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HOT WHEELS

‘Beware the ides of March’ is something Maruti, Hyundai and Tata Motors would do well to heed, because deliveries for the all-new Volkswagen Polo have begun. And from the looks of it, there’s little to stop it from being a hit in its class.

STYLE FILE

The Polo is a very modern and strong design that is bound to turn heads. The clean, sharp lines and the stylish chin give it a rather sporty stance. The 15-inch alloy wheels on the top-end Highline variant look nice on the car, lending it a very purposeful attitude.

INSIDE STORY

Step into the cabin and you could mistake this to be a top-end luxury saloon. Yes, the quality is that good. Buyers will appreciate the high level of craftsmanship that has gone into the cabin. All materials exude a brilliant feel of quality and all the switches, especially the AC knobs, have a solid, tactile feel to them.

There are few hatchbacks that can rival the Polo’s fine ergonomics. Clearly labelled instruments, large dials, buttons and switches, plus a well-ordered centre console make it easy to operate and the chr-ome highlight around the AC vents (on the top-end version) looks classy.

The cabin is also high on practicality with plenty of cubby holes for storage. Another first for the Polo is the beige upholstery, specially designed for India, adding to the airy feel of the cabin. The seats, both front and back, are very supportive — these have been specifically modified for India as well. You’ll sink into them quite comfortably.

However, rear legroom is disappointing, especially considering the Polo’s generous exterior dimensions. And the sloping roofline means that headroom is limited for taller passengers. The boot is adequate though. The dashboard is placed a touch too high and can get irritating for shorter drivers since the lower variants of the car do not get seat height adjustment for drivers. VW has also excluded a dead pedal, a glaring omission.

In terms of equipment, you get the basics like power windows, rear wash-wipe and alloys but surprisingly even the top-end version misses out on automatic climate control, electric mirrors and steering-mounted audio controls — features which are more a norm these days at this price.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Polo comes with diesel and petrol options — both 1.2-litre units. However, while deliveries of the petrol-engined Polo have already begun, you’ll have to wait till May 2010 to get your hands on the diesel-powered car.

The petrol motor is familiar — you’ll find it in the Škoda Fabia. But VW has modified it to improve refinement and power output. Even so and with 74bhp on tap, though this engine feels at home in the city, it runs out of breath on the highway.

The petrol car also comes with a relatively heavy clutch, which can get irritating when stuck in stop-go traffic. Admittedly, this three-cylinder unit simply can’t match the refined K-series engine that powers the Swift and Ritz. And with just 74bhp, the Polo’s performance can best be described as underwhelming. Zero to 100kph comes up in 16.67 seconds, almost 3.5 seconds slower than the Swift petrol.

The 1.2-litre diesel also delivers 74bhp. This is an all-new common-rail motor developed by VW that makes its international debut in the Indian Polo. While the motor is refined at idle, it feels lazy to respond to throttle inputs below the 2000rpm mark. However, once past this, it’s a different story.

The Polo’s diesel motor revs freely all the way to 5200rpm, which is unusual and impressive for a diesel. The best useable power though is between 2000rpm and 4500rpm, so you will have to constantly shift gears to keep it in the powerband. Also, the diesel motor is more refined than the Fabia’s but not quite as smooth as the Fiat Multijet that powers the Swift and Indica Vista diesels. Performance isn’t great either with zero to 100kph coming up in 17.69 seconds, around four seconds slower than a Swift diesel.

DRIVER’S DEAL

The gearboxes on both the diesel and petrol versions are slick to operate. However, the Polo isn’t as much fun as the Swift because there’s a fair amount of body lean through bends and the light steering has clearly been set up to make things effortless in the city rather than make the driving entertaining. At any rate, the Polo is still reassuring to drive because body roll is quite progressive and the steering consistent.

The Apollo Acelere tyres are well-tuned to the car’s dynamics. The suspension works quietly but doesn’t have the Punto’s consistent ride. There is some vertical movement on bumpy surfaces but it never gets uncomfortable. Bumps can cause a bit of bounce, but the ride is generally terrific.

FINAL VERDICT

Despite the wait and the hype, the Polo’s performance is mediocre and falls quite short of brilliant. Also, the engines should have had more power. That said, however, it cannot be denied that the Polo is a safe, sensible and solidly built car that makes top-class German engineering affordable for the masses.

Spec Check

Volkswagen Polo

Price: Rs 4.34 lakh — Rs 6.70 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)

You’ll like: Build quality, ride comfort

You won’t like: Mediocre performance, shortage of rear legroom space

Engine size: 1.2 litres; petrol and diesel

Power: 74bhp

Pix: Abhijeet Anand

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