Two thousand miles to visit one road sounds crackers. But after driving the Stelvio Pass during one of our Speed of Sound group tests (evo 161) I was hooked, and immediately made plans to return, twisting senior designer Adam Shorrock’s arm to become co-driver.
The trip would be a perfect excuse to explore the Polo GTI’s dynamics a bit more. While a great thing to live with, its heavily assisted steering and twin-clutch auto gearbox mean I’m rarely tempted to grab it by the scruff of its neck. A detour to revisit Switzerland’s wonderful Flüela Pass reminded me why. Covering it in a Porsche 911 is the most memorable drive I’ve yet had at evo. With torrential rain and in the resolutely front-driven Polo, it was less fun, the wet weather exacerbating the GTI’s understeer and the lack of confidence its overworked front end brings.
Through the Livigno tunnel (well worth the €12 toll) and Stelvio-ward, the weather only got worse. Yet on arrival at the Pass, the GTI began to shine. Entering the tighter hairpins found here, DSG comes into its own, allowing you to brake hard and deep, speedily blip down to second gear and, with the Polo’s light steering, apply an armful of lock, unwind, and barrel your way to the next hairpin. It’s a bit like an arcade game, and not overwrought with genuine feel, but flipping good fun nonetheless.
The next day, as we tackled the Pass in the other direction to head home, glorious sun filled the valley, yielding the fine views that had helped me convince Shorrock to accompany me. The heat partly dried the road, too, and heading back down the Stelvio’s faster sections into Bormio, the difference in grip and front-end communication was huge. I drove both the road and the car quicker and in a more committed fashion than ever before. I’ll never have a better drive in the Polo.
Not as crackers as it sounds then, travelling to the Stelvio. It takes planning, though. With Stamford to Bormio totalling 905 miles, a stopover point was needed. We chose Stuttgart, convenient both for tying in a visit to the predictably excellent Porsche Museum and for plenty of autobahn miles. The latter revealed the Polo to be an accomplished 120mph cruiser (26mpg, low wind and road noise, largely settled ride) and capable of a TomTom-verified 145mph. The 33.5mpg trip average was impressive too.
It may not be the most thrilling car in its class, but its multi facets make the little VW great company on a trip like this. And it’s still good fun when it matters.