Volkswagen Polo GTI 2022 review – is it finally a Fiesta ST rival?

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

Evo rating
from £21,660
  • Torquey, flexible and efficient powertrain
  • No life to the chassis; tough damping brings little benefit

The Volkswagen Polo GTI has been given a subtle refresh for the 2022 model year alongside its lesser siblings, bringing with it updates to the styling and some interior interface elements. Like its predecessor, though, this supermini-sized hot hatchback has long found itself in something of a predicament. Typically a more sensible interpretation of the classic supermini, the Polo GTI has never quite been comfortable when transformed from its more humble origins. So, has its update resulted in any meaningful changes?

Visually, this latest Polo GTI 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 its rivals from Ford and Hyundai. 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.

> Click here for our review of the Ford Fiesta ST

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 still no manual option
  • Ride and handling > Entertaining enough at road speeds, but it’s too one-dimensional as the pace rises
  • MPG and running costs > Drive neatly and the GTI will push 45mpg; other consumables can vary
  • Interior and tech > Solid, ergonomically sound and functional; GTI elements do brighten up the standard interior
  • Design > The exterior GTI addenda is less successful at portraying what’s under the skin. Looks more like a high-spec Polo than proper GTI

Prices, specs and rivals

Since the GTI’s reintroduction in 2022 it’s been available as a single model that brought with it a pretty huge jump in price compared to the original. Starting at £27,805, it costs over £6000 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 £32,000-plus Polo is a reality in 2022.

Direct supermini rivals amount to a total of two for the moment, with Ford’s recently updated Fiesta ST and Hyundai’s brilliant i20 N making up the class for now. The Fiesta, now exclusively available in high-end ST-3 form, costs from £26,595. That is if you can find one, as at the time of writing it isn’t possible to configure a new Fiesta due to the problems facing the car industry. You get a lot for your money in the Ford, mind, as it also incorporates the Performance Pack that includes a Quaife limited-slip differential, launch control and rev-matching function. This is in addition to the standard 18-inch wheels and Michelin Super Sport rubber (Polos run on Primacys), Matrix LED headlights, proper bucket seats and a valved exhaust.

> Click here for our review of the Toyota Yaris GRMN

The Hyundai’s even cheaper, at £25,250, and doesn’t scrimp on equipment either with a pretty much identical specification to the Ford with its 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 £26,065, but the more relevant 228bhp JCW will cost £32,195, 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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