Shootout: Fiat Punto Evo vs Volkswagen Polo vs Maruti Swift
Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 5.35-8.17 lakhs (Maruti Swift), Rs. 5.67-8.51 (Volkswagen Polo), Rs. 5.41-8.68 lakhs (Fiat Punto Evo)
The VW Polo, Fiat Punto and Maruti Swift are by far the most fun to drive hatchbacks in India
Hatchback war isn’t new. Four years back when the Volkswagen Polo arrived in India, we put up it against the Fiat Grande Punto and used the last generation Maruti Suzuki Swift as a support car as it wasn’t in the same league as the European vehicles. Today, the Swift has moved a generation up, taking a drastic leap in the right direction to compete with the Polo and Grande Punto. The German hatchback has also seen a major mid-life facelift, getting a slew of mechanical changes and an impressive new diesel mill. The Grande Punto won the shootout last time around and this time it has received a comprehensive facelift too but the mechanicals haven’t been altered one bit. Can the Punto still hold the hatchback crown or have the Polo and Swift displaced the Evo to become the hottest hatch in town? We had to find out by putting the 90 HP version of the Punto Evo head on against the Swift ZDi and Polo 1.5 TDI.
Motor Quest: The Volkswagen Polo is the freshest car here, it is in its fifth generation and was launched globally in 2009, receiving a comprehensive update earlier this year. The Maruti Suzuki Swift is quite new as well, the third generation model saw its global premiere in 2010. The Fiat Punto is the oldest car here but the latest to get an update. The third generation Punto was launched way back in 2005 and its underpinnings remain unchanged till date.
Exteriors – These three cars might be the same body style but have very different designs. The Maruti Suzuki Swift is the least impressive here, it simply feels a bit dated in front of the other two more exciting looking cars. Not having got a facelift in recent times along with being a common sight on Indian roads has made the Swift look plane-jane in this company of attractive European cars. The Polo has a classic design which simply doesn’t seem to fade out even with age. With the recent facelift, the VW looks fresh and appealing and that orange colour really suits it too. The only thing lacking on the Polo is blinkers on the rearview mirrors while the Swift is the only car here which doesn’t have even a drop of chrome on the outside.
By far the winner in the design department, the Fiat Punto has always been a looker and the recent facelift has given it massive fresh appeal too. The Punto looks gorgeous, it’s so appealing to look at with its Italian elements that you can simply sit and stare at it all day long. While the other two cars run on 15-inch wheels, the Punto is the only made in India hatchback to get 16-inch wheels. It also gets a lot of chrome elements which give it that premium touch while the F-Type inspired front grille is very unique. Even the lights of this car need a special applaud, the LEDs in the tail lights are very beautiful when lit. Day or night, the Fiat Punto Evo is just a design masterpiece.
Interiors – Things start getting interesting when you step inside, because just like the exteriors, the interiors too are a world apart in these hatchbacks. The Punto Sport has all black interiors and so does the Maruti Swift, the Polo using a dual-tone combination, each car having an attractive dashboard but we like the Fiat’s the most. Each of these cars excel at certain things like quality is the best on the Polo, seats are the best on the Swift while build quality of the Punto is easily a notch above the rest (it feels like a tank and the doors shut with a definite thud). The Swift feels the worst in terms of build quality, for instance the insulation on the roof is poor. On neither of the three cars do you feel there is cost cutting but look closely and you will notice the Punto has some rough edges while neither the Punto, nor the Polo come with an alloy for the spare wheel, the Swift does.
All cars come loaded with lot of equipment, they all get a nice audio system, multi-information display, climate control system (the Punto’s AC is noisy), ABS, dual airbags, alloy wheels, rear wiper, steering mounted audio controls, etc. However, the Volkswagen Polo is the most loaded car here. It gets reverse parking sensors, Bluetooth audio system (the Punto’s Blue & Me system is difficult to pair and doesn’t stream songs while the Swift doesn’t get Bluetooth connectivity at all), all windows one-touch up/down (the Punto only has one touch down for all windows), cornering lights (the Polo has the best illumination at night) and a fantastic flat-bottom steering wheel. Still the Punto isn’t far behind, somethings on the Punto are really cool, like it has the best wipers which are double blade and have six sprays thrown on the windshield ever time you pull the lever, it also does a delayed automatic swipe while the rear wiper automatically engages in the rain when you get into reverse (the front wipers need to be on though).
