Upgraded from an Alto K10 to a Polo: Buying & ownership experience
If you are coming from a Hyundai or Maruti, you will find the gearbox and the clutch of the Polo to be a bit on the “heavier” side.
BHPian Siddy_1998 recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
Some time in mid-2021
“But I am a Vice Principal now! The head of my school! Even the teachers junior to me are coming for duties in premium hatchbacks/compact sedans. And here I am, going in an Alto K10. It ain’t a bad car but it has been a while and it is high time to upgrade. I am not getting any younger to experience better car(s),” says mum.
My dad says, “Well, alright, this Diwali, we’ll have your car upgraded. We might also be able to extract some sweet discounts in the festive season.”
Mum: “Very nice, did you not say the same thing to me this year before Holi? How much are we going to delay this?”
Dad (in a passive tone meant to end discussions): “I promise. This Diwali, it is. By that time, finalize your choice with Sid.”
Mum: “Alright, but no further delays! I have already discussed my next car with Sid.”
Dad: “Done. For Sure.”
Well, as expected, no conversations about this took place during Diwali. Well, partly because the situation at home wasn’t favorable at the time, partly because Dad isn’t a petrolhead and he has this habit of delaying jobs that involve spending money (unless extremely necessary).
Fast forward to 14th March, 2022
Mum (to me): “Don’t you worry, Sid. We are talking about the new car today. As a matter of fact, we are booking it today itself. You need not worry.”
In the evening, Dad comes to home from office, and we discuss the topic at the Dinner table.
Mum: “I have waited long enough. Its time. I am booking our new car.”
Dad: “Whoa, calm down. Have you decided what car you want? And have you thought what are we going to do with our Alto?”
Mum: “The Alto would be going to our family in the village. They need a car more than we do. They don’t have public transport over there, so imagine how useful a car is going to be to the family. And Alto is fantastic car for the mountain roads. There cannot be a better way to surprise our family there.”
Dad: “Alright, but isn’t this a bit too early?”
Mum: “If we delay it any further than this, I don’t think I want an upgrade.”
Me: “Yes, dad. Trust me. I have checked out every other option and this is the final opportunity to get the car home – the car both mum and myself want to have at home.”
(After a long discussion – which is discussed below)
Dad: Alright, when you’ve decided already. Why delay it anymore? Book it today.
Throughout this discussion, you might feel that my mum was a bit stubborn at times to get this done. But trust me, if it wasn’t for my mum and her listening to my advice, we would have never got home the car that we enjoy and love every single day today.
The car in question
From the title, you can already see the car we finalized. But why? And how? And what was the discussion about (mentioned above)?
- Our budget for the new car was fixed at 10.00 lakhs (on-road).
- Compact crossovers (yes, not SUVs) and sedans were out of the equation because of parking space constraints. We wanted a premium hatchback.
- I am the tallest guy in the family (5’9″) and by general standards, I have an average height. All other 3 members of the family are between 5’6″ and 5’9″. We were always able to fit inside the Alto K10.
- A well-built, safe car was always the first priority, closely followed by the driving dynamics. Having more features was the last priority. We were used to the Alto, so we never felt the need to have over-the-top features.
And this section also explains the discussion that we had.
- Volkswagen Polo: My friends had this car and I had a soft spot for this car already when I drove it back in my college days. Having driven both the GT TSI and the GT TDI cars, I already knew what to expect. This car felt so safe and so premium on the inside (as well on the outside) in this price range that I was in love with the Polo right from the moment I drove it.
- Hyundai Grand i10 NIOS 1.0 Turbo: This car was loaded with features and it felt so good on the inside. The quality of materials and plastics used was not as good as the Polo but I liked the dual-tone interiors and the overall design. However, the reason I rejected this car was because of its 2-star NCAP crash test rating. I also talked to my friends and family friends who owned this and many people reported a bad fuel economy. I wasn’t a fan of its driving dynamics either. The steering was too light for my liking and the suspension felt heavily biased towards comfort.
- Tata Altroz iTurbo: I liked the Altroz a lot more than the i10 NIOS. I personally felt that it handled a lot better and it had the NCAP stars as well. In fact, Altroz is the car that most people would like to have, it is sensibly priced, it is spacious and it has a long list of features. However, the reason we rejected this car is that we had already tested the Volkswagen’s TSI engine before we drove the Altoz and we simply felt that the Altroz was underpowered in comparison. Also, in the twists and turns, we found the Polo a lot more enjoyable. Besides, we had heard a lot of bad stories about Tata service centers (in our area).
