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Comparo: Fiat Abarth Punto vs Volkswagen Polo GT TSI vs Ford Figo 1.5 AT

Rishaad Mody  /
19 Oct 2015 15:15:53 IST

These are exciting times. For the first time in OVERDRIVE history we have a comparison test with three everyday hatchbacks that each make over 100PS. For two years, the choice for a realistically priced fast petrol hatchback was restricted to one car, the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI. Don't get us wrong, it's a great little car, but in just the matter of a month there are two new challengers and one of them even has the right to call itself a proper hot hatch! While the Fiat Abarth Punto claims to be the most powerful affordable hatch to ever go on sale in India the Ford Figo is closer in nature to the Polo. It packs an engine that makes over 100PS mated to a dual clutch automatic gearbox. Very similar indeed. Let the games begin.

Punto Abarth comparo (5)

Looks and feel

When it comes to sheer visual appeal, the Abarth Punto is a little lacking. Aside from those sexy 16-inch wheels, this is pretty much a standard Punto Evo that's been sent to the sticker shop. There's an onslaught of red stripes and Abarth Scorpios all over including a massive stinger on the roof. I don't mind the bugs and go faster stripes but the red detailing around the foglamps at both ends is tacky and to my eyes more Borivali than Bologna. The chrome detailing on the door handles also looks out of place.

The car has been dropped by 30mm but it still looks too tall with nearly two inches between the tire and wheel arch. Perhaps a sporty body kit could have helped to some extent. The Punto received a classy looking interior when it turned Evo and this continues with a few small changes. The dials are new and the seats get an additional mesh trim that provide some much needed lumbar support. Beyond that it's pretty much the same and you'll have to live with the awkward driving position, cramped rear and iffy quality in areas.

Punto Abarth comparo (1)

While the Fiat Punto Abarth screams from the crowd, the Ford Figo is a subtle but handsome design that appeals from every angle. It looks proportionate and quite European but could do with bigger and tastier wheels, the 14-inchers looking quite weak and have the narrowest tyres. The Figo's cabin looks a little bare in this company, partly down to the all black theme that doesn't work as well as the beige/black combination in the Figo Aspire. It's also because the larger screen from the Sync system is missing in this car. In a move I'm going to label as regressive, Ford has decided it will only sell you an automatic Figo in the mid level Titanium trim and you can't have the automatic with Sync, MyKey or six airbags. But then the Ford's cabin is far more spacious than either with a rear bench that won't leave passengers with sore knees.

Punto Abarth comparo (11)

There's no surprises with the Volksagen Polo GT TSI and it cuts a familiar shape, one we will always be fond of. Like the Ford, it doesn't have any sporty pretentions but the little German hatch has a elegant and expensive look and feel. The premium feel is reinforced in the cabin that instantly feels a segment above although rear space isn't a strong point. And the features on offer reinforce that feeling - cruise control, parking sensors, auto up and down windows, the Polo is easily the most loaded car here.

Behind the wheel

This is where it counts, where the Abarth Punto should absolutely demolish the competition. There's no doubt about the firepower under the hood - build some revs, dump the clutch and floor it in first gear to feel the fury of the 1.4-litre turbocharged motor. 145PS and 212Nm turn the 195 section front Apollo Alnacs, a tyre that works very well in the Polo into a spinning, smoking mass of uselessness. There's massive wheelspin in first and second gear and an equal amount of aggressive torque steer to deal with. Yup, this engine packs a really solid punch. Equally impressive is how the power is delivered. Of course, there's lag below 2000rpm but the engine still produces usable drive from just over idle, enough for city driving. Power builds smoothly, getting very strong above 4,000rpm and tapering off just before the 6,500rpm redline. In terms of sheer accelerative force there's no other 'Indian' car like it, perhaps the Octavia/Laura RS but they felt large and fast. The Punto simply feels fast.

