Volkswagen’s history with the GTI badge starts way back in 1976 when the Golf got the acronym stuck to its label due to its performance oriented nature. It spelled a future of how hot hatches would be branded in VW’s terminology. What you see here is an evolution of the cult that began in the seventies, the Volkswagen GTI. Despite this hatch’s visual similarity with the Polo, it is a whole different animal altogether.
Once through with this review, you’ll know if trading Rs 26.80 lakh for this ‘sleeper’ Polo can give you the adrenaline rush you’ve always succumbed to.
We would have loved if the GTI stood out from the crowd but sadly it goes unnoticed on most occasions. You can only tell if it’s got different head lamp internals with DRLs along with the red streak that flows from the grille halfway into the lamps. The grille itself has a honeycomb design which flaunts the GTI badge in chrome, and the larger air dams feed more air into the engine bay.
When viewed in profile, the GTI shows off its 16-inch (15-inch on Polo) sporty twin-beam five spoke alloys with slimmer profile tyres. It also gets the two door setup which is the most apparent feature that sets it apart from the Polo. A raised stance, blacked-out lower sections of the rear bumper, twin exhausts, and a sharper integrated spoiler are the other differences that differentiates it with the Polo.
Slide into the front seats and one will notice that the cabin doesn’t really stand out from the Polo in terms of design. In fact, with a price tag of Rs 26.80 lakhs, we felt that the GTI deserved to at least get some leather upholstery. The check design may not appeal to everybody but it’s always been a design trait with the GTI badge and offers a retro look. That said, the quality levels along with fit and finish are top drawer thanks to it being an import.
Though the dash design feels premium, its similarity with the Polo ultimately doesn’t make it feel as special as say, a Mini Cooper. At first glance, the seats hardly look like they have any contours but there’s lots of lateral support on both on the front seat squab and the back support. The manually operated front seats offer appropriate comfort, thigh support and shoulder room, along with lots of legroom and headroom.
Also, nudging the lever on top of the front seats get it to fold and slide ahead to aid access to the rear bench. It’s a bit of a struggle to squeeze in, but once seated, the seats are surprisingly comfortable with the appropriate backrest angle and sufficient legroom and headroom. Even the visibility from the rear seats out of the fixed window glass is amazingly spot on.
The GTI gets ESP, ABS, all four disc brakes, electronic differential lock, hill start assist, start/stop system, and six airbags. There’s a flat bottom steering with multi-function controls, stainless steel pedals, LED headlamps with DRLs, dual exhausts, three-point seat belt for middle passenger, and parking sensors. It also gets features like climate control, touchscreen infotainment system with AUX, USB, Bluetooth, and six speakers.
This is the exciting bit. Under the hood of the GTI is a retuned version of the 1.8-litre TSI motor that powers the current Octavia. This iteration makes 192bhp between 5,400rpm and 6,200rpm; which is 12bhp more than the 180bhp that’s made in the Skoda Octavia. It goes without saying that it’s the engine that makes the GTI live up to its ‘hot hatch’ moniker. What’s nice about this motor is the manner in which it picks up pace in an extremely linear fashion in spite of turbo boost being in full swing.
The feeling of speed is masked well and it’s only when you glance at the speedo that you realise how deceptively quick it is. Briskly racing off the mark when the throttle is slammed in Sport mode, the lightning-quick shifts are actuated by the seven-speed DSG ‘box at the 6600rpm redline. In case you want to be in total control of gear shifts, a manual mode with paddle shifters is also in the offing.
In this mode the DSG holds the gear all the way to the red line before shifting, and throttle responses are quick everywhere in the rev-range. This also reflects in the 0-100kmph run which is despatched in 6.57sec. However, if you’re not in the mood for some spirited driving (I couldn’t see that happening!), sticking to the ‘D’ mode makes sense with its less maniac responses. The reaction from the motor, in kickdown for 20-80kmph and 40-100kmph sprints that were clocked in 4.21sec and 4.77sec, is an indication of how overtaking can be swiftly accomplished.
We move on to the ride and handling characteristics. VW has taken the effort to raise the GTI’s suspension to offer more ground clearance for Indian road conditions. This makes it more useable and you really don’t have to worry about taking the car anywhere you want. Though the suspension is stiff, it isn’t as stiff as other hot hatches like the Mini Cooper, and is hence more forgiving on our roads. At slow speeds the slightly stiff ride results in road imperfections being felt and heard in the cabin, but it doesn’t get uncomfortable at all. As speeds increase, the bump absorption over broken surfaces and undulations is good, but as a result there is some up and down movement.
The GTI gets a quick and accurate steering that makes the car eager to change directions. It rolls a bit too. However, if you enter a corner too fast, it tends to understeer but the trick here is to stay on the power and the traction from the trick differential, which gets power to the correct wheels, allows the car to stick to the intended line. It doesn’t feel artificial either. Now, in hot hatches, you’d expect some adjustability in terms of chassis, but the GTI feels too planted especially the rear, and the chassis doesn’t feel as playful as say a Mini Cooper does. Meanwhile, the brakes offer superb feel and good feedback with hardly any brake fade under intense braking situations.
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||192 @ 5400|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||250 @ 1250|
|Gears||seven-speed DSG auto|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||45|
|Tyre size||215/45 R16|
|Flat-bottom leather steering with red stitching||Yes|
|ABS, ESP, six airbags||Yes|
|Hill start assist||Yes|
|16-inch Salvador alloy wheels||Yes|
|Electronic differential lock||Yes|
|Infotainment system with six speakers, AUX, USB and Bluetooth||Yes|
|Start/stop with generative braking||Yes|
Competition All Specs
|Max. Power (bhp)||192 @ 5400||192 @ 5000|
|Max. torque (Nm)||250 @ 1250||280 @ 1250|
|Gears||seven-speed DSG auto||six-speed auto|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||45||44|
|Tyre size||215/45 R16||195/55 R16|
What goes against the Volkswagen GTI is that it looks too similar to the much cheaper Polo, and even the cabin and dashboard design is the same (only steering differs). Again, it is slightly soft-sprung as per hot hatch standards. On the other hand, it has a powerful engine with a superb DSG ‘box, good handling, a pliant ride, sleeper looks, and is about 3 lakhs cheaper than the Mini Cooper.
If you look at it, the GTI has the essence to be the most well rounded hot hatch in the country. A hot hatch that you can comfortably use more often than not, over the rivals. However, buyers plonking so much money into a hatchback also look for exclusivity. It could have worked in the GTI’s favour if it came with distinct interiors, sportier body kit and flared wheel arches to differentiate it with the Polo. We feel that Volkswagen’s GTI could work out with the conservative owner, but for me the exotic nature of the Mini Cooper still strikes as a more compelling buy.
Pictures: Kapil Angane