Where the Punto lacks is in glovebox space (it has the smallest glovebox, the Polo has the largest) and boot opening mechanism, you can’t open the boot from outside without using the key while in the Swift there is an electro magnetic tail gate opener and the Polo also has a boot release button on the key. The Swift also has the best outside rearview mirrors but the Polo has the best sounding audio system, by far. When it comes to storage space on the inside, the Polo is the best, the Punto the worst, the Swift which fares in between when it comes to inside storage places, is the worst in terms of boot space with its 206-litre trunk which falls way too short in front of the Punto and Polo’s 280-litres, the VW having a better boot design.
This brings us to the crucial question, which car has the best rear seat space. The Polo has the best headroom (followed by the Swift and Punto) and the Punto has the best rear seat space (followed by the Swift and Polo). The rear seat of the Polo and Swift are inadequate for adults but one can comfortably sit in the rear bench of the Punto, it has generous space which coupled with the large rear windows (the Swift has the smallest which induces claustrophobia) makes the Punto the winner in the interior department. It has the space, feels robust and comes with quite a bit of equipment too.
Performance – If we consider petrol engines, the Maruti Suzuki Swift would have walked away confidently as the other two cars are no match for the petrol Swift. Fiat’s FIRE engines lack low-end punch while the 3-cylinder mill found on the Polo lacks performance in front of the fantastic K-Series powerplant. The 1.2-litre TSI is excellent but much more expensive, aimed at a very niche segment of buyers. So if you are looking at buying a petrol car among the three, either get the Polo GT TSI or close your eyes and get the Swift. Time to look at the diesels. The regular Punto with 75 HP of power isn’t a match for the other two in performance, so it really is the Punto 90 HP which has to compete with the Swift and Polo. So which one puts the tarmac on fire?
Even without us telling you, it would be easy to guess the Volkswagen Polo is the star in the performance department. Outputting a similar 90 HP as the Punto, the 1.5-litre engine in the VW has drastically more torque at 230 Nm, compared to the 209 Nm in the Evo. The Swift and Punto share the same engine, the 1.3-litre motor produces different outputs in both cars as the Punto Sport gets a VGT. The Swift is the least powerful car here, producing 75 HP and 190 Nm of torque. Despite it being low on power, its light weight helps it beat the Punto Evo in terms of performance. The Punto is the heaviest car here and that blunts performance to quite an extent, not only is it the slowest car here, it also has the most lag and least efficiency.
The Polo 1.5 TDI is not only the fastest car here but also the most drivable with the least low-end lag
The above numbers don’t lie, the Volkswagen Polo easily outruns the other two right from the word go. The Swift is able to post a respectable 0-100 km/hr time, thanks to extremely good gearing, it has the best gearbox here, followed by the Polo while the Punto Evo has the worst gearbox. The Swift also has the best clutch, the Punto has a long travel clutch while the Polo’s is a bit heavy. So when we were doing the VBOX performance runs, we noticed that the Punto’s notchy gearbox (is good when shifts are done slowly but gets notchy when you get aggressive) robbed it of a good start, going quickly from first to second is a task and the first gear’s short gearing robs away time too. The Swift’s poor tyres made it difficult to launch the car as we had to reduce launch RPM to prevent wheel-spin which comes in plenty. The Polo was the easiest to get a good time on, it takes off quickly without any drama and you can quickly swap gears, timing upshifts accurately.
With the Punto and Swift having the same engine, performance is quite different in both cars although both have similar characteristics. Both the Punto and Swift lack low-end performance and have a weak bottom end, the pronounced turbolag (more so in the Punto) hurt city drivability. Both cars have a strong mid-range but the Swift pulls cleanly in the top-end where the Punto starts to lose power sharply, just like the Polo which runs out of breath at 4000 RPM. The Polo has good punch in the low and mid-end of the powerband, it feels sprightly at low RPM and that helps you a lot when ambling around town.
You can even pick the Polo from third gear over a speedbreaker, an impossible thought in the other two cars. The Polo also redlines the highest at 5400 RPM, the Punto at 5100 RPM and the Swift at 5000 RPM. The NVH is also the best in the Polo and it also has the highest top speed. The Swift is the most frugal car here, returning a mileage of 16 km/l, followed by the Polo’s 15 km/l and Punto’s 14 km/l. So yes, the Volkswagen Polo emerges on top in the performance department but who comes second? It’s the Swift. Maruti Suzuki has done an epic thing by taking Fiat’s engine and tuning it better than the Italians, also giving it a better gearbox/clutch combo. The Swift is so well tuned, it almost feels like a petrol engine. If Maruti gives the Swift the 90 HP tune (seen in the Ertiga), the Polo won’t be the performance king anymore.
