch it, there is a moment’s hesitation before it shoots forward, which is down to way the dual clutch gearbox is programmed to select gears. When the car is stationary, one clutch has second gear pre-selected for forward movement while the other has reverse preselected just in case the driver decides to back it up. First gear is unavailable because the same shaft is used to accomplish first and reverse gear. VW decided, it is a better compromise to get rolling in second, before the throttle demand puts you in first gear for better acceleration. Once it gets going though, it accelerates hard like there is no tomorrow.
The EA888 motor churns out 192bhp and 250Nm in stock trim, which is plenty for such a small car. The tuned one has its turbo have its peak boost raised from 9.5psi to 14psi, which its tuner claims, is good for 240bhp and 340Nm. If the stock GTI feels fast, this remapped one feels mental. It even sounds good with the bassy Milltek exhaust note punctuated with loud hissing noises from the Forge blowoff valve. On the day we tested it, the weather wasn’t the best, but we managed close to 6.4 seconds in 0-100kmph. The 7 speed gearbox goes up and down its gears enthusiastically, and is a cut above in the Mini Cooper S. It downshifts rather aggressively and you don’t miss driving a manual in this one. The Milltek catback system with its decat down pipe makes the engine feels even more free revving. It even pops and crackles on the overrun, which makes you go up and down on the paddle shifters just to hear it.
Another area where it scores over the stock car is in the handling. Where the stock GTI felt uninvolving, this one with Bilstein B14 coilovers, behaves like a Polo Cup car. The front end bite is incredible and you can feel the rear is more tied down too. The ride is a bit stiff, but the improvements in handling make it totally worth it. You still wish the steering was more feelsome like in a Mini, but that is something you will have to live with. The car has been set to ride 25mm lower than original. The brakes are fantastic on the stock GTI and these haven’t been touched.
Nishant who also owns a tuned Mini Cooper S, says he prefers the Polo GTI because it is a proper sleeper. Most people who bought a GTI thinks in the same way. It is the bonafide way of enjoying performance without attracting too much attention. Kerala with its large number of enthusiasts, is slowly turning to be GTI central, and more Polo GTIs have been sold here than in any other state. Nishant’s own dealership has sold 25 Polo GTIs to date, taking them to the top of the list. With the recent price cut, that number is sure to go up!