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Hot Hatch Fever - My Volkswagen Polo GTI 1.8L TSI 2017-11-09 21:35:41
Engine & Gear box

The VAG group’s 1.8 TSI is a real gem of an engine. I owned the Laura 1.8 TSI for about 6 years/ 85k kms and it never ceased to amaze me. Even at the end of 6 years it felt fresh and as powerful, as smooth and as refined as it was on day one. Generally there is some fatigue in an engine over the years. Some engines turn gruff, some engines just don’t have same energy, some feel strained beyond a certain RPM. But the 1.8 direct injection turbo had none of that even after 6 years. While the Laura TSI introduced me to wonders of the 1.8 TSI, the Polo GT TSI introduced me to the marvel of the 7 Speed DSG. I know, the DQ200 gear box has received a lot of flak here on team bhp for its unreliable nature. The early Superbs were the worst affected. Some early Polo owners too have faced clutch pack failures and mechatronic failures. A switch to mineral oil helped matters but problems haven’t gone away completely. I myself had some issues with clanky downshifts from D3 to D2 in my GT TSI. A software update helped matters, but I feel the software update has tamed the gear box a bit. It seems a little sedate now. Anyway the point I am trying to make is, despite its reliability issues and flaws, the dual clutch 7 speed DSG is a fantastic piece of equipment when it works. There is virtually no transmission loss and all the engine power is transferred to the wheels. The real strength of the DSG is upshifts. The next gear is pre selected and it changes gears in milliseconds with virtually no drop in power to the wheels. It’s also relaxing to drive in traffic and the DSG logic is so smart that it adapts to your driving style and virtually reads your mind. You can literally talk to the gear box with your right foot.

The star of the show

On paper the DQ200 7 speed DSG in the Polo GTI is the same gear box found on the Polo GT TSI. But I find that hard to believe, simply because it feels so different in the GTI. It not only seems to shift faster, but it also feels more assured when it comes to downshifts. Downshifts are a slightly weak area for dual clutch transmissions. They are very good with upshifts with the next gear preselected. But when you suddenly put your foot down, when cruising in a high gear, there is a little lag before it downshifts. But the DQ200 in the GTI does not suffer this problem. It is lightning quick in selecting the right gears. I have experienced the 8 speed ZF in the X3 30d which is rated among the best in the business. This DSG7 has to be right up there somewhere. Maybe it is still early days, but right now, its good off the line, it’s fantastic when you are accelerating hard, its good with downshifts and it is not jerky while decelerating or in slow traffic. It’s got all bases covered basically. Hopefully it’ll stay that way. But I am not so sure if my experience with the DSG in the Polo GT TSI is anything to go by. With age and wear and tear on the clutch packs, the DSGs tend to lose some of their ‘good’ qualities. I don’t drive a lot in crawling traffic. Hopefully that should keep the stresses low on the clutch packs.

Another area of difference with the Polo GT TSI is the gear lever’s selection methodology of the ‘S’ mode. In the GT TSI you have to press the lock button and pull the lever down to ‘S’. This is a bit cumbersome and can rob you of that crucial half a second than can potentially cost you an overtaking opportunity. In the GTI, to select ‘S’ mode, you just have to tap the lever down once. No need to press the lock switch or even hold the lever. It has a spring loaded action where the lever does not actually shift down. It returns to the same position, but S is now engaged. To get back to D you have to tap it in the same manner once again. I love this feature. It allows you to get in to S in an instant with no time delay and similarly get back to D once you’ve completed the overtake. As a result I find myself getting in and out of ‘S’ mode very often. Spot a nice empty piece of road? Tap it into ‘S’, let it rip, hear the exhaust growl, pop and fart, then get back to D when the stretch is over. What a joy! Being a GTI, VW has programmed some subtle sporty bits into the car. One such thing is the kick when the box shifts up or down. You get a mild kick with every upshift when accelerating hard and even when it downshifts when it senses you want a move on. The exhaust playing its own upshift downshift music. Just makes you realise you are driving something special.

One negative in the way the gear shift is programmed, is that regular D mode is too mild. It shifts up too early in D. ‘S’ is way too aggressive and at times I wish there was something in between. This is more so on the highway when you get slowed down behind two slow moving vehicles. In D mode the box is too eager to upshift to higher gears and as result the acceleration isn’t as rapid as you’d like. In ‘S’ mode the upshifts happen later and you get to enjoy the fantastic midrange of the 1.8 TSI. One problem in ‘S’ is that the gearbox downshifts very aggressively if you brake hard or get slowed down. From S6 it jumps straight down to S3 or S2 even. Yes it rev matches and all, but the loud exhaust starts screaming and you tend to startle everyone inside and outside the car. At times I almost get embarrassed!!

