Review: Volkswagen Polo GTI

Image of Alisdair Suttie
Author: | Updated: 23 Nov 2018 01:42

Quick in a straight line and competent in the corners, the fast-but-frugal Polo GTI is a scaled down Golf GTI rather than a bigger Up GTI. Stick to using the Polo as a classy supermini with a swift turn of pace and it excels.

All of the ingredients are there to make the Volkswagen Polo GTI a very desirable compact hot hatch. After all, the Golf GTI and the quicker R both have a maturity that keeps keen drivers coming back for more, while the Up GTI is a feisty little lion cub that endears itself the moment you get behind the wheel.

Volkswagen Polo GTI front

This should put the Polo GTI slap, bang in the middle of these two interpretations: quick, yet comfy and fast but frugal. This is prime VW GTI country and the fast Polo does it too good effect. For starters, it packs a 200hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine attached to a six-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox as standard. That sees this GTI from rest to 62mph in 6.7 seconds and on to 147mph. Pretty nifty figures for a supermini hot hatch and on a par with the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST.

It packs a 200hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine attached to a six-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox as standard.

VW separates itself from these models by only offering the Polo GTI as a five-door, which is another inkling this is a car that doesn’t want to be just all about raw speed. Again, that’s in the Volkswagen DNA to offer a more rounded machine.

Volkswagen Polo GTI badge

As a result of that thinking, the 2.0-litre engine delivers a healthy 320Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm and it stays there in a big, flat plateau all the way to 4400rpm. This is just where you need that sort of grunt for swift overtaking, which you can help along by using the steering wheel paddle shifters to drop down a gear or two. Leave it to the car to decide and it can take a moment to work out what you want before building speed, unless you’re in the Sport mode.

Ah yes, the inevitable driving profile selection that lets you choose between default Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual. While this might appeal to some drivers for a short while, you’re likely to soon stick the Polo GTI in Sport at the start of every journey. After all, why else did you pick a hot hatch? Of course you want to hear that extra bark from the exhaust as the car changes up a gear or you lift off the throttle before entering a corner. This is what rapid hatches are all about.

The 2.0-litre engine delivers a healthy 320Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm.

Yet VW has also managed to personalise this experience to the Nth degree. You can select the required drive mode and, if you find the suspension is too jagged in Sport for most British back roads and their pock-marked surfaces, you can then faff around in the Individual mode to pick out the swifter gearbox and throttle settings, weightier steering feel but a softer suspension arrangement.

Once saved, it’s there to access all the time, but it would be nice if this was dished up from the start with one set-up as VW does to such great effect in the Up GTI.

Volkswagen Polo GTI

When you do reach the optimum format for the car’s responses, you can get on with enjoying it. Up to a point. Again, that VW sensible-ness kicks in just when you start to get a grin on your chops. Sure, the Polo GTI can cover ground at a surprisingly rapid pace and feels very stable over poor roads and through corners. However, it never feels truly agile or on its toes in the way a Ford Fiesta ST does. There just isn’t that delicacy of input and response from the Polo because it doesn’t work with you. Instead, it demands the driver adapts to its way of doing things and that’s always a slightly muted version of what you actually want.

Stick to using the Polo as a classy supermini with a swift turn of pace and it excels.

For many, that will be fine because the Polo GTI works as a very good car at 80% of its ability for most of the time. It’s only when you want that last drop of fun that this Polo pulls a sour face and says ‘nein danke’. Stick to using the Polo as a classy supermini with a swift turn of pace and it excels and will deliver 47.9mpg combined economy and 134g/km CO2 emissions. Just don’t get in thinking this will be the last word in driver involvement.

That’s underlined by the lengthy list of driver safety equipment and aids that come as standard with the Polo GTI. There’s everything from Blind Spot Monitor to Rear Traffic Alert, Pedestrian Monitoring to City Emergency Braking. It makes for a very complete roster of kit and is backed up by a snazzy cabin with attractive tartan upholstery as a nod to the original Golf GTI.

Volkswagen Polo GTI interior

Outside, there’s no doubt you’re driving a Polo GTI thanks to the badges, twin exhausts and 17in alloy wheels that come with the normal £21,260 model. Or you could pick the GTI+ that adds rear privacy glass, LED headlights, Active Info Display with 10.3in touchscreen, Adaptive Cruise Control and keyless entry. This better equipped version has a list price from £22,760.

There’s no doubt you’re driving a Polo GTI thanks to the badges, twin exhausts and 17in alloy wheels.

The £1,500 more for the GTI+ is money well spent, in our view, as it bags all of the extra kit that makes the Polo GTI into a very opulent small car. Given VW tells us this Polo offers the same cabin space as a fifth generation Golf from around 10 years ago, that makes it spacious and luxurious.

The even better news is that healthy residuals make for some very appealing lease rates; personal contract hire monthly payments start around the £200 mark. That’s a lot of performance for your hard-earned pounds.

Volkswagen Polo GTI rear

Appealing as those traits are, it’s the hot hatch bit of the Polo GTI’s brief where it falls short. It’s quick in a straight line and very competent in the corners. However, it’s not as fun as it could be and that’s what makes a hot hatch come alive, keeps you wanting that empty country road to go on till the petrol runs out.

In the end, VW has created a scaled down Golf GTI rather than a bigger Up GTI. If that’s what you're looking for, then the Polo GTI is the right recipe for you.

Model tested: Volkswagen Polo GTI

Click here for Volkswagen Polo GTI deals

Exterior

Large alloy wheels, twin exhausts and a smattering of GTI insignia ensure it stands out from more standard Polos.

Interior

Upmarket cabin that could happily sit a few segments above in terms of quality and the tech on offer. Driver’s digital display works really well and is on par with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.

Driving

A healthy amount of torque and power ensures it matches the Fiesta ST for B-road blasts, but not quite as fun on the ragged edge. The complicated drive mode set-up won’t suit those that are tech-averse.

Space

The new Polo scores highly in the practicality stakes. It’s almost as roomy for rear passengers as a Golf, while its 351-litre boot is equally impressive considering it’s still a supermini.

Efficiency

Combined economy of 47.9mpg and an average of 134g/km of CO2 means it stacks up well next to its key rivals.

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