India is a country where scarcity of hot hatches still prevails. We had our fair share of fun to drive cars in the past, but they are all long gone. These are the few cars in India which stands out from the regular crowd and is currently available in India within a budget.
1.Fiat Abarth Punto
Fiat is one of the few manufacturers in India which rewards us poor petrol heads with some proper handling cars. The legendary Palio 1.6 GTX/S10 was a clear example of this, followed by the Punto and the linea. The Punto was a great handling car which lacked some oomph in the engine department, and that is when fiat decided to bring in the Abarth Punto. Straight up, don’t get fooled by the scorpion moniker, as this a not the same Abarth Punto that you get elsewhere. The car was powered by a 1.4-litre T-Jet unit churning out a class-leading 145 hp and 212 Nm of torque. Fiat claims it’ll do 100 in just 8.8 seconds. The Abarth Punto belongs to a rare breed of cars which are purpose built. The engine packs a considerable punch, enough for a wheelspin even in the 2nd gear. The chassis was retuned by fiat resulting in a lower ride height and ground clearance. The steering, although better than everything available on the market, wasn't really one of the fiat's beat. The older generation linea and Punto had a much better steering with more feedback and no slack around the dead centre position. The best thing about the Abarth Punto has to be its braking which is simply outstanding. Be it pedal feel or initial bite, it trumps over every other quality that the car possesses. The ergonomics of the car, like every other fiat, was awkward and the gearshift, although improved from what fiat was offering before, was still mediocre in comparison. The Abarth was a breath of fresh air for petrol heads on a budget in India, but there were very fewer takers for the car. I'd say that the Abarth is a very capable car with some right mods which would make the car feel special which is what it should’ve been in the first place.
2.Ford Figo S
Ford adding the S badge to the Figo was a daring move, as the car which previously carried that badge (Fiesta 1.6s) was an absolute legend in its own way. The Figo s is more than its cosmetic enhancements. Ford reworked on the suspension by adding a beefier anti-roll bar along with a stiffer suspension setup which was also lowered by 5mm. The second generation Figo was no match for the first generation, which was an absolute hoot to drive even though it was powered by moderate engines. The Figo s came in both the diesel and petrol variant although the petrol motor is nothing special. The diesel, however, is a tractable motor with minimal turbo tag and serious poke. The engine comes with 100hp and 215 Nm of torque which helps in a 0-100 time of under secs. The steering is the biggest downer of the Figo as it’s an eps unit, unlike Ford's brilliant HPS unit from the old Figo and the Fiesta. Meatier 195 section tyres and 15” wheels did improve the steering but it lacked feedback and was a bit dead in the centre position. The Figo s is no pretentious driver’s car but it’s very far away from doing justice to the badge it flaunts with pride.
3. Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS
The Baleno RS was Suzuki’s attempt at a hot hatch. Under the hood is a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder booster jet engine with 102 hp and 150 Nm of torque. The engine is adequately peppy for a three cylinder with torque coming in early but the top end is what these motor lacks. 0-100 takes only 10.52 seconds as it has a power-to-weight ratio of 106 BHP/ ton.The Baleno RS lacks in outright numbers but makes it up with practicality and drivability. The car feels light on its feet but is nowhere as sporty as Maruti wants it to be. There are not many changes to the suspension setup which is clearly evident from the body roll. It is a good, fun little car which aspires to be a hot hatch one day. The addition of disc brakes on all four wheels is a nice touch. Numb steering and the soft suspension setup is a huge letdown. The RS version is very similar to the normal Baleno and subtle changes to the exterior styling differentiate it from the latter.
4.Volkswagen Polo GT TSI
The Polo GT TSI is the only car in this list that comes with an automatic gearbox, a pretty good one at it too. The suspension setup is exactly identical to the normal polo making it less desirable. The engine on the other hand makes 102 hp along with 175 Nm of torque. The DSG gearbox coupled with the 1.2 TSI is what shines in this car. Shifting speeds are subsequently quick and the 1.2 TSI unit pulls cleanly from as low as 2000 rpm to the indicated 6000 rpm redline and 100 comes up in 10.62 seconds. Midrange is also strong making it a capable performer. Everything except the gearbox and the engine is plain jane. The steering, for instance, provides no feedback and feels light at high speeds. The handling is neutral and body roll is evident, although fairly controlled. High-speed stability is good and the build quality is typical of a Volkswagen. It's a capable hatchback which also comes with a fast shifting automatic gearbox but is galaxies away from being a hot hatch.