Paddles are one answer for that something in between that I’m looking for. They are a lot more fun in the GTI than the X3. Also paddles allow you to rev the engine beyond 4,500 ~ 5,000 rpm to get that DSG fart for every upshift. I am yet to get fully accustomed to using paddles, but I think that’s going to happen very quickly the more I drive this car.

The 1.8 TSI found under the hood of the GTI is an evolution of the EA888 series of turbo charged engines. It combines direct injection and turbocharging to produce 192 PS of peak power from 5,400 RPM to 6,200 RPM and a peak torque of 250 NM right from 1,250 RPM going up to 5,300 RPM. The peak torque is actually limited to 250 NM due to torque limits of the DSG gearbox. Polo GTIs with manual transmission have this cranked up to 320 NM right from the factory! The 1.8 engine block completely fills up the engine bay. So much so that there is no space left for the battery! The battery is placed in the boot ala BMW. Helps achieve good weight distribution too as otherwise the car will become too nose heavy.

Good thing is VW has not detuned the engine for India. This is what you get in India and elsewhere in the world. The recommended petrol is 95 RON OR 91 RON min. The manual says the engine will do fine with 91 RON but with a slight drop in performance. I am trying to stick to Speed 97 when in BLR city so far. I did a highway run with 97 one way and 91 for the return journey and I can confidently say that the car was much peppier with 97. I think you lose at least 15 to 20 bhp with 91 Octane petrol. One thing I am sure is that the exhaust note is way better (louder) with 97. The exhaust is a bit muted with regular 91. A tank full of speed 97 easily lasts me more than a month if I am not travelling. Let’s see how long I can stick to 97. It’s not the easiest thing to do as very few fuel stations stock it and at times there is no supply.

The best thing about the engine specs is from where the peak torque starts : 1,250 RPM . And it stays with you right up to 5,300 RPM. This and the intuitive DSG means that you are rarely out of the peak torque zone. The torque is so well spread out that there is hardly any turbo lag. Acceleration is linear and relentless when you give it the beans. It’s ridiculous how quickly it accelerates from 60 to 100 or 100 to 150 clicks.

Fire up the engine in the morning and the engine comes to life with a growl, followed by a rumble until the RPM drops after about 25 seconds or so. My two year son old loves this sound. It’s impossible to make a quiet getaway without him knowing!! Around town, the engine and gear box are very refined and there are simply no negatives. The gear box shifts up smoothly, you have adequate power, the noise insulation is good, AC’s good, ride is recent enough, handling is superb, good ergonomics, quality interiors, the sound system is great etc… Basically it is very easy to live with on a daily basis. I find the hill hold control to be a bit more aggressive in the GTI. Car tends to leap ahead from standstill a little aggressively. You need to be very careful and give very light throttle input from standstill whenever it gets engaged.

On open highways the car is blisteringly quick. You always have a feeling that you are the fastest thing around. Just step on the throttle and the lightening quick DSG shifts down a couple of gears and you are on your way. The wide torque spread ensures that you are always in the meat of the power band. Sometimes people ask me why I love petrol engines so much. Modern diesels have torque and economy on their side but the kind of emotional connect you get with sweet sounding high revving petrols is something else.

What makes the Polo GTI a very fast car is the power to weight ratio. 192 PS in a car that weighs only about 1.25 Tons gives it a power to weight ratio of about 150 bhp per ton. Just to put that in perspective, the 265 bhp G30 BMW 5 Series has a power to weight ratio of about 143 bhp per ton. In terms of numbers the official 0-100 time given by VW is 7.2 secs, but many car mags have tested the Indian GTI to do the ton in about 6.7 secs. Top speed is rated at 235 kph. VW always tend to be conservative with their official BHP and 0-100 timings. Strange, since they had no reservations in overstating how clean their diesels were!!

Fuel Efficiency :

It’s amazing how technology advances. Six years back the same engine in my Laura produced 160 PS and returned about 11 to 11.50 kmpl over a 500 kms drive from Bangalore to Belgaum. The engine in the GTI produces 192 PS and returns 13.60 kmpl over the same drive, driven in similar fashion and with the added convenience of the auto box! The 7 gear ratios + abundant torque from low down, allows the designer to give you a super tall 7th gear. At 140 kph the engine is spinning at 2,600 RPM in 7th gear. That is very impressive for a petrol engine. In the city it can vary anywhere between 6 kpl to 10 kpl depending on the time spent idling at signals. The auto start stop is one of the most irritating features ever. I don’t know what it is doing in a car like the GTI

. Thankfully there is a switch to turn it off. I’ll have to get it deactivated during service.

Tall seventh gear