Shootout: Volkswagen Polo vs Hyundai Elite i20 vs Maruti Swift vs Fiat Punto Evo
Hyundai’s Elite i20 goes head on against its old rivals which are very strong in dynamics
Demand for big hatchbacks is soaring and it won’t be wrong to say that this year is the year of the premium hatchback (also the year of compact sedans). While last year saw no action in this segment, the four premium hatchbacks see some change or the other in 2014. It all started with the Volkswagen Polo which got a significant update earlier this year while Fiat also gave its entry-level and only hatchback a comprehensive facelift in the form of the Punto Evo. Maruti Suzuki will launch a facelift of the Swift later this year while Hyundai has launched the second generation of the i20 in the country. Badged as the Elite i20, does this Hyundai give other premium hatchbacks a tough fight to become the new king of the segment? A head to head shootout helps us to find out just that.
Motor Quest: While the current generation Polo was launched in 2009, the current generation Swift saw a 2010 launch while the Punto is the oldest here, the current generation dating back all the way to 2005. The Hyundai Elite i20 is the latest car here, its second generation made its debut only last month.
Exteriors – If size is what you crave for then the Maruti Swift will give you the least eye candy while the Hyundai i20 is easily the biggest car here, it simply looks a tad bigger than its key rivals. The Volkswagen Polo and Fiat Punto Evo are right sized, neither too small, nor too big and carry just the right bit of elements to attract attention. But which car is the best looking here. Although styling is a subjective matter, we can confidently say the Fiat Punto Evo is miles ahead of the others when it comes to design. The Italians have always had a flair for design and in spite of the Punto being a nine year old car (the original Grande Punto was launched in 2005), in the facelifted avatar, it looks absolutely scintillating.
The Swift is easily the most boring car here, it does look sporty but unlike its rivals, the current generation model hasn’t been updated even once. While the rest of the cars are designed in 2014, the Swift’s styling dates back to 2009, that’s five years old already in a time when the sheen of a car starts to fade in just two years time. The Polo’s understated styling has always pleased us and the minor changes to the exteriors with the recently launched facelift further accentuates its appeal. The i20’s styling grows on you with time, it’s less flamboyant and more mature than before but it’s not a car which will immediately make you go wow, that honour rests with the Fiat though, our pick in the styling department.
Interiors – The Hyundai Elite i20 is the freshest car here and that reflects in its interiors as well, the Korean vehicle boasting of the most appealing dashboard which has a lot of European flavour too it. In terms of design itself, the other three cars aren’t far behind, we love the Polo’s interiors and that flat bottom steering wheel with piano black inserts really makes us fall in love with the classic VW style dashboard even more. The Punto Evo’s dashboard is really nice too and we personally love it more than others (the only car to get ambient dashboard lighting which looks super cool at night) but Fiat has terribly messed up the ergonomics of the driver seat, the steering is too forward, the A-pillar is intrusive to visibility and the pedals aren’t properly laid together. The Swift is the only car here which comes with all black interiors (the Punto Sport also gets the all black treatment but the regular variants get dual-tone finishing as seen in the pictures here).
While the Swift has the best seats, it lacks when it comes to build quality, the Maruti car simply not feeling as robust as its rivals. The Punto feels the most solid with doors that shut with a massive thud, but the Fiat doesn’t have the quality to match the other cars. The best quality is in the Polo with the i20 being a close second. Cost cutting isn’t an exercise you would expect in a premium hatchback but every manufacturer has succumbed to this economic phenomenon. The Swift is the only car here which gets an alloy wheel for the spare tyre while the i20 is the only car which doesn’t get auto locking doors, a shocking omission on a car of this price and calibre. Space in the rear seats of the Swift and Polo is just inadequate and the Punto comfortably beats these two cars when it comes to rear seat space and comfort. However, the i20 is even better than the Punto making the passengers feel like they are sitting in a C-segment sedan in terms of rear seat comfort.
There is just so much equipment in the Elite i20 that no one comes even close to match Hyundai
The generous dimensions of the i20 coupled with the fact that this Hyundai boasts of the longest wheelbase among its peers, makes it a car you can sit behind (seating three not being an issue) and relax while the chauffeur does his duty. The i20 also beats its three key rivals when it comes to boot space, the Elite badged vehicle boasting of 285-litres of boot space (rear seats can be folded in 60:40 split) which is marginally bigger than the Polo and Punto’s 280-litre trunks, the Swift has a puny 206-litre boot capacity. Where the Hyundai i20 annihilates its rivals is equipment, it is by far the most loaded vehicle here and there is just so much on offer that no other car even comes close. The Polo is the only car with cornering lights while the i20 and Punto both get follow me home headlamps, automatic wipers, exact door open warning, rear AC vents (two vents in the Hyundai against one in the Fiat) and both activate their rear wiper when you get into reverse in the rains (detected by the front wipers being on). The i20 and Polo are the only cars here with reverse parking sensors but the i20’s is better as there is display on the cluster which shows how far you are from an obstacle.