Driving Dynamics – Being an automotive journalist is a lovely job they say but not when you have three such cars at your disposal. The reason we are saying this is, because these three cars are so close to each other when it comes to handling that we simply couldn’t decide a winner and had to get back to drive these again, back to back. The problem is, all three cars have an amazing chassis but there has to be one winner, right? The Punto Evo would come out on top had Fiat not increased ground clearance as that has messed up the car’s dynamics to quite an extent. Just because of the increased ride height, the Punto Evo has a bit of body roll, doesn’t remain glued to the road at high speeds and twitches under very hard braking. The old Punto without the higher GC did not have any of these issues. Still the Punto has the best grip when you corner hard, it just doesn’t show any signs of giving up, it also has the widest and biggest tyres of the trio (195/55/16).
While the Punto feels heavy, the Swift feels light and the Polo feels right, its balance is just perfect
The Maruti Suzuki Swift and Volkswagen Polo run on similar sized tyres (185 mm on 15-inch wheels) but the ones on India’s best selling hatchback don’t offer grip. So when you turn hard into a corner, the tyres start to screech quickly, however there is no understeer. In fact, you can get the Swift to oversteer, the chassis is set up in a way to put a wide smile on your face but the lightness is felt and that robs away confidence. The Polo has just the right weight distribution, it understeers near limit but getting to the limit isn’t easy as there is loads and loads of grip, still not as much as the Punto though. You also sit lower in the Polo which gives you a sportier feel while the Punto’s ergonomics are quite messed up. The steering on the Swift is the best here but it’s too light at low speeds, robbing agility whereas the Punto’s hydraulic unit is heavy and weighs up equally well. The Polo isn’t too heavy, nor too light, it has the best balance and that gives it extremely good agility at low speeds. Still, it’s no match for the way the Swift’s steering weighs up at high speeds, it’s just super communicative with amazing feedback.
Braking power is the best on the Punto but a slight nose dive under heavy braking robs away points from it while the Polo is balanced with excellent brakes at all times. The Swift has the worst brakes of the trio and the ABS kicks in every time you stand hard on the pedal. The Swift also has the worst ride quality here, it simply can’t match the other two cars when it comes to ride comfort. The Polo rides very well but the Punto is even better with a suspension that almost always glides over the worst of roads. With the high GC, you never have to worry about touching the underbody of the car anywhere. Still, as an overall balance between ride, handling and braking, the Polo emerges out on top, German perfection is easily felt when you take to the wheel of the Polo.
Safety and After Sales Service – All cars have received a 5-star rating from Euro NCAP but the Punto feels the most robust while the Polo is the only car which comes with airbags as standard on all variants, so there is little to choose on the safety front too. If service is a prime criteria, Maruti Suzuki is the best, Fiat is showing promise and improving while Volkswagen is the worst of the three, although worst doesn’t translate to expensive, it only means service experience is poor and not cost of upkeep as all these cars are more or less the same (Europeans have a longer service interval and thus per service cost becomes higher but overall service cost is cheaper than the Swift).
Verdict – Choosing between either of these cars might be tough but it’s actually quite easy because you can’t go wrong with either. All excel at several fronts but no matter which of these cars you buy, one thing is assured and that’s a wide smile every time you push the vehicle hard and fast. But like always, there has to be a winner and only one winner and by now you must have guessed who it is. The Maruti Suzuki Swift is a great car but it doesn’t ride as well as the other two and also lacks on the equipment front. It also feels the least exciting in terms of visuals and doesn’t have the build quality found on the other two cars, it comes in last. Fiat has upped the game in the hatchback space with the Punto Evo but it’s simply not enough as the lack of mechanical changes has robbed it a victory.
The powertrain on the Punto is a disappointment, Fiat being the inventors of the Multijet engine have become the laggards of performance. Their own engine in another car performs drastically better but still they don’t bother to get the Multijet 2 diesel engine to India. Being the oldest car here, there are things which need to be addressed (like ergonomics, audio streaming, etc.) on the Punto Evo but haven’t been touched. Still this Italian has the best design, the most space, unmatched ride quality and that helps it clinch the second spot. The winner is of course Mr. Perfectionist, the Volkswagen Polo does everything so well, right from performance to dynamics, quality to equipment, this German hatch gets everything right. The only gripe is the lack of rear seat space, besides that there is nothing to fault with the Volkswagen Polo, it is Das Auto.
Just like Germany emerged ahead of Italy and Japan in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Volkswagen Polo emerges ahead of the Fiat Punto Evo and Maruti Suzuki Swift. It’s a car which is engineered to near perfection, making it the undisputed winner in this shootout. It’s also the most fun to drive car of the three as not only does it handle brilliantly, it also has a punchy engine.
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