Punto Abarth comparo (3)

But it's not all sunshine and burnouts. The international spec 595 Abarth runs the same engine in a higher state of tune and has a deliciously short throw and precise manual gearbox. However the Indian Abarth Punto continues with the Punto's same old rubbery 5-speed manual and long travel clutch which not only saps feel but also performance. Fiat claims just 8.8s from 0-100kmph but despite multiple runs, the best we could get was 9.3s. That's only about a second quicker than the significantly less powerful Volkswagen Polo GT TSI. The Abarth deserves to be at least a second quicker and I suspect it's the tyres and gearbox to blame. The first is an easy fix, the latter not so much...

The engine and gearbox in the Ford Figo is a straight lift off the Fiesta and EcoSport but the Figo's lighter weight has its benefits. Low speed throttle response is quite sharp, almost too sharp for some but I liked the urgency. Till about 2,000rpm the naturally aspirated 1.5-litre engine has the lungs on the other two but it gets killed in the midrange. To extract maximum performance you've got to rev the rings off it and the engine is happy to cooperate. Despite making more power than the Polo and weighing less, the Ford is the slowest, taking a rather leisurely 12.7s to 100kmph. In normal driving the 6-speed box is perfectly competent but when you turn the wick up the it is never quite sure what gear to be in and isn't as responsive or eager to shift as Volkswagen's DSG auto.

Punto Abarth comparo (2)

Two minutes in the Polo GT TSI and the memories gush back, what a lovely drive this is. The 1.2-litre turbocharged engine feels larger than the spec sheet suggests and it has a meaty midrange. Drive mode on the 7-speed box is a little lazy but slotting to Sport keeps the engine on the boil and a downshift is just a small prod of the accelerator away. The TSI engine has an interesting gravelly note to it as well, it's a nicer noise than the Abarth that strangely has no turbo chirps or whistles and a very anonymous exhaust note. The Polo is quick too, taking just 10.4s to hit the ton. If the gearbox allowed a launch at higher revs I suspect the Polo might even sneak under the sub-10 second mark.

Punto Abarth comparo (4)

Volkswagen's downsizing efforts shone through in our efficiency tests. The Polo is the most efficient with an overall 15.8kmpl. The Ford follows with 14.1kmpl while the best the Abarth can offer is is 10.43kmpl, a reasonable tradeoff for the performance on tap. It is worth considering is that all these figures are the result of a very light right foot and also because of the advanced gearboxes in the Ford and Volkswagen. Drive them hard and the efficiency will drop drastically - at some point we we saw the on-board meter drop below 8kmpl on all three!

Stitching the bends

Power is pointless when the chassis isn't capable of utilising it. The Punto was a great handler until Fiat decided to raise the ground clearance to 185mm in 2012. Hovering at 155mm, the Abarth no longer looks like it's on stilts but I'd still drop it by another 10-15mm. Nevertheless, the Abarth is now stiffer but fortunately still retains a good deal of suppleness to stay usable on poor roads. However, it now feels much more planted and glued to the road while the heavy hydraulic steering feels the most natural in this group. Ultimately the tyres will throw in the towel before you come anywhere near the limit. The Abarth Punto desperately needs wider and stickier rubber to properly exploit its abilities on a winding road. It's also the only car here without traction control which is ironic since it could use it the most.

Punto Abarth comparo (10)

The previous Figo probably had the weakest engines in its segment but it's balanced chassis and lovely steering made it an excellent handler. The new Figo gains in power but loses on what made the original car such a joy. The electrically assisted steering, while direct isn't a patch on the old hydraulic system in terms of feel and feedback. The chassis meanwhile, has been tuned for ride quality has sacrificed the old agility and rock solid mid corner feel for ride comfort. It's still very capable but not the visceral and memorable experience I was hoping for.

There's very little between the Figo and Polo when it comes to low speed ride comfort. Both are on the comfy side of the scale but the Polo just about edges it, absorbing potholes and bumps just a little better. The Polo feels more stable at speed and its power steering while also electrically assisted feels more natural and builds up weight progressively. It is quite the capable handler but feels soft when pushed hard through bends and has a fair amount of body roll. It's a sensation that takes getting used to because the car stays in line but the sideways body movement can be quite pronounced on the limit.