The i20 is the only car here which gets a reverse parking camera (with guide lines), it also gets features like keyless go, push button start, 1 GB storage for the audio system (with 8-speakers but sound quality in the Polo is slightly better), etc. The mirrors of the car automatically open when you come near it and the vehicle also has a steering position indicator, service reminder and you can also configure how many times you want the lane change turn indicator to flash (3, 5 or 7). The Hyundai car does lack a distance to empty feature on the instrument console and equipment like sunroof, daytime running lights, side airbags and rear disc brakes would have been nice considering the old i20 had it. Besides having the most space, the i20 also has the most storage bins and there is a cooled glovebox too. The Swift is the least loaded car here and even lacks Bluetooth connectivity while the Blue&Me system on the Punto won’t let you stream songs, the Fiat being the only car with voice commands. The Punto has the best wipers and the i20 has the best visibility. All things considered, the Swift finishes last in the interior department (lack of equipment), Polo comes second last (lack of space) while the Punto finishes second. The i20 wins the interior round without much effort.
Performance – Let’s evaluate the petrol engines first, all the cars come with 1.2-litre motors but the Fiat is also offered with a tax sapping 1.4-litre powerplant. All cars are paired to a 5-speed manual gearbox but Hyundai will soon make the i20 available with a 4-speed automatic. The Polo is offered with two engines, the more powerful 1.2-litre TSI is easily the best in class but is only paired to a 7-speed DSG transmission. Factoring in the price (which is around Rs. 2 lakhs more than similarly specced 3-cylinder Polo) and one instantly realises there is no point in comparing the Polo’s GT TSI variant with the other cars here because if you have the budget, the VW is a no brainer when it comes to performance. So between the regular petrol engine of the Polo and the other three cars, which impresses the most?
Like it has always been the case, the Swift easily out-edges the others when it comes to petrol power. In terms of output, the Swift isn’t leading here, that honour rests with the Punto Evo whose 1.4-litre mill thrusts out 90 PS and 115 Nm (the 1.2 FIRE mill produces 68 PS and 96 Nm). Even with class leading figures on the 1.4 Punto, the Fiat doesn’t impress in performance (lacks low-end grunt), it’s also the least frugal car here with an ARAI mileage of 15.8 km/l for the 1.2 and 14.4 km/l for the 1.4. The Swift has the most punch here and it’s also the fastest car with 87 PS, 114 Nm and its light weight working in conjunction to offer spirited performance. The i20’s mill is the most refined and the gearbox is the smoothest too but the 83 PS and 114 Nm isn’t enough to make it out-edge the Swift. The Polo’s 3-pot mill is the least refined here and is also behind the Swift and i20 in terms of mileage, returning 16.47 km/l (17.21 km/l on the TSI) against the other two cars 18.6 km/l.
When it comes to diesels, the case is quite similar too as the Punto and Polo yet again come with two engine options, every car being mated to a 5-speed gearbox (except the i20 which gets a 6-speed unit) with no one getting an automatic. The Polo’s GT TDI variant is the most powerful with 105 PS and 250 Nm of torque but the price is much higher too, leaving it aimed solely at enthusiasts. The Punto Evo is offered with just one engine but in two states of tune, the lower 75 PS unit produces identical power as the Swift (which also uses the same motor) but the Fiat has more torque at 197 Nm against the Swift’s 190 Nm. The Swift’s light weight, good gearing and fantastic mid and top-end help it run circles around the Fiat, even beating the Punto’s Sports variant which produces 93 PS and 209 Nm. The Swift and Punto both suffer from turbo lag which hinders city drivability but the Maruti car is better than the Fiat, it also has a better gearbox while the Punto has the worst here. While the clutch is the heaviest in the Polo, the i20 has the best gearbox which is super slick. The Swift comes second as far as the gearbox goes and the Polo finishes third.
The Polo’s 1.5 TDI engine is by far the best here, it delivers on all fronts
However, the competition between diesel engine performance is purely between the Polo and i20. The 1.5 TDI mill in the non GT Polo generates 90 PS and 230 Nm while the Elite i20 also offers 90 PS but slightly lesser torque at 220 Nm. After having driven both the cars back to back, we were quite confident that the Polo would beat the i20 in acceleration but the numbers say otherwise. The i20’s super slick gearbox coupled with a better top-end than the Polo help it beat the VW car in outright acceleration (when you are nearing 100 km/hr in the Polo the car starts to lose steam sharply hurting its 90-100 km/hr acceleration time). But timing aside, we would choose the VW’s engine anytime over the Hyundai’s as it has the best drivability, the most mid-range punch and feels really exciting to drive too. The i20 isn’t a slouch but it can’t match the Swift’s top-end or Polo’s low-end. The i20’s motor feels the best in the mid-range and the altered gear ratios on the Elite model make it better to drive but the power delivery is linear and there is no kick in the pants feel like in the Polo. The i20 does have some lag at the low-end but it’s drastically less than the Swift and Punto.
