Text – Faisal Khan; Pictures – Mangesh Jadhav
Shootout: Volkswagen Polo GT TSI vs Fiat Punto Abarth vs Ford Figo 1.5
Shootout No. 143
Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 8.27 lakhs (Ford Figo AT), Rs. 10.03 lakhs (Volkswagen Polo GT TSI), Rs. 11.90 lakhs (Fiat Punto Abarth)
The Punto Abarth blows up other hot-hatches with its stupendous performance and handling
Hatchbacks have been wrongly associated as cars which are bought on a budget because premium hatchbacks in the Indian market defy this very thought. But now there is another category of hatchbacks and they are the sporty kind, ones which are premium yet powerful enough to put a huge smile on your face. Fiat has always taken the lead in this regard, they were the first to give us a hot hatch with the Palio 1.6, way back in 2001, a car that produced a genuine 100 horses and was a pocket-rocket in those days. Volkswagen plonked its 1.6-litre petrol engine in the Polo, latter discontinuing it for the Polo GT TSI, thereby also benefiting from lower excise duties. Today, we have some very interesting options, including the Polo, Figo 1.5 and another Fiat which takes horse power numbers to a new high, the 145 BHP Abarth Punto!
Motor Quest: The Fiat Punto was launched in India in 2009 and got a facelift in 2014 where Grande made way for Evo. The Abarth Punto is the performance version launched in 2015. The Ford Figo is in its second generation and the first gen model did not come with an automatic gearbox. The Volkswagen Polo was launched in India in 2010 and the GT TSI was introduced in 2013.
Styling – The Ford Figo isn’t positioned as a sporty offering and it doesn’t look aggressive either as the design isn’t flashy or eye-catchy, more so when parked next to the Fiat Punto Abarth. The Figo is also the smallest in dimensions and in reality, is a segment down but its big engine brings it here today. Yes the Aston Martin inspired styling does make it look attractive but in front of both the Polo and Punto, the Figo turns out to be a bit too vanilla. There is however a big difference between the Polo and Punto even though both cars are very old in front of the fresh Figo.
The Punto appears something special while the Polo and Figo are sleepers
Both the European cars got a minor nip and tuck not so long back but the Abarth version of the Punto gets go-fast bits including race stripes, red coloured mirrors, 16-inch Scorpion wheels (the Polo uses 15-inchers while the Figo uses even smaller 14-inchers) and what not. This does make the Fiat a bit flashy but purposeful nonetheless while the Polo GT strikes pure understated elegance and can easily pass off as a sleeper. The Polo does get GT badges which although not prominent, give away what lies beneath and the piano black finished mirrors and rear spoiler further tell the story.
Interiors – The Ford Figo is the cheapest car here and what further makes it undercut its rivals in this performance hot hatch match is the fact that the automatic version isn’t offered in top spec trim. Thus the Figo misses out on some features which are otherwise the talking point of this American car like MyKey, Sync and 6 airbags but neither does the Polo or the Punto in top spec guise get any of those features. But being used to the top variant of the Figo, the different centre console in the automatic model does make the interior lack the premium appeal one would expect from a car of this segment. Where the Figo truly excels is interior room as it has the most rear seat space of the trio, thereby making it the best car of this lot for five people, the Punto coming in second and the Polo being best for two people at most.
All black interiors in these hot hatches hint clearly at the sporty positioning
The Punto Abarth shares its cabin with the Punto Evo and the interior is starting to show its age, in spite of a recent update. While there is some nice and sporty bits for the go-fast model, the Punto still fares badly in the ergonomics department with the steering close to the chest and the thick a-pillar causing visibility issues. There are some quality issues too like the USB slot which comes out with the panel when you pull out a cable and uneven gaps on the dash. But in terms of build quality, there is no beating the Fiat Punto as it feels like a tank and is very solidly put-together. Boot space too is the most in the Punto but even the Polo has the same 280-litres while the Figo’s smaller dimensions give it a smaller trunk of 257-litres.
And that brings us to the Volkswagen Polo which without a second thought has the best quality, not only in this company but among all the hatchbacks sold in India. It also has the most appealing interior with the classy design giving it an understated elegance. The Polo also has the best instrument cluster as it’s the easiest to read and navigate, the GT TSI being the most loaded car here with features like cornering lamps, cruise control, electromagnetic tailgate opener and rear parking sensors. It also gets ESP and hill start assist which is there on the Figo automatic too but shockingly none of these cars get keyless go and push button start. The Polo’s interior is almost perfect with the best quality, most equipment and the premium feel to the cabin but the rear seat just doesn’t have space and that is a big gripe on the Volkswagen hot hatch.
Performance – All these cars come with diesel engines and while Fiat has been the diesel engine master in India with the 1.3-litre MultiJet oil burner, the higher weight of the Punto makes it the slowest car of this pack. That’s also because the 1.5-litre diesel powerplant in both the Figo and Polo offer fire-breathing performance, the Ford being the fastest diesel hatchback in the country with a 0-100 km/hr time of 9.66 seconds, the GT TDI following not too far behind at 10.03 seconds. But it’s petrol cars we are talking about here today, so let’s get to business. For starters, it’s the Figo which has the highest displacement at 1.5-litre, producing 110.5 HP and 136 Nm, numbers which are quite good for a naturally aspirated motor.