- Hyundai i20: None of the family members was a fan of the latest i20’s design. But we still thought of test driving it. The latest i20 is indeed filled with a lot of features and creature comforts, but the 1.2 felt underpowered in comparison to the 1.0 TSI (and even the Altroz’s iTurbo) and the 1.0 Turbo was only available with the IMT transmission. And in the corners, similar to the i10 NIOS, the i20’s steering was simply way too light.
Apart from these, we would have liked to consider the underrated gem: Ford Figo/Freestyle but sadly, Ford had gone by the time we were ready to upgrade mum’s Alto. Also, we were strictly against Maruti cars for their bad build quality and safety ratings. Of course, the Brezza is an exception, but we wanted to have a smaller hatchback due to parking space constraints.
My Dad has a soft spot for compact crossovers (because almost everyone is buying them these days) and wanted us to upgrade to the Hyundai Venue. Of course, we found it to be bigger than the Polo and the Indian spec Venue was not crash-tested by Global NCAP.
Finalising the VW Polo
After test driving everything into consideration, we finalized the Volkswagen Polo. And I personally feel that the final version is the best iteration of the Polo. You could get the TSI engine which was only limited to the GT models before. And not the old 1.2 TSI, it is the new 1.0 TSI. And you could get this TSI technology with a proper 6-speed manual for the first time. I mean, what more could a purist want? You also get GTI-inspired bumpers and taillights. Some people may call it a 10-year-old design, but honestly, I adore the simple yet striking German design language which looks fresh for a long time. Furthermore, with their India 2.0 project, Volkswagen has already reduced maintenance costs on their cars, with attractive service value packs on offer.
So, talking about things we liked about the Polo – the first impressions.
The first thing that I loved about it is the flat bottom steering wheel with the old Volkswagen roundel. Frankly, I found this steering aesthetically better than the ones they are offering on their latest models now. And because you will be holding the steering wheel for about 97% of the time, Volkswagen has taken care and made efforts to make the steering feel plush and premium. Everything from the leather stitch to the piano-finished hollow third spoke feels very upmarket. Apart from the form factor, the steering has adjust for both rake and reach, making it easier for the driver to find the best driving position.
The plastic quality. While it is true that the later iterations of the Polo had slightly downgraded plastics compared to the Polo models that came earlier, by no standards whatsoever you can call it cheap. If anything, I still found the plastics to be of a higher grade than what competitors offered at the time. While it is possible to find flimsier plastic bits behind the cupholders (the area near the footrest), the percentage of these plastics is very low. The general fit and fit inside the car is beautiful and it feels that the car is built to last.
The seats. Although you do not get cooled seats, I found them to be very comfortable. You have all kinds of manual adjustments. I cannot tell how people taller than me would feel about them, but for my height (5’9″ or 176 cms), they are very comfortable. In the rear seats, you will feel that the seats are sort of pushed inside, hugging the body and adding more thigh support. I have experienced the rear seats in the Ciaz and I found the Polo’s rear seats to be better in terms of offering support. (I’ll talk about space later).
The speakers. For something that is not JBL-Harman or Bose, they sound good. For most people, they will do their job very well. For somebody who is an audiophile and gives a lot of attention to music quality, you might consider upgrading them to something else. Personally, I don’t feel the need to do so.
The safety. Surprisingly, the Polo does not get all the safety equipment offered by most cars today. In fact, you get ABS, EBD, 2 airbags, seat belt warning, child lock, over speed warning, speed sensing door locks, central locking and anti-theft engine immobilizer. Even without features like ESP, Brake Assist, Hill-Hold control or Traction Control System (some of these are available on higher variants), the Polo has a 4-star crash test safety rating and I was only wondering at times, how was it possible.
I also found the small touchscreen very slick. Smaller size means I can easily operate the entire screen using just one hand and the large font size makes operation easy and distraction-free on the move. I think that the USB port could have been positioned better, but overall, it is an awesome unit.
One of the best unique features of the Polo that you do not find on cars from other brands, is the ability to open/close all the windows with the remote key. It is so useful on day to day basis that I cannot emphasize it enough. Not only it is useful to dissipate the heat in the car (when it is parked in the sunshine for long), but it is also useful to shut the windows in case you forgot to close them after you get out of the car. The glass windows themselves are UV cut and slightly tinted by the factory with an anti-pinch function.
Another little detail that I absolutely love about the Polo is the boot release. From the rear, what looks like the Volkswagen roundel is actually the latch to open the tailgate.