To Hyundai’s credit, the NVH in the Elite i20 is by far the best, the car is very silent and none of its rivals can come even close to match that. As the above table shows, the Punto Evo is the slowest, being bogged down by its weight and below average gearbox which feels notchy when you shift enthusiastically. The Swift’s acceleration times are respectable considering its the lowest on output while the Polo could have been faster than the i20 had the gearing been a bit different but that really doesn’t matter as the VW has the most engaging diesel motor here, a bit noisy but we like what we hear. In terms of mileage, the Swift leads with 22.9 km/l while the i20 comes in second with 22.54 km/l. The Punto beats the Polo with 21.2 km/l for the 75 PS version and 20.5 km/l for the 90 PS variant while the VW manages 20.14 km/l for the 90 PS and 19.91 km/l for the GT TDI. Remember, these are ARAI figures so the real world difference will be marginal with less than 2 km/l setting these cars apart.
Driving Dynamics – Just a couple of months back, we put the Swift, Polo and Punto Evo head on against each other and had a tough time in deciding the best car in the dynamics department. That would definitely not be an issue with the inclusion of the i20 as the Hyundai doesn’t come close to the other three in the dynamics department. Hyundai sure has made great amends in both ride and handling, the car feels more sure-footed at high speeds too but it’s no way close to the Swift, Punto and Polo who are pure driver’s car. Still the i20 now boasts of a more mature set-up, it doesn’t feel hairy at high speeds and the ride quality has seen considerable improvement too, there is no more of that bounciness from the suspension. The i20 no longer has the lightest steering here (the Swift’s steering is the lightest but weighs up brilliantly) but it isn’t consistent and lacks feedback.
The Elite i20 still can’t match the other three cars in dynamics but the set-up on the Hyundai is acceptable for most
The i20’s big stride in dynamics in no way affects our old verdict, the Swift continues to have the best steering (the i20’s is worst here and feels lifeless), the Punto continues to have the best ride quality (the 75 PS version runs on higher profile rubber and is even better) while the Polo is the most fun car to drive thanks to its punchy engine, good dynamic balance and good steering feel which is miles better than the i20 but can’t match the Punto’s hydraulic unit. The Swift’s ride quality is the worst here while the i20 betters the Polo in this department (it should be even better on the lower trims which come with 14-inch wheels), although the Korean is no way a match for the Italian beast. Braking performance is best in the Punto, followed by the Polo, i20 and Swift, the Maruti lacking grip on heavy braking while the Hyundai lacks feel.
Safety and After Sales Service – All the four cars are Euro NCAP 5-rated but none of them will perform the same in India as none get side airbags (the old i20 had 6 airbags but the Elite version doesn’t offer it). The Polo is the only car here which comes with airbags as standard on all variants, other manufacturers need to adopt this safety initiative from VW. But the Polo loses out when it comes to after sales service, Volkswagen’s being the worst of the four while the Fiat being better but no match for Maruti or Hyundai. Maruti has a larger service network than Hyundai and as the company rightly claims, where ever you go, you are bound to find a Maruti service station.
Verdict – So we have four very competent cars here but which continent wins, is it Europe or Asia? The Swift finishes last, it has started to feel dated, doesn’t have the same equipment levels as its rivals and the rear seat isn’t of much use and neither is the small boot. The Punto Evo finishes third, it’s a fantastic car which is let down by the lacklustre engines that simply don’t give it the go to match the show. It’s the best looking car here but needs more performance to challenge the rest, the Fiat being the slowest in both its petrol and diesel avatars, in spite of having four different outputs on offer. So our last time winner, the Volkswagen Polo fights it out for the top spot with the Hyundai Elite i20 and that’s where things start to get close.
The German and Korean cars are very closely matched as there is less of a compromise in these vehicles, compared to the Japanese and Italian machines. Both the Polo and i20 have their strengths, the VW being a better car to drive with more engine options and drastically better handling. Where the Polo takes a big hit is rear seat space, it’s more of a two-seater and thus a car which doesn’t fare well on the practicality front, it is still the unanimous choice for the enthusiast (the GT variants more so). The Hyundai i20 manages to edge ahead of the Polo, it is significantly bigger on the inside, offers more comfort, has way more equipment and Hyundai’s service experience is miles ahead too. While the i20 can’t match the driving sheen of the Polo, most people (and most buyers in the segment are those kind) who aren’t into enthusiastic driving will appreciate the i20’s smoothness and neutral balance. All this helps the Elite become the uncompromising winner of this shootout.
The Hyundai Elite i20 is a more rounded package than the Volkswagen Polo. It offers comfort and features in abundance, thereby appealing to the requirements of majority of premium hatchback buyers in our country. The Polo is still the choice for enthusiasts.
Further Reading –
Hyundai Elite i20 Review
Hyundai Elite i20 Long Term Review
2014 Volkswagen Polo Review
2015 Volkswagen Polo Long Term Review
2014 Fiat Punto Evo Review
2014 Maruti Swift Review
Hyundai Elite i20 vs Honda Jazz
Hyundai Elite i20 vs Hyundai i20 Active
Fiat Punto Evo vs Volkswagen Polo vs Maruti Swift