Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Indian Car Market Scene: A Review As Of the 29th of July, 2014

So, the Indian car market's been bubbling with numerous new launches. The latest, was the Mercedes Benz CLA AMG. It's truly an impressive product with a whopping price tag of 68.5 lakh Indian Rupees (EX-SHOWROOM DELHI). The CLA AMG's positioned a notch above the stock C class, and below the C63 AMG. The highlight of the CLA's spec sheet which will surely turn heads is its 2.0 litre, 4 cylinder, turbocharged petrol AMG engine which churns out 360 Bhp of power accompanied by a whopping 450 Nm of torque. On flooring the accelerator all the way down, Mercedes Benz boasts that the car touches a 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds. The engine is truly the most powerful 2 litre engine available in the Indian Market. However, the CLA was supposed to be a baby C Class which was supposed to be affordable compared to the rest of the Mercedes Benz range. Hence, I do hope that Mercedes Benz also brings along the stock CLAs to the Indian Market. If aggressively priced (between 25-30 lakhs) the CLA could take the sub 30 lakh car market by a storm.

However, strictly speaking about the sub 30 lakh premium car segment, the only car which I consider to be the best when it comes to value for money and the number of features loaded from the factory is Skoda's Superb. However, for those looking for brand value, the Mercedes A class also seems like a worthy proposition.

Another recent launch is Porsche's Macan SUV. Size wise, it's smaller than it's elder sibling, the Cayenne. The shocker here is that thee Macan is actually costlier than the Cayenne in India. The Macan comes fully loaded. It costs between 1.0 - 1.1 crore Indian Rupees. But, I still feel that Porsche should have launched the lower end Macan models in India at lower price points.

I had recently reviewed the Volkswagen Polo before Volkswagen introduced the new model. The new models have similar bodies with slight revamps in the headlamp design and a few more splashes of chrome here and there. Another highlight is the new steering wheel which looks a lot better. However, the greatest highlight on the new Polo (the diesel variants in particular) is the new 4 cylinder 1.5 liter diesel engine. Volkswagen is offering the 1.5 l Diesel at similar price points as the previous 3 cylinder 1.2 liter diesel engines. The new engine in the regular diesel Highline model churns out 90 bhp of power and 230 Nm of torque. That's a bump up of 15 bhp of power over the older Polo diesel variants ! The reason I'm excited about this new engine on the new Polo Diesel is the endless possibilities of tuning the engine with ECU mods and churning out better performance figures from it.

I also happened to read up about the new Toyota Corolla Altis. I really miss the times when the Toyota Corolla was a mass seller in the Indian Market (the Asian Spec E120 Sedan Models). However, now, the Corolla seems to have lost it's sheen completely. It actually seems overpriced. The Diesel variants of the Toyota Corolla seem ridiculously over priced. Nearly 16 lakh Indian Rupees for a 1.4 litre diesel engine which produces just 88 Bhp of power seems like a pure over kill. At a similar price point, the Skoda Octavia diesel seems like a lot more value for money compared to the new Corolla Altis.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

German Engineering: The Volkswagen Polo: Small, Yet Built To Last

The Volkswagen Polo is probably VW's best selling product in the Indian market. It's supposedly a "Super Mini" hatchback in the international market. But in India, it's pretty much one of the larger and costlier contenders of the hatchback market. It's essentially a baby Golf in most aspects. It's not based on the widely spoken of Volkswagen Group MQB platform which the Skoda Octavia and the VW Golf are based on. Yet, it does live up to the high expectations we've come to have of vehicles built by the Volkswagen Group. Further more, it lives up to its ultra hyped advertising tagline - "German Engineering". Truly, it beats a lot of the competition at the game.

The Interiors:

The above photo is from a  May 2014 Volkswagen Polo 1.2 Diesel's interior. The interiors are simple and subtle. Some might also find the design of the interiors outrageously simple given the Polo's pricing in India. However, the Polo's interiors exude class. They might not look as sport or exuberant as those of the Suzuki Swift. But, a trip in the Polo is enough to fall in love with its interiors. Everything seems built to last. Simultaneously, every minute intricacy of the cabin reflects the amount of thinking gone into designing it.

Above is the VW Polo's factory spec steering wheel. The particular model I had a look at (POLO TDI 1.2 HIGHLINE) came with steering mounted audio controls for audio volume and answering phone calls via the head unit through bluetooth.

The aluminium chin like insert on the lower half of the steering along with the all chrome VW Polo add the much needed bling to an otherwise plainjane design. The steering's plastics are of high quality and feel sturdy. However, I still feel the need for a thicker, chunkier steering wheel as the factory fitted one's rim feels too thin for my liking. The steering wheel also comes with an integrated driver's airbag. As of this article's writing, Volkswagen has started offering dual front airbags across the VW Polo range. Models manufactured before February 2014 do NOT come equipped with airbags on the base variant though.

