What you see on these pages are two different body styles that are usually geared to two very different customers – a hatchback and an SUV. But in many ways these particular cars break away from convention. Family hatchbacks are meant to be affordable, especially the petrol ones. But at Rs 7.99 lakh (ex-showroom), Delhi), the VW Polo GT costs as much as a midsize saloon. And SUVs are meant to be big, tough and spacious and have 4WD, but the EcoSport Powershift is essentially a slightly raised Fiesta with a wheel on its boot.
But they’re still quite different from one another, so why put them head to head? It’s all down to the spec sheet. They both have petrol engines that produce just over 100bhp, they both have class-first dual-clutch automatic gearboxes, they are priced within Rs 50,000 of one another, and they are both, for all intents and purpose, front-wheel-drive compact cars. So, not so chalk-and-cheese after all then. Let’s get started.
RESTRAINED VS RUGGED
When it comes to styling, these two are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Polo GT, like all VWs, has a very sedate design, with very few character lines and not many eye-catching elements. What’s more disappointing, however, is that save for some different badging, it look identical to the standard Polo from the outside. For a flagship hatchback with ‘GT’ in its name, we would have expected different alloy wheel at least.
Meanwhile, some might even accuse the Ford EcoSport of being over-styled. There’s all sorts of cuts, creases, ridges and bulges in the metalwork, there’s plenty of black cladding all around, the front is dominated by that monstrous chrome grille and slit-like headlamps, and then of course there’s the spare wheel on the boot. It’s all designed to give the full-on SUV look to a car that is really not all that large, and to that end, it works well. The 200mm of ground clearance helps here too.
FUNKY VS FUNCTIONAL
It’s much the same story on the inside. The Polo’s neat, two-tone dashboard layout is like a boardroom compared to the EcoSport’s, which with a plethora of buttons looks like it belongs in a spaceship. However, the Polo’s dash has just enough chrome accents to liven things up, and where it really trumps the Ford is with sheer material quality and fit and finish; it’s simply a class higher. The GT is similarly equipped to the Highline trim of the standard Polo, which means there’s climate control and a two-DIN music system with Aux-in, Bluetooth , USB and an SD card reader.
However, the EcoSport’s equipment list is even more comprehensive. The automatic is only available in the Titanium trim, and that mean it gets Ford’s Sync voice control system that operate many of the car’s functions, including the Bluetooth, Aux and USB-equipped audio setup. The six-speaker system sounds much better than the Polo’s four-speaker one too, and both cars get steering-mounted audio controls. For all its funky design, the Ford’s cabin really loses out on quality. Although it’s not as bad as a Renault Duster, some bits are tacky and not well put together at all; the flimsy glovebox is a standout example.
Being automatics in this segment, these cars are likely to be owner-driver, so the front seats are the ones that matter more. The good news is that neither car disappoints here. The Polo’s front seats are wide and supportive, and the two-tone fabric livens things up. However, the EcoSport does a little better here, with beautifully contoured front seats that, though a touch narrow, feel nicely snug. Neither of these cars has leather upholstery though. Visibility from the driver’s seat is where the EcoSport slips up. The thick A-pillars throw up a huge blind spot that can dangerously hide bikes. Even rearward visibility is poor because of the thick pillars and small glass area.
In the rear, the Ford makes better use of its tall stance to give you more head – and legroom, and if there are just two people, the EcoSport is surprisingly comfy and trumps the Polo. The VW is particularly cramped at the back, the low seating position and outright lack of legroom putting it at a huge disadvantage against the Ford.
It’s a similar story with the boot – the Ford’s 346 litres is superb by hatchback standards and betters the Polo’s 284 litres. The question is, will owners use the boot at all?
When it comes to keeping you and yours safe, both cars have you comprehensively covered. Both get ABS, driver and passenger airbags, rear parking sensors and hill-hold assist, and they also get Electronic Stability Control (ESC) – another class first. But the Ford goes a step further with traction Control (TCS) and side and curtain airbags as well. It also gets the novel Emergency Assist system that automatically calls an ambulance using your synched phone in the event of an accident.
TURBO VS ATMOSPHERIC
The biggest difference between these two cars is in their performance characteristics, thanks to two very disparate engines. The amount of power they produce may be similar, but the way they deliver it is very, very different. The Ford’s Fiesta-sourced, naturally aspirated, 110bhp 1.5-litre engine is happy in the city, in that it is smooth off the line and responsive enough at the bottom of its powerband to quickly shuffle you from one gap in traffic to the next. However, ask for a little more and you’ll encounter the engine’s rather weak mid-range. What you’ll want to do then is rev it to its more enthusiastic (and a bit noisy) top end, but here too there’s a problem. In normal D mode, the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox will upshift very early in the interest of better fuel economy, keeping you in the gutless mid-range. You can get around this by kicking down urgently on the pedal, but the gearbox doesn’t always responds with a downshift when you do.