And then, there is the way this car drives and feels. This part is discussed later.
Talking about the mixed bag
The headlights. It could have been better if Volkswagen offered projector headlights at least. Having said that, I don’t mind the halogens, they do their job well and visibility is not bad at all at night. We might consider upgrading these to aftermarket projector lights, thankfully there are a lot of good-looking ones available for the Polo. As for the taillights, although they are halogens too, I love the design and their appearance at night.
The Air Conditioning. Sometimes, while idling, the Air Conditioning stops cooling. It happens very rarely but it does happen. I don’t know if only I have this issue or if others have it too. But for more than 95% of it, the air conditioning is very effective.
The ORVM size. It looks proportionate with respect to the size of the car but at times, I felt that it would have been better to have a slightly larger-sized ORVM. Having said that, for the most part, I do not have any issues.
The wiper and the indicator stalks. Coming from a Maruti Suzuki, there were so many times when I turned the wiper on instead of the indicator and vice-versa. It took me a while to get used to it, and then one day I had to drive our Ciaz and it was the same funny story again.
The analogue dials. Frankly, this is a positive for me because I am biased towards analogue dials on a car. The movement of the rev-counter needle and the speedometer is very satisfying to me. The reason I have put this in the mixed bag section is simply because some of you readers would prefer digital clusters and will feel that the analogue dials are outdated.
The ground clearance is a mixed bag as well. For most uses, it is just adequate enough. For areas that have rougher roads/no roads at all, the Polo is probably not suitable.
And of course, the Polo isn’t without its faults. It is not very spacious in the back, a lot of the latest features have to be installed as accessories (rear-parking camera and vehicle tracking). To people who are used to comfort-oriented cars, they may find the Polo a bit more stiffly sprung for their liking. To the people who are more tech-savvy and want the latest gizmos in cars, the Polo is probably not the car you are looking for. Further, you need to be ready for those ABS sensor issues.
But why were Polo’s negatives not a deal breaker to me?
Space inside the car: Myself and my family members have a height ranging from 5’6″ to 5’9″. We are 4 people. And the Polo has enough space to seat all of us very comfortably. The space is going to be an issue for families with taller people (more than 6’0″).
Less features like halogen headlights, small screen etc.: It is very easy to find brilliant aftermarket projector headlights available for the Polo. I can upgrade them any time. Apart from that, the dealership already installed the rear parking camera and dongle for vehicle tracking and geofencing as an accessory. The touchscreen is smaller but I think having smaller screens in the car is better because they distract you lesser. Yes, it could have been much better to have a boot light. But I cannot disqualify to owning a particular car just because it does not have a boot lamp.
Design: Some people may say that Polo has a 10-year-old design but see any other 10-year-old car and you will concede that the Polo’s design has stood the test of time and it will continue to do so. Because a simpler design language looks better for longer. Look at a well-maintained Flash Red polo from a distance and you would probably admit that it looks posh even now.
As for the ABS Sensor issue, thanks to Team-BHP, I checked this link and was glad to know that Volkswagen had released a new version of better ABS sensors made in Belgium.
Besides, the Polo already had all the other features that we would normally use on a day-to-day basis while driving.
Also, we had enjoyed test driving the Polo so much, that our heart was already screaming to upgrade to the Polo, because:
If you don’t grin like a child when you step on the throttle and turn the steering wheel, you did not buy the right car.
If you do not turn back and look back at your car after you lock it when you walk towards your home, you did not buy the right car.
So, good looks, solid build quality and safety, and great driving dynamics. We had known for a while that it was the Polo. But when the rumors broke out in late February that the Polo was about to get discontinued, I was starting to get restless. You see, getting a car home takes time. You need to discuss, plan, test drive, book and wait, which takes a while. And all this is for nothing if the car gets discontinued and out of stock.
I started discussing this with mum every now and then because I did not want to miss out on the car we liked so much. We already had plans to upgrade, so what better excuse could there be to get the Polo home? This is why mum got a bit stubborn at home and dad had to give in.
The booking and the waiting period
On 15th March, 2022, we booked our Volkswagen Polo Highline Plus (MT) 1.0 TSI in the Carbon Steel Grey color online. To me, the color did not matter because the Polo looks great to me in any color. Further, we checked out the Google reviews for every single dealership in Delhi and found that Volkswagen Safdarjung had good feedback for most of it. So, it became our preferred dealership during booking.