This was a move from VW after a recent crash test of numerous Indian spec vehicles including the polo, which did not come with airbags fitted on their base variants. Numerous of these vehicles did desperately in the crash tests due to bad build quality and due to the lack of airbags. The VW Polo lacked airbags on its base variants. Hence, it didn't do very well on the crash test despite having excellent build quality. However, now under the "Safer Cars For India" initiative, VW Polos scored an NCAP score of 4 out of 5 stars which is excellent compared to many other similarly priced vehicles in India.

The Polo's central console, yet again is simplistic. There's numerous blank buttons on the Indian Spec Polo which represent multiple controls on foreign spec Polos. Numerous features such as traction control have been omitted on Indian Spec Polos. One of these buttons represents the button to turn on and off traction control on foreign spec Polos. Yet again, chrome inserts come in to cater to our design preferences. Because well, the bland grey design of the central console would seem extremely unappealing without these accents. 

The head unit in question on the Volkswagen Polo TDI Highline is Volkswagen's famous RCD 320. This unit is a 2 DIN headunit featuring USB, AUX and Bluetooth connectivity. However, something it really misses out on is a touchscreen. Had VW just thrown in the RCD 510 which features a 6 inch touchscreen, with the Volkswagen Polo, it would have just sweetened the deal.

Seen above is a frontal view of the factory fitted RCD 320 on a Volkswagen Polo. The RCD 320 boasts of a multitude of buttons for various functions - making it confusing to use at times. Speaking of connectivity and media options, it features Bluetooth, USB, SD cards, AUX and a slot loading CD drive. The VW Polo comes factory fitted with 4 speakers. At their highest bass setting (9 on a scale of -9 to 9) they were extremely good in my opinion. They sound much better than numerous other factory fitted counterparts. 

The Air conditioning features climate control. The AC performs well and cools the cabin quick despite our relatively hot Indian climate. The VW Polo has air conditioning vents only at the front. It does not possess any rear air conditioning vents. 

The gear knob fits well in the hand and seems quite sporty. Inorder to put the Volkswagen Polo into reverse gear, one needs to push the gear knob vertically downwards and then move it to the left of the first gear. This mechanism is something not usually seen on cars in the segment and it requires getting used to. There's a storage curb behind the gear knob which is sufficiently shallow. Seen in the photo below is a Sony Xperia Z1 in the space behind the gear knob.

Another example of the Volkswagen Polo's great build quality is the quality of it's glove box door. This is, of course, one of such numerous instances which exemplify the VW Polo's good build quality. I've been stressing on good build quality because the Polo's build quality has truly taken me by surprise. It's alot better than I'd expected it to be. Everything seems incredibly well put together. Further more, not once have I been able to spot any place in terms of material quality which I've been able to complain of.

The glove box comes with a sunglass holder in its door. Older versions of the Volkswagen Polo come with the audio USB port in the glovebox. However, the newer models come with it right on the RCD 320 head unit itself.

Here, above is the Volkswagen Polo's instrument dial. Both the tachometer as well as the speedometer have large, easily legible numbers. The fact that VW has it's speedometer marked all the way upto 240 km/h represents the fact that the Polo is capable of alot, and VW is confident of its capabilities. Though it might not be able to touch such speeds with the engines it's currently selling with in India, the fact is that the Polo's platform is capable of alot more. Hence, after market modders and people planning to chip the Polo's engine should rejoice.

At first glance, the Volkswagen Polo's doorpads may seem incredibly bare. They also seem to offer no value for money when looked at - Because they seem extremely under designed and rudimentary when compared to the doors of competition like the Suzuki Swift. However, to truly appreciate these doors, one has to open and close them once. Just once. Because no other car in the price segment replicates that "THUD" you get when closing the door. That heavy thud gives one a feel of the Polo's tank like build. This feeling can truly be recreated only by Volkswagen's commendable "German Engineering". Seen above is a picture of the driver's side door. The VW Polo's power windows support anti pinch technology too.

The Exteriors:

To be honest, the Volkswagen Polo does not make me go"wow" when I look at it. The Polo's is a design which grows on you. It just gets better with time. Like wine. But yes, the more you look at it, the better you feel it looks. The Indian Polos receive double slat grills, while the foreign spec ones receive single slat ones.

When one looks at the Indian spec Polo's exterior and then compares it to that of the foreign spec Polos, one's left wanting alot more. As of now, Polos abroad are offered with different grills as well as different head lamps. The head lamps in the foreign spec Polos feature DRLs, a feature which hopefully will make its way to Polos in India soon.