Verdict

The Figo may be powerful but it's gearbox robs it of the claim of being a driver's car. Instead, it comes across as a logical, practical and spacious city runabout that has enough power to entertain. It has the least number of gizmos but it's asking price of Rs 6.92 lakh (all prices ex-Delhi) is considerably lower than the other two. If it came with a manual it would have been even cheaper and a serious contender in this test.

Punto Abarth comparo (6)

On the other end of the spectrum we have the Abarth Punto. Fiat has finally done what no other manufacturer has dared to - introduce an affordable and properly powerful car for the Indian market. The Abarth has a riotous engine and its asking price of Rs 9.95 lakhis quite reasonable for the performance on offer. Sure it's just a second faster to 100kmph than the Polo but let's not kid ourselves, the Abarth will always be quicker in any real world situation.The issue is that it doesn't just end with the purchase, you have to invest in better rubber, better appearances (this is a personal thing but I'd immediately change the appearance of the bumpers and further lower the suspension). Many owners will probably want more noise as well which requires an aftermarket exhaust. With a little work this has to potential to be an incredible car.Still, the basics are in place and if raw performance is at the top of your wish list there is where the buck stops.

Unless pure speed isn't your immediate need. In that case, we come back to the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI. It's fast enough to be exciting and not that it matters much here but is also the most efficient. The Polo is versatile, tackling long weekend getaways just as easily as a dreary daily commute in the most crowded of cities. It's has the most features, is the most luxurious and sheer speed aside, it's the nicest to drive. At Rs 8.47 lakh, it actually makes for quite good value too.

Which one of the two to buy is entirely up to you. I'm just thrilled with the fact that there's now a choice.

Abarth Punto vs Polo GT TSI vs Figo 1.5 DCT


  
Fiat Abarth Punto
Drivetrain
Type 1368cc , Inline 4- cyl turbo petrol
Power 145PS@5,500 rpm
Torque 212Nm@2,000-4,000rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Valvetrain 4 valves/ cylinder
Chassis & Dimensions
Suspension (F/R) Independent with coil springs/ Torsion beam
Brakes (F/R) Disc/ Disc
Tyres (F/R) 195/55 R16
Kerb weight (kg) NA
Fuel tank capacity NA
LxWxH (mm) 3989x1687x1505
Wheelbase (mm) 2510
Performance & efficiency
0-100 kmph (as tested) 9.3s
City/ highway/ overall (kmpl) 9.8/12.25/10.36
Price (ex-Delhi) Rs 9.95 lakh
  
Volkswagen Polo GT TSI
Drivetrain
Type 1197cc, inline 4-cyl turbo petrol
Power 105PS@5,000
Torque 175Nm@1,500-4,100prm
Transmission 7-speed DSG
Valvetrain 4 valves/ cylinder
Chassis & Dimensions
Suspension (F/R) MacPherson strut/ Semi independent
Brakes (F/R) Disc/Drum
Tyres (F/R) 185/ 60 R15
Kerb weight (kg) 1109
Fuel tank capacity 45 litres
LxWxH (mm) 3971x1682x1469
Wheelbase (mm) 2469
Performance & efficiency
0-100 kmph (as tested) 10.4s
City/ highway/ overall (kmpl) 13.9/19.3/17.21
Price (ex-Delhi) Rs 8.47 lakh
  
Ford Figo 1.5 DCT
Drivetrain
Type 1499cc, inline 4-cyl
Power 112PS@6,300rpm
Torque 136@4,250rpm
Transmission 6-speed Powershift
Valvetrain 4 valves/cylinder
Chassis & Dimensions
Suspension (F/R) MacPherson strut/ Semi independent
Brakes (F/R) Disc/Drum
Tyres (F/R) 175/65 R14
Kerb weight (kg) NA
Fuel tank capacity 42 litres
LxWxH (mm) 3886x1695x1525
Wheelbase (mm) 2491
Performance & efficiency
0-100 kmph (as tested) 12.7s
City/ highway/ overall (kmpl) 12.3/19.5/14.1
Price (ex-Delhi) Rs 6.92 lakh
  

Images by Ashok George

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