Volkswagen Polo GTI mk5 (2009 - 2017) review - minature GTI has the power but can it deliver fun?

Capable rather than captivating

Evo rating
Price
from £19,235
  • VW build quality, GTI detailing
  • Doesn’t live up to the GTI name

Volkswagen’s new Polo GTI is a big step up from the car it replaces, and not just because it is no longer hampered by the supercharged and turbocharged 1.4-litre engine and DSG-only gearbox. However, the bar wasn’t exactly set high to start with and ultimately the new Polo GTI is a good Polo rather than an exceptional hot hatch. 

It’s biggest failing is that its chassis is capable rather than captivating. What’s more, it never feels genuinely quick with a flat performance delivery. If VW could hand the Polo GTI over to the same engineers responsible for the Golf R then the baby GTI may finally be in a position to challenge the class leaders.

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Volkswagen Polo GTi: in detail

Prices, specs and rivals

Three generations of fast Polos have come and gone, though none really did justice to the GTI badge – the borderline bonkers supercharged G40 aside.

In its less performance oriented forms, the little VW has been adopted by many British road users who appreciate and recognise its solidity and build quality. The GTI is the blacksheep, making up two just percent of Polo sales in the UK. Big brother’s sales (the Golf GTI) on the other hand are much stronger, accounting for 15 percent of Golf orders.

The Volkswagen Polo GTI is a tad under £20k (option free). Standard equipment is acceptable rather than generous:  you get LED daytime running lights and headlights, air conditioning, 17-inch wheels, an XDS+ electronic differential lock (taken from the Golf) and array of Polo GTI styling cues.

A  six-speed manual 'box is standard fit, but you can spend around £1.5k for a seven-speed dual-clutch unit. If the famous GTI tartan seat upholstery isn’t for you, the alternate alcantara option will add about £1000 to the final price. Sat nav comes in at £700, and Car-net App-Connect which facilitates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is good value at under £200.

The £250-plus Sport Performance Kit with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) offers two driver modes: comfort and sport. The latter mode stiffens up the suspension, adds some weight to the steering and quickens throttle response.

As mentioned, the Polo is as well screwed together as you’d expect of any car wearing the VW emblem. The cabin in particular, standard with its tartan trimmed seats and the red stitching on the steering wheel adds a lightheartedness and sense of occasion.

Rivals include the likes of the cheaper but older Ford Fiesta ST, due for imminent replacement. It’s certainly got the Polo licked dynamically and is much more involving but the interior is leagues below – the new Fiesta has rectified this.

The Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport is an evo favorite in the hot hatch segment providing an intense and focused drive like little else. It’s more expensive than the Polo GTI at over £23k, but a justifiable investment in our eyes.

If the Polo GTi is far too reserved and grown up, the other end of the fast-hatch segment offers the track-ready Mini John Cooper Works Challenge. Developed in conjunction with evo, it's the fastest Mini produced to date, boasts aggressive tyres, Nitron suspension and a Bluetooth operated exhaust system.> Click here to read our review of the Ford Fiesta ST200

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