What is it?
Meet the new Golf GTI. In spirit, anyway. The new Polo GTI is almost exactly the same size as a Golf GTI Mk2. Reflecting today's downsizing trend, the engine is smaller than in those early GTIs, its pistons displacing a mere 1.4 litres. But with the help of a supercharger and a turbocharger, there's 178bhp on tap. Prices haven’t yet been announced, but expect them to be about £1000 above the £15,700 Skoda Fabia vRS which uses the same engine and drivetrain.
The TSI Twincharger engine, which, combing the benefits of super- and turbo-charging, offers strong punch from low down right through to 7000rpm. Seventh gear's long-striding, economy-hyping 27mph/1000rpm calms the ardour a bit (but allows a remarkable 142mph top speed). The engine note sets the scene, its snorty, gruff induction noise pitching you straight into your own private trackday fantasy.
What’s it like to drive?
As with the engine, the chassis is friskier than the Golf's and less the civilised tourer. It steers firmly and positively with a good bite from the front tyres (mounted on Golf GTI-type 17in wheels), the nose tucks in keenly but the ESP light is easily triggered as you power out of corners.
There's a touch of torque steer, too, the good sort that adds to the feistiness. The tail edges out just enough not to feel inert if you throttle-off, but – as usual in a VW Group car – the warning light flashes annoyingly if the ESP is switched out. Over bumps the ride is firm, maybe too firm for the UK, but it's very well damped with no after-bounce or choppiness.
Here is the best attempt yet at a convincing GTI-badged Polo, a car with its own personality freed from the shadow of the Golf. It looks right for the role, too, with its deep valances, honeycomb grille, red stripes and twin tailpipes, plus a mini-GTI interior treatment.
How does it compare?
The Polo GTi joins a pair of VW Group rivals in the shape of the Skoda Fabia vRS and Seat Ibiza Cupra – both of which use the same drivetrain and offer a similar blend of talents. We’ve driven the Ibiza enough to know that the Polo is going to have its work cut-out offering the same level of driver appeal as a Renaultsport Clio 200 or Mini Cooper S, while newer rivals such as the Citroen DS3 should keep it honest, too.
Anything else I need to know?
One big snag: there's no manual transmission alternative. Some might favour the DSG idea, but manual-lovers will dismiss the Polo out of hand. Word from the UK importer is that this could change.