The headlamps available factory fitted on the current VW Polos feature halogen lamps. They have a smoked effect to them (which was a design cue I always wanted VW to bring to the Indian spec Polos). The headlamps are fairly powerful and do a good enough job.

The Volkswagen Polo's side mirrors look sturdy as well as well designed. The only down side is that they don't come equipped with integrated turning indicators.

The VW Polo's side mirrors are another instance of thought having gone into their design. The mirror bodies don't only swivel in one direction. They swivel backwards too. This prevents the mirrors from breaking off in case bikers or cyclists bump into them (This may only be understood by Indian readers, who've spent time in hay wire traffic on our rods). Further more, the mirrors can be adjusted from inside the cabin electrically. 

The Volkswagen Polo comes with clear lens type factory fitted fog lamps. They are sufficiently strong. Though, like in the case of most factory fitted fog lamps, certain users may need to replace these units with more powerful units.

The Volkswagen Polo Highline variants as well as the GT TDI and GT TSI come equipped with alloy wheels. These are 15 inch rims whose design is called "Estrada" by Volkswagen. They seem quite sporty and add a touch of eye candy to the Polo's otherwise subtle design. Most 2014 VW Polos in India come equipped with Apollo tyres. Despite the Estrada wheels being 15 inch wheels, the spare tyre in the Volkswagen Polo is a 14 inch space saver. This is somewhat of a disappointment. 

The Volkswagen Polo comes equipped with a flexible radio antenna. This is an especially useful feature when parking in garages or basements with awfully low ceilings because the antenna being flexible eliminates all worries of it breaking.

The VW Polo's boot opens wide. It's quite cavernous and holds 5 shopping bags and a beach umbrella with ease. This makes the Polo the perfect weekend getaway car for a family of 3 or 4.

The Volkswagen Polo's boot handle is concealed behind the huge chrome Volkswagen Logo on the boot door. One has to push the upper side of the logo inwards and lift the lower side of the logo outwards in order to open the tail gate.

Under The Hood:

I've always had an evident bias towards petrol engines. However, after having had a look a the Volkswagen Polo's 1.2 TDI diesel engine, my thoughts regarding diesel engines have changed. What really surprises me is that the VW Polo's diesel engine is JUST a three cylinder unit, and despite this, it never seems like an under performer. It puts up a tough fight against the other diesel competition in the segment. It never seemed under powered or lacking in torque. Under the Polo Diesel Highline's hood is a three cylinder 1.2 litre engine which produces 75 bhp @ 4200 RPM and 18 kgm of torque at 2000 RPM. Initially, this engine does seem sluggish. But, once the accelerator's floored down and the revs are above 2000 RPM, the Polo shoots ahead like well, a "Diesel Rocket". 

The Volkswagen Polo is also available with a 1.2 litre petrol 3 cylinder engine (75 bhp @ 5400 RPM and 11 kgm @ 3750 RPM), or a 1.2 litre 4 cylinder petrol TSI engine (105 bhp @ 5000 RPM and 17.5 kgm @ 1500-4100 RPM), or a 1.6 litre 4 cylinder Diesel engine (105 bhp @ 4400 RPM and 25 kgm @ 1500 - 2500 RPM).

All the VW Polos come equipped with 5 speed manual transmissions, except for the 1.2 TSI unit in the GT TSI Polo. The Polo GT TSI comes equipped with a 7 speed DSG transmission. 

Final Verdict:

The Volkswagen Polo doesn't come extremely well loaded when it comes to the sheer number of features. In comparison, the Hyundai i20 comes with truck loads of more features. However, if you don't need your vehicle to be equipped with tons of gadgets (half of which you'll probably never use), the Volkswagen Polo does have alot to offer when it comes to sheer design and build quality. Volkswagen is so confident of the Polo's reliable, long lasting build that it even offers a 6 year anti corrosion warranty for the Polo's body. Volkswagen also boasts on its Indian website about the Polo's steel frame which gives the Polo additional passenger safety. 

Hence, if you're in the market for a hatchback under Rs. 10 lakhs which is extremely well built and sturdy and are okay with a gadget feature list shorter than that of the competition, look no further than the Volkswagen Polo.

Further, if you're able to extend your budget a little more, enthusiasts will find much to enjoy about the Polo GT TSI's 1.2 litre petrol TSI engine coupled with the 7 speed DSG transmission. This particular model opens up your prospects to modifying your VW Polo alot more. Numerous GT TSI buyers on Team Bhp have been able to fit steering wheels featuring paddle shifters on their Polos. 

Thus, despite the VW Polo not being much of a looker, I'd recommend it to anyone searching for a reliable and sturdy hatchback. Not to forget, it comes with the amazing "German Engineering" too.
- Naayl Humza,
  16 year old automobile aficionado.