Things improve when you put the gearbox in S, where it holds gears longer. You can also shift manually in this model, but rather than paddles or a conventional ‘push-pull’ tip-tronic system, there are tiny ‘+’ and ‘+` and ‘-` toggles on the side of the gearlever, which are really un-intuitive to use. Although it’s not the most responsive, the Ford Transmission shifts quickly and imperceptibly in most scenarios.
The Polo GT is a completely different animal. Its modern, 1.2-litre TSI direct-injection engine is turbocharged, which means you don’t have to travel far up the rev band to access its power. In fact, its maximum torque of 17.8kgm (3.6kgm more than the Ford) is produced at just 15000rpm. The power delivery is surprisingly linear for a turbo, there’s sufficient pep at low revs, and it has a really strong mid-range. It just loves to rev too, and it is also more refined than the Ford’s 1.5-litre motor. The VW gets to 100kph a whole 2.6sec faster than the EcoSport, although a lot of that is down to its 128kg weight advantage. It’s a similar story when overtaking in kickdown, where the Polo is 1.9sec quicker from 20-80kph and 3.01 sec quicker from 40-100kph. No doubt, the VW has the superior powerplant in this test by a fair margin.
The VW Group has been making DSG gearboxes for a long time now, and they are used in everything from Polos to Audios, so it’s safe to say they’ve mastered the formula. The seven-speed DQ200 gearbox in the GT Works well in just about any situation. Left in D, when you’re not in a hurry, it will upshift early just like the Ford’s gearbox. But should you suddenly want to overtake, it’s quicker to drop one or even two gears to make it happen. The S mode keeps the ‘box in the lower gears, but what you really want to use is manual mode. There are no paddles here either, but you shift by tapping the gearlever up and down. However, the VW DSG’s shift are noticeably jerkier than the EcoSport’s, especially in crawling traffic.
RIDE VS HANDLING
Here’s where things get a bit tricky. Ford’s engineers some of the best handling cars around, and one of their best is the Fiesta, with which the EcoSport shares its chassis. However, this is a tall, high-riding car, so there is bound to be some body roll when you go around corners. Still, the EcoSport’s poise and body control is pretty good – more akin to a hatchback than an SUV; but the lower, more planted Polo GT is the more reassuring one through the bends.
What’s not so reassuring about the Polo is its steering, which is overly light at anything other than parking speeds and offers little feedback. The EcoSport is much better in this regard, being light at low speeds and weighing up nicely as you go faster. For an electrically assisted system, there’s also loads of information from the front wheels, and it’s accurate and direct too. In fact, it’s simply the best steering we’ve tested on any car below Rs 10 lakh.
On the ride front, both cars do pretty well, soaking up rough patches and small bumps, and being phased only by large or sharp ones. The EcoSport’s longer suspension travel makes it much better at tackling potholes and speed breakers. You don’t have to slow down for bad roads as much as in the Polo.
It’s easy to point a finger at Volkwagen for not giving the GT a more sporty suspension setup to go with the added performance. But really, the standard setup is already pretty good for handling, and making it stiffer would have destroyed the ride quality. For everyday use, it’s better to err on the softer side.
SENSE VS SENSIBILITY
SUVs have become hugely popular in India in the last few years, and people are clearly willing to pay a premium for them. They have so much appeal that even just the looks are enough to make them sell like hotcake – as is the case with the EcoSport. Sure, with its ground clearance, lofty driving position and tacked-on-rugged-looking bits, the EcoSport no doubt has road presence and an assertive image. If this is what you want, then look no further. However, if you do go further by bringing out the measuring tape and poring over the spec sheet, you realise that the EcoSport doesn’t offer a great deal more than a well-appointment premium hatch. Then there’s the matter of cost. At their prices, lesser EcoSports are a steal; but factor in the automatic gearbox and you’re looking at Rs 8.45 lakh without all the taxes.
Meanwhile, for Rs 7.99 lakh, you can have the Polo GT TSI. Its hatchback form factor may automatically lose it some points with Indian buyers, but if you can look past that, it runs the EcoSport close for comfort and equipment, and absolutely blows it away on performance and build quality. The Polo is far more entertaining to drive and its superior all-round visibility makes it easier to manoeuvre and park in the City. Our tests even revealed it to be more economical than the EcoSport.
Coming back to the EcoSport, there’s no doubt that it’s a fantastic car, and we too love the rugged appeal it delivers. We’d even go as far as to say that any other EcoSport would be a better choice than any other equivalent Polo. But in automatic guise, it’s the driving experience that’s paramount, and in this respect the EcoSport doesn’t quite deliver. And the fact that our test car developed a minor rattle in the interior doesn’t bode well for how efficiently it’s been screwed together. The Polo’s cabin, on the other hand, feels more solid. But more importantly, It’s much nicer to drive and hence the one we would pick.