Nice Golf, mate.’ Every time the Polo receives a compliment at a petrol station (more often than you might expect), the gushing stranger gets its name wrong. Although with its Monza alloys and red trimmed grille – and no Polo badge on the exterior – VW is clearly unabashed about the mini-GTI aping its bigger brother. But is the impersonation more than skin-deep? I decided to get our Polo together with a Golf GTI to find out.
The visual similarities are stark: mirrors, grilles and headlamps, as well as the cars’ general proportions, all bear a clear resemblance to each other. It’s the same story inside, the Golf’s seats more hugging than the Polo’s but identically trimmed in tartan, its dash laid out with the same delightful ergonomic simplicity. And the Polo isn’t shamed by its pricier sibling – quality levels are on a par, and its refinement and road-noise insulation are not far short.
While the cars share a claimed 6.9sec 0-62mph dash, the Golf feels noticeably sharper, and its 207bhp 2-litre turbo four is more natural and aurally pleasing in its power delivery than the Polo’s 178bhp 1.4-litre twin-charged unit.
The Polo is only available with a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox, but the Golf gets manual and DSG choices (both six-speed), the latter a £1295 option. The DSG is older and not quite as slick-shifting as the Polo’s, but that lends it a more mechanical feel, and with one ratio fewer there’s no need to count gearchanges when entering or exiting roundabouts in manual mode.
The rest of the Golf’s driving experience is a similar step up; it seems far better balanced and nimbler than the 145kg-lighter Polo, helped along by heavier, more feelsome steering and the sensation that the rear tyres share the dynamic workload rather than just following the fronts.
The Polo’s not as satisfying to drive as the car it imitates, but it feels as polished and looks as classy, and combined with a 40 per cent list price saving (£18,795 v £26,600 for DSG three-door cars) and cheaper running costs (139g/km and 47.9mpg v 173g/km and 38.2mpg), that’ll be enough for many. Just ask those at my local BP.