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Volkswagen Polo GTI review

More fast Polo than real hot hatchback, the GTI falls short again. As you were, Hyundai i20 N

Evo rating
Price
from £28,905
  • Torquey, flexible and efficient powertrain
  • No life to the chassis; tough damping brings little benefit

The Volkswagen Polo GTI has been given subtle updates to its styling and cabin tech over the past few years, but like its predecessor, this supermini-sized hot hatchback has long found itself in a predicament. Typically a more sensible interpretation of the classic supermini, it has never quite been comfortable when transformed from its more humble origins. In its latest form though, does it finally offer a competitive supermini package?

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Visually, it doesn’t get off to a great start, as aside from its new lighting units and bumpers, it’s hardly as arresting a sight as the Hyundai i20 N or (now-discontinued) Ford Fiesta ST. It does have specific front and rear bumper assemblies, with trademark GTI design cues such as the honeycomb grille and red highlights, but even they struggle to lift the GTI above indistinct.

> Hyundai i20 N 2023 review - a cracking supermini hot hatch

Under the skin, the Polo GTI shares the Golf's MQB platform (albeit in a simplified form), a brawny EA888 turbocharged 2-litre four-cylinder engine and VW’s virtual XDS front diff. And with similar power and weight figures to those of the brilliant Mk5 Golf GTI, there’s plenty of reason to hope that it shares some of that car’s brilliance, only in a smaller and more contemporary package.

Volkswagen Polo GTI: in detail

  • Performance and 0-60 time > Competitive on-paper figures and flat power and torque curves correlate to a muscular feeling on the road
  • Engine, gearbox and technical highlights > Engine is hesitant to rev; DSG gearbox can also be hesitant, and there's no manual option
  • Ride and handling > Competent but one-dimensional, lacks the enthusiasm of most, if not all hot hatch rivals
  • MPG and running costs > Drive neatly and the GTI will push 45mpg; other consumables can vary
  • Interior and tech >  Solid and functional; GTI elements brighten up the cabin, but it lacks the niceties of some rivals 
  • Design > Exterior design is sharp, but lacks the purpose of its closest rivals. Looks more like a high-spec Polo than proper GTI

Prices, specs and rivals

Since the GTI’s reintroduction last year, it’s been available as a single model that brought with it a pretty huge jump in price compared to the original. Now starting at £28,905, it costs over £7000 more than the previous model did at launch. However, price rises are not just restricted to VW, with them seemingly the norm across the whole industry. Offsetting some of the Polo’s price increase are some extra features, including standard LED headlights and sports seats, but key upgrades such as a reversing camera, an upgraded Beats stereo and 18-inch wheels are still optional. The upshot is that a £33,000-plus Polo is a reality in 2023.

Direct supermini rivals amount to Hyundai’s brilliant i20 N, with Fiesta ST now officially axed. The Hyundai’s cheaper than the Polo, at £26,530, and doesn’t scrimp on equipment either with a limited-slip diff, 18-inch wheels and tyre package and a valved exhaust. Toyota’s brilliant GR Yaris is a little more expensive than its supermini rivals, but comes with the hardware to back it up. This starts with its much more powerful three-cylinder engine, plus the clever GR-Four all-wheel-drive system. Base GR Yaris models do cost £31,170, and if you want a Circuit Pack car with its locking differentials, that’ll be £34,670. 

Hot Minis are still a thing, with the 176bhp Cooper S kicking things off at £26,490, but the more relevant 228bhp JCW will cost £32,755, and neither is as entertaining to drive as any of the aforementioned rivals, even if refinement and sophistication are notably impressive.

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