Volkswagen Polo GTI review - prices, specs and 0-60 time

David Vivian
23 Mar 2015
Verdict:

The Golf GTI ethos has so far failed to be successfully distilled into the smaller Polo. Has that changed with this latest attempt?

Evo Rating: 
Price: 
£18,850
For 
At last, a real live 'n' kicking' baby Golf GTI
Against 
Needs to let its hair down

What is it?

A Golf GTI rendered a few degrees smaller, cheaper and less powerful, but more commonly referred to as the Polo GTI.

There have been three generations of Polo GTI before – and, before that, the borderline bonkers supercharged G40 – but none has guarded its Golf GTI-aping calibrations quite so preciously as this one.

Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

Out goes the game twincharged 1.4, replaced by the altogether brawnier turbocharged 1.8 TSI (essentially a smaller-capacity edition of the Golf GTI’s 2-litre lump) that develops a Fiesta ST-thumping 189bhp – good enough for 0-62mph in 6.7sec and a 146mph maximum speed.

And unlike the last Polo GTI, which disappeared from the price lists early in 2014 offering only a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission, the new GTI can be ordered with a six-speed manual ’box. This seems like a good plan to get hard-bitten enthusiasts on board, especially as it’s teamed with the engine in a much torquier state of tune (236lb ft plays 184; although the claimed 0-62mph time is identical for both versions at 6.7sec).

Technical highlights

As before, there’s a choice of three or five doors, and it’s clearly been Volkswagen’s intention to snare custom for the Polo GTI by making it look so much like its big brother Golf that casual observers will be taken in.

Key signifiers help pull off the subterfuge: the jaunty cut of the bumpers, the honeycomb grille’s perimeter red stripe, the subtly integrated roof spoiler, the slightly swept-back LED headlights, the shiny twin exhaust pipes, the neat (but purely cosmetic) diffuser and the convincingly arch-filling 17-inch alloys wearing Bridgestone Potenza tyres. And the proud display of GTI badges, of course.

Retro tartan seat trim and red stitching on the flat-bottomed steering wheel and gearlever make sure the Golf GTI simulation doesn’t slip on the inside and, however hard you look, you’ll fail to spot any shortfalls in build, materials quality and finish. The gently torso-squeezing sports seats, the clear yet un-showy instruments, the fine driving position and the nearly flawless ergonomics all feel reassuringly familiar, too.

What’s it like to drive?

Something of a step change for the Polo but, if you’ve driven a Mk7 Golf GTI recently, it’s exactly as you might imagine, with benign, electronically monitored competence ruling over raw, uncomplicated fun.

Plenty of refined shove, though. Perhaps the best news and the thing that makes the biggest difference is the 1.8-litre TSI engine. The Audi-designed unit is cutting-edge efficient and features a closely plumbed turbo to improve throttle response. It tops the old 1.4 by 11bhp and, in manual guise, a hefty 52lb ft.

The engine fires up with a pleasingly throaty burble and, yes, the DSG model does the full-throttle upshift exhaust thrapp like all performance VWs, Audis and SEATs. Lightning shifts, seamless urge – if you really don’t want to change gear yourself you could be sold on the powertrain before the end of the pit straight.

Be smooth and gentle with the controls and the Polo GTI thus equipped is a friendly, well-behaved circuit car, carrying good speed through the bendy bits and rewarding neatness with a sense of precision and poise that’s quite satisfying. Thanks largely to rear suspension revised along Golf lines, here’s a Polo with an authentically sporty mien. Its body stays impressively flat during hard cornering and the XDS+ electronic diff, also borrowed from the Golf, does a good job of quelling understeer by braking the inside front wheel.

That said, provocation doesn’t sit well with the Polo GTI’s possibly too-polished dynamics. It simply doesn’t do down ‘n’ dirty and, as if to drop a big hint, won’t allow all of the chassis-nannying electronics to be switched off. Try to coax it into some playful slides and it almost convulses at the thought.

Driving on Spain’s rural roads in the manual version proves more rewarding, especially with the settings of the optional Sport pack adjusted for minimum stability control intervention, the softer of the two damper settings and beefier than normal steering – a combination that makes the handling feel a little more relaxed and progressive while removing much of the ride’s harshness as well. The extra torque that comes with the manual ’box is appreciated, too, providing ample on-demand urge for overtaking in fourth or fifth and rendering frantic stick stirring redundant

Rivals

Some will find it tiring that every new hot hatchback is immediately compared with the Ford Fiesta ST, not least the car manufacturers launching cars into a market occupied by Ford’s tearaway supermini.

But the continual comparisons aren’t without merit; the ST is both affordable and joyful to drive, making it the current benchmark for supermini-based hot hatchbacks. A set of grippy Recaros can’t drag the Ford’s cabin to Polo levels of quality, but you’ll be so busy enjoying the tactile controls and effervescent engine you’ll probably not notice.

Price

It’s a sign of the general upswing in hot hatch performance – and prices – that the £18,850 commanded by Volkswagen for its latest Polo GTI doesn’t seem too excessive. A little less will get you a Fiesta ST, but you’ll need a grand or two more to secure a 208 GTi or Renaultsport Clio.

By cloning the Golf GTI and resizing it with the subtlest of iPad finger swipes, Volkswagen has turned the Polo GTI into a very good car, but a Fiesta ST is still a more engaging hot hatch.

Engine In-line 4-cyl, 1798cc, turbo
Power 189bhp @ 4200rpm
Torque 236lb ft @ 1450-4200rpm
0-62mph 6.7sec (claimed)
Top speed 146mph (claimed)
MPG 47.1 (manual), 50.4 (DSG)
On sale Now

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