Cartrade Comparison Test
Some buyers want a hatchback with a bit more zest whereas some want a sporty hatch but either cannot really stretch to the price of the full-on hot hatch experience or are simply after something easier to live with. This is where cars like the Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS and the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI come in.
Both the Baleno RS and the Polo GT TSI exist to deliver lively performance, decent levels of features and comfort and most importantly, a price tag that’s a lot kinder to your wallet than the legitimate hot hatch brigade – even if these warm hatches have their own way of dealing with the task in hand. The VW is heavier, packs in a more advanced drivetrain and has subdued styling whereas the RS is lighter, more aggressive looking and gets its propulsion from a three-cylinder motor and a manual box.
There’s little doubt the Baleno RS will do well with enthusiastic buyers, but the question that’s harder to answer is whether it can better the GT TSI as the leading performance hatch.
From the outside, the Baleno RS distinguishes itself with the help of a different grille upfront and at the back, a racier-looking rear bumper and the RS emblem. Maruti has even painted trim pieces like the front bumper insert, A and B pillar in black for a meaner stance. Then there’s the tastefully executed body kit that does a good job of showing off the car’s performance intent. In comparison, the Polo GT TSI rides on smaller, blander-looking alloys and doesn’t look particularly sporty – sure its design has aged rather well but next to the RS, the GT TSI’s clean and unassuming design fails to evoke that sense of kick that buyers are after in this segment. Update: VW India has just updated the Polo GT range by introducing the GT Sport which gets bigger 16-inch alloys, black roof and a stick-out spoiler. Click here to read about it.
Dimension wise, the Baleno RS is larger than the Polo GT TSI in every measurable way. Its longer, wider and taller than the VW. What’s more, its wheelbase of 2520mm is also considerably longer than the Polo which measures in at 2456mm. Lastly, it’s the Baleno RS that’s lighter of the two, tipping the scales at 970kg as compared to Polo’s 1110kg.
Jump inside the Baleno RS and its familiar Maruti territory with decent build quality all-around and excellent in-car storage. The glove box is large and there’s an array of bottle and cup holders upfront and a large storage bin below the centre console. What may not impress you is the fact that the interior of the RS is exactly like the one you would find in the standard Baleno. Things are more or less the same in the GT TSI which shares its cabin with the standard range. That said, this performance-oriented VW does come with different seat upholstery (leather seats in the new GT Sport), piano-black finish for trim pieces and all-black interiors. Overall, the Polo’s dash may look old school and there may be far too many buttons but the storage is well sorted, the front seats are more supportive (the RS’ side bolsters are too soft for a performance hatch) and it does feel classier, if not as youthful.
The GT TSI impresses up front, however, things are quite different as you move onto the rear. Although its rear bench has more lateral support compared to the Baleno, there’s less legroom and the ingress and egress is also less. The space and comfort battle is won by the Baleno RS – legroom at the rear is superb and the bench itself is set high to liberate a great deal of under thigh support. At 339-litres, the Baleno’s boot is bigger, too, (compared to Polo’s 280-litre) however its loading lip is surprisingly high and the opening isn’t too wide either.
In terms of equipment, the Baleno RS beats the Polo GT TSI fair and square. While both come standard with climate control, multifunction steering wheel, electric mirrors and a decent sounding audio system, the Baleno RS gets keyless entry, a rear camera, start/stop button and smartphone mirroring tech for its infotainment system. It also gets disc brakes on all four ends as against disc/drum setup in the GT TSI.
Let’s simply cut to the chase. The 998cc, three-cylinder motor of the Baleno RS is quite eager in getting the revs up from a standstill and offers enough pep to justify that RS badge, mainly during in-gear acceleration. Developing 101bhp at 5,500rpm and 150Nm of torque between 1,700 and 4,500rpm, it’s a very tractable engine with linear power delivery – leave it in higher gears at city speeds and plant your right foot and it will get up to speed with little fuss or lag. The GT TSI’s 1198cc, four-cylinder motor, on the other hand, is a characterful little engine that offers a pleasant exhaust note as the revs rise. Picking up speed from standstill, the Polo doesn’t feel as punchy because of the DSG’s initial reluctance to transfer torque to the driven wheels and the higher kerb weight, but once revs rise it pulls strongly and peak power hits at 5,000rpm.
What really sets these two apart is the gearbox. The Baleno RS gets a smooth-shifting 5-speed manual whereas the Polo gets VW’s infamous DSG automatic with up to 7 speeds. In the VW there is that usual low-speed hesitancy and jerkiness to the way the power is transferred but overall, this dual clutch-unit remains super quick nonetheless. In Sport mode, it hangs on to lower gears and doesn’t shift up until 6,000rpm or thereabout. In our performance tests, the Baleno’s broad spread of torque and lightweight helped it inch past the Polo. It recorded a 9.69 second 0-100kmph sprint time as against Polo’s xx seconds. Rather disappointingly, the Polo’s gearbox didn’t allow any form of wheel slip during our full-bore launch, thereby seriously limiting the pace off the mark.
The Baleno may be quicker flat out but it definitely rides on the stiffer side, especially at low speeds – it thumps and doesn’t offer the same level of composure as the VW over rough roads. The Polo’s ride quality is more acceptable because the soft springs offer good compliance over variable surfaces, and the setup definitely offers more insulation over juts and corrugations.
The Baleno strikes back in the handling department as it feels lighter and more nimble through the corners than the VW. It’s inherently light and as a result, is always more eager to chew down on the road with progressive steering, sharp turn-in and a chuckable feel. Over the same stretch of road, the Polo feels like a polished performer – it may not have the same pointy front-end or the reactive steering but it’s consistent and impressively planted when going through.
The Volkswagen Polo GT TSI is among the best small, fast cars on sale today and for good reasons. With its strong engine, well sorted ride and the convenience of a brilliant automatic gearbox, it delivers on both performance and daily usability. What’s more, the newly launched GT Sport with a sportier design and better equipment would only heighten the Polo’s appeal among the enthusiast crowd.
A lot of things make the GT TSI tempting but it cannot be crowned the winner here. It’s simply not as spacious or feature-rich as the Baleno RS – those who choose the latter will be impressed by how well it works as a family hatch and the fact that it’s backed by a service network as enormous as Maruti’s. Even on its own, the Baleno RS makes a strong case for itself. It brings in a more spacious cabin, sharp handling and a cracking 1-litre turbo motor that makes it the quickest manual car, this side of Rs 10 lakh.