Review: Volkswagen Polo GTI

Review: Volkswagen Polo GTI
Review: Volkswagen Polo GTI

Desirable and good to drive, this is the best Golf GTI miniaturisation job yet

Volkswagen is now making a concerted effort to develop ‘GTI’ into a brand. We all know about the Golf, and there’s an Up GTI coming up. Between them we now have the GTI model of the generation-six Polo.

Previously, VW has created go-faster Polos by adapting existing Polos, but this one has been designed as a GTI from day one, with its own dedicated powertrain, suspension and steering systems. The engine is a slightly detuned version of the Golf GTI’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit, producing 197bhp and 236lb ft of torque. Despite the dilution, it will still run the Polo up to 62mph from zero in under seven seconds and go on to not far short of 150mph.

Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG

Price: £19,995 (est)
Engine: 2.0-litre, foru-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Power: 197bhp
Torque: 236lb ft
Gearbox: 6-spd dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight: na
Top speed: 147mph
0-62mph: 6.7sec
Fuel economy: na
CO2, tax band: na

The first Polo GTIs will be available from May 2018 with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. If you want a six-speed manual, you’ll have to wait until later in the year. The chassis features lowered, stiffer springs, along with uprated anti-roll bars and passive dampers. Switchable ‘sport select’ suspension appears on the options list.

The regular new Polo already has a lovely and roomy cabin, and the GTI lifts the high-quality ambience a bit more with its classic (and grippy) ‘Clark plaid’ tartan cloth sports seats giving a purposefully low driving position. A 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard: you can go for an eight-inch upgrade, and/or pay extra for VW’s impressive second-gen Active Info Display digital instrumentation pack.

As an everyday drive in Comfort mode, the Polo GTI is a fuss-free proposition. The engine is quiet, and the ride/steering mix is fine when the optional switchable dampers are in their Normal setting, so the requirement of modern GTI drivers that they should not be hassled in daily trundling is ticked off.

Switching to Sport mode changes things quite a bit. The new crackle of the sports exhaust is a fitting accompaniment to the newly-discovered mid-range pace, and the new steering weight and feel blend well with the tautened body control.

The GTI’s six-speed DSG gearbox shifts up automatically long before the 6500rpm redline. Its responsive manual mode gives you close control over the front wheels, but even in that mode you can’t avoid the kickdown function if you push the throttle pedal down to the floor. Which is a shame.

Some quick superminis are more willing to rev than the Polo GTI, but not many will beat it on peak torque. In the real world, that characteristic – allied to a supple and grippy chassis – turns this VW into a very efficient cross-country tool. It works on a tight racetrack too, delivering precision and composure in both wet and dry conditions, and testifying to the quality of the suspension hardware. It’s a properly engineered, genuine driver’s car.

As is the case with the Golf GTI, the Polo’s stability control system isn’t fully switchable, but you’ll find enough adjustment in ESP-Sport mode for a really engaging experience. 236lb ft going through the front wheels will result in wheelspin if there’s a heavy boot at work, so some circumspection is useful for tidy driving.

This is definitely the best non-Golf version of the VW GTI sub-brand yet. If there is any complaint, it’s to do with the car’s mature feel. Hot hatches should perhaps be a bit more spontaneous in their delivery of driving thrills. If that sort of thing is important to you, a Fiesta ST or nicely-optioned Mini Cooper S might be a better choice.

Then again, if you’re after a daily beater that will, as an aside, also give you a degree of fun, then your money will be safe here.

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