We booked the Highline Plus MT because it was the best value for money of all variants. Further, we wanted to have a manual gearbox, because personally, I feel it is more engaging to drive. And it gets 90% of all the features you would find in the higher automatic variants. It was surprising to me that you get the driver’s armrest with a rear AC vent and a 12V point for the rear passenger in the Highline Plus but you do not get this feature in the GT (which is supposed to be the top variant of the Polo).
We paid the maximum possible booking amount (INR 50000) as an effort to “convince” the dealership that we were really interested in the Polo. Soon, a WhatsApp group was created by the team to communicate with us about the booking, accessories and other things. We were told that there was a 3-month waiting period on the Polo because of the semiconductor shortage, and this made me anxious. The production had already ended and the Polo was only on offer until stocks last.
2 weeks passed and we occasionally kept enquiring about updates on our booking and there was none. Then, I saw advertisements for Polo Legend Edition, signifying the end of life for the Polo. Deep down inside, I had the gut feeling that I had to get radical, or else we will miss out.
I checked out for some advice on the internet and I enquired about any other color available sooner. The dealership was quick to respond this time and told me that the Flash Red color was available immediately. I told mum about it and initially, she was skeptical because she felt that the Flash Red was indeed too flashy, but when I insisted on it, Mum agreed and we immediately asked the dealership to arrange the car. At this point, we invited a member of our family to come home and take the Alto with them to the village, where it would perform its duties.
On 15th April, 2022, we went to the dealership to personally meet the sales advisor appointed to us, because we felt that a face-to-face conversation would be way more impactful than a phone call/WhatsApp conversation. The sales advisor was extremely cooperative and courteous. He told us that he had already asked the car to be available the next day and we can take delivery after the necessary formalities.
This day changed the perception of the Volkswagen brand in Dad’s mind. He drives a Maruti Suzuki Ciaz (ZXI) and he used to think that all cars in this price bracket are normally the same. He saw a Flash Red Volkswagen Polo (Trendline, 1.0 MPI) standing in the showroom and was pleasantly surprised by the Flash Red shade and paint quality of it. The panel gaps were uniform (as they should be in a German car) and it looked like a more expensive car. We also saw a Volkswagen Tiguan and Taigun inside the showroom and I made my Dad check both those vehicles from the outside and inside and his facial expression told the story. He was sold by now.
We got home and told mum how amazing the Flash Red color was on the Polo. The next day, we got to the showroom, and it was like a childhood dream come true when I saw “soon to be” our Volkswagen Polo standing in its full glory. I could not wait to get all the paperwork done, and after all the formalities and payments, we took the delivery of the car at 19:25 hrs. The final on-road price for our car was INR 9.95 lakhs (including all discounts and accessories: rear camera, mud flaps, foot mats and dongle for vehicle tracking and geofencing). I think we got a great deal because, at that point, the Polo (without accessories and discounts) was worth 10.35 lakhs on-road (Delhi).
I wanted my dad to drive the car back home, and drive his Ciaz because I wanted him to experience the awesome 1.0 TSI engine, but realizing that my favorite car was coming home, my parents insisted I drive the new car home myself.
I remember the goosebumps that I felt when I started the car. All the months of watching my favorite car in car reviews on Team-BHP and YouTube, and feeling that I was in control, all those times where I would give second looks to every Polo standing in traffic or parked somewhere, the moments where I would look at a red Volkswagen Polo GT standing outside my school (when I was a school kid) every single time, all the moments that I had, test driving the Polo in college and later on, and now I was finally behind the wheel of OUR own Polo. And the best guise of the Polo. 1.0 TSI, 6-speed manual transmission. It made me a bit emotional.
The wait was worth it.
The first 2000 kilometers and initial impressions
Within the first week of purchase, I gave the car to Detailing Devils, Noida.
I opted for their 5-year warranty Ceramic Coating package (9H) worth INR 20,000. The work they did was absolutely fantastic and I’m very pleased with the results.
I was a bit sad sometime later because somebody keyed the right quarter back panel of the car but I guess this is a part of car ownership. It will be scratched, it will get dented at times. But all that matters is the fact that we got the Polo home and we can get all these little things fixed anytime we want to.
I also upgraded the interior light to this. It was in stock back then and it is a proper retrofit.
The first free checkup was done at 1500 kilometers at Volkswagen Rajdhani. We got the key marks touched up from the center and they also gave us a box containing a windshield washer fluid bottle, a shampoo and a microfiber cloth – I was pleasantly surprised.
