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Volkswagen Polo GTI review – ride and handling

Competent but one-dimensional, lacks the enthusiasm of most, if not all hot hatch rivals

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

VW has made plenty of noise about the Polo GTI’s ‘playfulness’, but we’re not quite sure how well this translates when there are rivals such as the i20 N around. Certainly the Polo’s compact external dimensions (I say ‘compact’, it’s actually larger than a Golf Mk4 in every dimension other than length), low weight and big engine should make for an entertaining package.

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Initial impressions are good. There’s some generally well sorted control weights – the steering is initially light, but wakes up as speeds rise, and the throttle and brake pedal response is certainly sharper than in a mainstream supermini, but things don’t really get much better from here.

Like a Golf, it covers ground quickly, with an almost clinical precision. And therein lies the problem. Once you’ve tackled a few corners you’ve pretty much got the measure of the Polo. The steering is quick and precise, but there’s only the bare minimum of feedback, while that chassis doesn’t want to get expressive. Lifting the throttle will tighten the car’s line, but there’s no sense of the puppy-like agility you get in the Hyundai i20 N – a set of more performance-oriented tyres would help matters, but front-end grip is also no match for its South Korean rival.

The XDS ‘differential’ is also no substitute for the real thing. With the ESP in its halfway house Sport setting (you can’t turn the systems off completely) the inside wheel simply spins power away out of slower turns. Selecting Sport sharpens the throttle, and adds artificial weight to the steering, but the Polo’s benign character remains. It’s an effective way of getting from A to B quickly, but not a thrilling one.

Take things easy and the GTI is a normal Polo, which means it’s refined, roomy and easy to drive – few superminis are as simple to live with. So it’s a shame much of this good work is undermined by the brittle ride. The car fidgets and hops over small imperfections and only really settles down on the smooth, longer-frequency bumps normally found on motorways.

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