Review: Volkswagen Polo GTI 2015
There’s no doubt that as a hot hatch, the Polo GTI is one of the leading names, you just wish it would shout about it a bit more…
‘GTI’ – what do you think of when you hear these three magical letters? VW’s iconic Golf GTI perhaps, or maybe Peugeot’s 208 pocket rocket? Only for the minority will the Polo be the first car to spring to mind, forever destined to live in its big brother’s shadow, kinda like a four-wheeled Casey Affleck.
In its defence, the Polo GTI has only been around for half the time that the Golf GTI has, having been first introduced in 1995, so let’s be kind as this – the fourth generation Polo GTI - does plenty of things very well.
The big news is that the 1.4-litre unit of its predecessor has been swapped for a 1.8-litre unit with 189bhp, 11bhp more than before.
That makes it 0.7 seconds quicker to 62mph and means that only the Clio RenaultSport can match its 6.7 second 0-62mph sprint while only the 208 GTI’s 143mph gets close to the Polo’s class-leading 146mph top speed.
The previous Polo GTI was only available with a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission, however a six-speed manual is being offered once again and that’s the version we’re testing here.
Walking towards the GTI, there isn’t much to differentiate it from any regular sixth-generation Polo. The silhouette is identical with only dashes of red and other minor flourishes hinting at its hot hatch temperament.
It’s a familiar VW tactic and echoes how the all-electric Golf similarly played down its eco-ness. You only have to catch a glance of a Nissan Leaf or BMW i3 to know it’s an electric plug-in vehicle but the e-Golf looks much like a regular Golf bar subtle touches. Much the same with the Fiesta ST and Corsa VXR. Spot one on the street and you know you’re looking at a hot hatch but with the Polo GTI, it takes longer to click.
The interior is more obvious with the dark tartan seats - similar to how the Golf GTI nods to its predecessors - and again, more flashes of red and chrome, this time on the steering wheel, gear stick, mats, pedals.
It certainly looks the part inside, tied together with a sharp responsive touchscreen. DAB and USB / aux-in ports are present but there’s no actual sat-nav function. There’s no cruise control either and air con is manual. Booooo!
Out on the road, it’s tough not to have a good time in the Polo GTI. The meaty 1798cc TSI engine delivers tons of punch with the most fun coming at around 4,000rpm. On paper, the Polo is only milliseconds quicker than the 208 GTI and Fiesta ST but on the road, the gap feels larger.
The accurate but muscular steering helps the Polo GTI feel nimbler than the 208 but the long throw on the manual gearbox dampens what could have been a more exciting and immediate drive.
Don’t try to terrify grannies with spluttering exhausts though, the Polo GTI keeps the racket down to a polite, almost sociable level. If that wasn’t enough, it has stop/start too; hot hatches can’t neglect their role in saving the planet but with CO2 emissions of 146g/km, only the Corsa VXR emits more (178g/km).
Because the shell is the same, the GTI is as roomy as the standard supermini but boot space is reduced from 280 litres to 204 with the wider spare wheel forcing the boot floor to be in the raised position. Space opens up to 882 litres with the rear seats collapsed and overall it’s well short of the Fiesta ST’s class-leading 290 / 974 or the maximum 1152 litres offered in the 208 GTi.
Personal lease rates - based on a 36 month, 10k mile agreement - start at £215, averaging around £237.
That’s cheaper than the 208 GTi which will set you back at least £225 a month and £257 typically, but neither can compete with the Fiesta ST on price, starting at £178 and averaging at £219.
There’s no doubt that as a hot hatch, the Polo leads the way in terms of performance and fun on the road; you just wish it would shout about it a bit more.
Polo GTI in numbers:
Boot space: 204 / 882 litres
Kerb weight: 1272kg
Powertrain: 1798cc 192PS TSI petrol engine, six-speed manual
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
Top speed: 146mph
Combined fuel economy: 47.1mpg
OTR price as tested: £19,985
Average lease rate: £237 a month
Lowest lease rate: £215 a month
Rivals: Ford Fiesta ST, Vauxhall Corsa VXR, Peugeot 208 GTi
Lease rates based on personal user and a 36 month, 10k mile agreement - all data correct as of 1 May 2015