Having a manual gearbox robs the Abarth but makes it the most fun car to drive, it’s the fastest hatch in India
However, the Punto Abarth and Polo GT TSI employ turbocharged engines, Fiat using a 1.4-litre T-Jet mill while Volkswagen uses a excise duty friendly 1.2-litre powertrain. The TSI is the least powerful here with 103 HP of power while the Punto Abarth has the most power at 145 HP, it also has the most torque at 212 Nm while the Polo too excels here with 175 Nm. With all that power, the Punto Abarth might seem too fast for its rivals but it isn’t and that’s because of its weight. Still, as the below table suggests, the Fiat smokes its rivals in the 0-100 km/hr run easily, the Polo being not far behind while the Figo is the slowest here but still quite fast in isolation.
The Punto Abarth is the first Indian car to beat the 9 second barrier to 100 km/hr, making it a very fast hatchback indeed. It also feels the most fun to drive because of it being the only vehicle here with a manual gearbox, the shift quality being far from best with that rubbery feel. Still, nothing beats changing gears yourself and that’s the reason the Punto Abarth offers the pure driving experience while the Polo and Figo feel a bit artificial, you step on the big pedal and they go, no wheelspin, nothing (the automatics get traction control so that also helps in preventing rubber burning antics). Meanwhile, throttle hard on the Abarth and the tyres spin in glee, there is plenty of torque-steer too and the mid-range is just smashing. The Polo GT TSI redlines at under 6000 RPM while both the Abarth Punto and Figo go up to 6500 RPM. The Figo is actually not a match for the Punto and Polo and these cars do the quarter-mile in a rather quick 17.23 and 18.17 seconds respectively.
In the city, it’s the automatic gearbox equipped cars which feel better to drive with the Figo having the best low down pep while the Punto Abarth has some turbo lag to deal with but it also boasts of the strongest mid and top-end. The Figo lacks the mid-range and sounds the most vocal while the Fiat should have been louder, the Polo giving a nice note on full throttle and also boasts of the best NVH here, having good performance all throughout the rev range but being slow to take off on full pelt due to the transmission limiting RPM on launch. The automatic gearbox equipped cars (the Polo’s 7-speed DSG is more responsive but the Figo’s 6-speed DCT is more reliable) do have Sports mode and one can also shift gears manually using the tiptronic function on the lever but nothing beats a stick shift. On paper efficiency isn’t a world apart as the Figo delivers 17 km/l while the Polo and Punto return 16.47 km/l and 16.3 km/l respectively. Out on the road, it’s the Polo that turns out the most frugal with around 12 km/l, the Figo coming in next at 11 km/l and the Punto returns single-digits. But as you go hard on the gas on each car, it’s the Fiat that starts to drink more dramatically.
Driving Dynamics – All these cars are no Asian so they haven’t been subjected to an Anorexic diet in the interest of fuel economy. One thing is common between these cars, all of them are fun to drive. The Fiat has a lot of power and the widest tyres, it feels the strongest on paper and that is true on the road too as it has the best chassis for spirited driving. Not only does the Punto Abarth have the best body control here (thanks to the reduced ground clearance and stiffer suspension), it also has the best steering feel, thanks to the hydraulic unit while its rivals use electric systems in the quest for efficiency. The Polo beats the Figo in the handling department but not by much, in fact it’s too close to take a call but where the Polo lacks is its tendency to understeer on hard cornering.
All three cars will make you smile as they offer a brilliant dynamic balance
Grip levels are the best on the Punto Abarth but it does feel under-tyred for the kind of numbers the engine boasts of. The Fiat is also the most stable car here but so is the Polo while the Figo comes in third. Ride quality is fantastic on all these cars, the Figo doing slightly better than the Polo while the Punto continues to rule here as well. That’s not all, with all-wheel discs, the Abarth also has the best stopping power (engine breaking also helping), the brakes on the Polo performing better than the Figo as the Ford does have a overly sensitive ABS unit.
Safety and After Sales Service – All these cars get a slew of safety features, so there are dual front airbags, ABS and the automatics also get hill hold along with traction control. The Polo is a strong car and has got 4-stars in NCAP crash tests while the new Figo and Punto are yet to be tested. The Punto with its heavy build should outperform all other hatchbacks in safety while the new Figo might not fare as well as the Polo. Service quality of Ford is the best here with the most number of showrooms while Fiat performs slightly better than Volkswagen, the latter also being more expensive to upkeep.
Verdict – The Ford Figo is a good car but in this company, it simply doesn’t offer the same hot hatch experience as the Polo or Punto, leaving the battle to the Europeans. There is no denying that the Fiat Punto Abarth is the car for the real enthusiast, just look at it, it looks better than the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI, is faster, better handling and also boasts of more interior room and boot space. It does lose out against the Polo in terms of ergonomics, quality and equipment but those things don’t matter to an enthusiast, making this hot Italian hatch the easy winner of this shootout. Thank you Fiat for finally giving us what we always wanted.
Enthusiasts have been long waiting but Fiat has pulled a rabbit out of its hat as the Punto Abarth came out of nowhere. In a country where such cars appeal to a limited audience, Fiat has bravely put out the fiery Punto and that’s because it’s a terrifically fun hatchback and easily the best in its category.
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Picture Editing – Sri Manikanta Achanta
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