Volkswagen Polo GTI review – engine, gearbox and technical highlights

VW's Polo GTI is polished and capable, but lacks intensity compared to its rivals and the playfulness of the bigger Golf GTI

You could definitely say the ears of the evo office pricked up when we heard the new Polo GTI would finally be fitted with a proper GTI engine. Unlike the previous generation car, which offered both the 1.4 twin-charged four-cylinder engine (which sounded much better on paper than it was in reality) and later a 1.8-litre TSI engine, this GTI features the well-proven, torque-rich EA888 from the Golf GTI. Producing 197bhp at between 4400 and 6000rpm, and 236lb ft of torque from 1500 to 4400rpm, the Polo offers an identical power output to the Mk5 Golf GTI, and even more torque.

The Polo's sole transmission is a six-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox with paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. A manual gearbox was due to arrive in late 2018, says Volkswagen, but it never actually made it to market. The DSG gearbox is typical VW, with an inherent slickness to gear changes and excellent response from the paddles. Town driving is not the transmission’s forte though, as it will often lurch between gears and hesitate when pulling away. As the road opens up, though, the Polo’s DSG makes more sense, slipping between gears and shifting with an alacrity missing in most mainstream rivals.

> Click here for our review of the Toyota Yaris GRMN

There is one caveat to the gearbox, however: it has an inherent lack of drama. It seems to go about its business without any real urgency – the shifts, although quick, have none of the pomp and circumstance of the Golf, even when pressing on. The effect is yet one more element that seems to have come from VW’s vast collection of components, rather than being one specifically engineered for this application.

The 2-litre turbocharged engine also has its weaknesses, as while it might share an engine code with some very talented hot hatchbacks, the Polo’s flat torque curve leaves the engine feeling a little breathless and lacking any real enthusiasm for the upper third of the rev range. It's a defining character in rivals like the Peugeot 208 GTI and previous Fiesta ST, but like so many supermini hot hatchbacks is lacking in this application. Fingers can also be pointed at the gearing, which has the long-legged gait which too is becoming a common issue. As a result, the engine feels flexible, rather than enthusiastic. Effective, but not very GTI.

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