During this time, the car was driven in the city only. Mum uses the car daily to get to her school (24 kilometers away) and the Flash Red has grown on her now. For most of it, this is the usual driving pattern – a both-side total of roughly 50 kilometers every day. She loves driving it and does not stop singing praises of the car.
The 1.0 TSI is simply BRILLIANT. Driving it once is like getting blood on Lion’s tooth – it’s very unlikely that after driving this engine, you will find anything else in the segment just as good. Sure, it is only a 3-cylinder, so not as refined as a 4-cylinder engine. But for a 1000cc 3-cylinder, it is genuinely impressive.
The typical 3-cylinder thrum is present at idle but it is not unsettling or disturbing. And eventually, after a while, you even forget that this is a 3 and not a 4. It is rev-happy, and once in the turbo range (above 1500 rpm), it packs a proper punch. You can extract amazing fuel economy from this engine when you want to, and the same engine can plant a big smile on your face when you drive it hard. The engine is based on Volkswagen’s 1.0 TSI used in the Volkswagen Up! TSI and won the international engine of the year award under 1000 cc category in 2018. It is easy to see why.
Volkswagen has already localized this engine in India and it also does duties in the new Volkswagen Taigun, Virtus and Skoda’s Kushaq and Slavia. One thing you will notice is the lack of engine braking. It is there, but it is almost non-existent, so you will have to get used to it. In the city, we are easily achieving 14-15 km/l in the city, which is very good for a car this heavy and this powerful. I did an experiment to extract as much fuel economy as I could, with the AC on. With a very light foot and all the traffic, I was able to get 20.5 km/l in the city. The fuel economy displayed on the instrument cluster in our Polo is quite accurate.
Couple this engine to the new 6-speed manual transmission and you are in for a treat. Sure, the transmission is not the slickest unit around, in fact, if you are coming from a Hyundai/Maruti car, you will find the gearbox and the clutch to be a bit on the “heavier” side, so you will find yourself putting a little bit of effort into changing gears. Having said that, it is not uncomfortable by any measure. The gearbox is actually very good and the throws are short. You get used to it, you will find it very engaging. Besides, the 6-speed allows you to harness the maximum power from the engine. The 6th gear is only an overdrive gear, though. It is only meant to cruise on the highway.
The suspension is an awesome balance between handling and comfort, although there is a slight bias towards handling, which is not a bad thing. Somebody coming from a Hyundai will feel that the car is stiffly sprung. But, the car is very stable at high speeds and in the corners and inspires confidence to drive harder. And it is soft enough to absorb little potholes and bumps on the road. Also, The 16-inch wheels and 195/55 tires are just the right sizes. Upsizing the rim will definitely compromise the ride, so I would personally suggest sticking to 16s.
The brakes are good as well. You get discs in the front and drums at the rear. They do the job quite well, whether you drive calmly or in a spirited manner. No issues there.
The NVH levels are fantastically low. You could feel the 3 cylinder thrum but won’t ever hear the engine noise while idling. In fact, I never realized how loud the horn was, until once when the front windows were open and I listened to the horn. I think it is down to the build quality, the insulation and isolation from outside are brilliant.
From 2000 kilometers to now
We took our car to our native place – the village (Dehradun). This also gave me a chance to test the Polo on the highway. With 3 people on board, and all the luggage with AC on, the car returned 23.2 km/l on the highway. The 6th gear is very useful for highway cruising and keeping those revs down. Also, the boot is 280 litres, but it is nicely shaped, so you can use all the available space efficiently.
Overtaking was super easy and the 175Nm of torque was more than enough to do that. Keep the car in the turbo range and there is absolutely no lack of power – if anything, the car always has more than enough power. You will never feel that the car is doing 100-110 km/h. It feels composed, stable and properly planted on the road. For the rest, I might write a full travelogue about this small road trip.
Compared to the competition, the steering is better. I would have liked a bit more feedback but I am not complaining at all. The steering is just sufficiently light in the city and weighs up as you pick up speed. And the experience just gets better once you get on those mountain roads. The steering weighs up as the car moves faster and it gives you total confidence. Apart from that, the body roll is non-existent. Very enjoyable experience. With every turn, I had this huge smile planted on my face and I knew that we had got the right car.
Overall, the Polo is a great driver’s car. Sadly it is not possible to buy a new one now, but you could still keep an eye on the used car market.
Even now, every time I look at the car, when I drive it, hold the steering wheel, change gear and feel everything inside the car, I thank God for letting me own one of the last manual units available on sale and drive the car I had always fantasized, in its best guise.
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