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Volkswagen Polo GTI review – engine, gearbox and technical highlights

Engine is hesitant to rev; DSG gearbox can also be hesitant, and there's no manual option

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

You could definitely say the ears of the evo office pricked up when we heard the hot Polo 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 204bhp between 4400 and 6000rpm (up 7bhp), and 236lb ft of torque from 1500 to 4500rpm, it’s right on the money against its key rival from Hyundai.

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The Polo's sole transmission is a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox with undersized, button-like paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. It feels typical VW, with an inherent slickness to gear changes and good response from the paddles in most scenarios – kickdown in automatic mode is underwhelming, though, with manual downshifts occasionally slower than we'd like. Town driving is not the transmission’s forte, as the GTI will often lurch between gears and hesitate when pulling away, but as the road opens up, the DSG wakes up, slipping between gears and shifting with alacrity. 

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 that you’ll find in the Golf, even when pressing on. The effect is it feels like 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 units in some very talented hot hatchbacks, in this instance the flat torque curve leaves the engine feeling a little breathless and lacking any real enthusiasm for the upper third of the rev range. This isn’t something that many contemporary turbocharged engines portray, but where the powertrain in the Hyundai drives a sparkling, engaging chassis, the Polo’s chassis is rather more demure. Fingers can also be pointed at the gearing, which is too long between second and fourth. As a result, the engine feels flexible, rather than enthusiastic. Effective, but not very GTI.

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