Cars like this are exactly why we run long-termers. The Polo GTI is far from our favourite small hot hatch; it finished fourth out of five in an evo group test in south Wales earlier this year (issue 154). Yet models that are outshone on a magazine shootout often reveal a deeper breadth of talents when lived with daily. The Audi TT RS we ran in 2010 is a shining example of this.
The Polo missed out on a podium place chiefly for its dynamics, which are polished rather than pulsating, and nowhere near as engaging as a Clio 200 or Mini JCW’s. But what it offers that they don’t is Mini-Me Golf GTI styling (plus the slice of heritage and class that goes with it), greater refinement, and a tech-heavy mix of a twin-charged 178bhp 1.4-litre engine and seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox.
Its impressively brisk pace is undeniable (we’ve clocked one at 7.1sec to 60mph). But a hot hatch initially feels wrong with two pedals in the footwell, and VW doesn’t offer a manual with the GTI (same’s true of its SEAT and Skoda cousins). Whether I’ll be a DSG-convert after six months genuinely intrigues me. Hesitant throttle pick-up onto roundabouts and out of junctions plus some dim-witted downchanges in D-mode – uphill and when trying to gain speed on motorways – are currently proving bugbears. I’m using manual paddleshifts on nine journeys out of ten.
In most other areas, though, life with the Polo has been painlessly easy-going. While perhaps not a core evo topic, VW really does nail ergonomics. Every button falls perfectly to hand and is satisfyingly damped. And although the interior is not the most sparkling you’ll find, it’s incredibly well screwed together and subtly livened up by the obligatory tartan sports seats and a red-stitched GTI steering wheel that’s free of distracting buttons.
J4 VWW is pleasingly simple in spec: 17in alloys, air-con and heated electric mirrors are standard equipment highlights, while the only option fitted is the £840 touchscreen infotainment system. It may sound pricey, but with intuitive satnav, excellent traffic reports and an iPod-mimicking music display, it’s probably worth it.
The £19,635 total price for a car specced like ours is a bit more of a sticking point, though. A former long-termer of mine – a Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup like the aforementioned group test’s winner – cost a nice round £18,000, and while it lacked satnav, it offered more kit on the whole, better interior space and the hedonistic driving experience the Polo is missing. I look forward to seeing which hand of cards the VW plays back.