The Volkswagen Polo GTI was always the sober choice of small hot hatches. A fine car, sure, but it lacked the fizz of some rivals. This all-new effort aims to emulate the success of its larger Golf GTI sibling.
Not everyone wants a car that advertises its performance. Something like a Type R is all fun and giggles until you have to go to a funeral or visit the in-laws. The new Polo GTI still retains that sophisticated look that also hints that it’s not your common garden Polo. Posh alloys, sporty bumpers and a smattering of GTI badges adds some zest to the already sharp looking hatch.
As you might expect, this generation Polo has grown in size to boost safety and practicality. Some might be disappointed to find out that this Polo GTI will only be offered as a five door, but it does make getting into the back much easier.
Once inside rear passengers will find good amounts of space – more than in the new Fiesta (the ST version of which is the nemesis of the Polo GTI and is due on our roads in a few months).
Those in the front are treated to the supportive tartan sports seats seen in the fashion of GTIs of old and new. However, a less traditional feature is an optional digital driver's display that replaces conventional dials with virtual ones. Also boosting this GTI’s tech arsenal is the latest VW 10.25-inch infotainment display.
The cabin has a solid, well-built feel to it, although there a quite a few scratchy plastics about the place. Optional contrasting dashboard trim adds a bit of character to an otherwise level-headed cabin.
Boot space is an impressive 351 litres, that’s 60 litres more than a Ford Fiesta. In fact, it’s bigger than the current Ford Focus which sits in a larger car segment altogether.
How does it drive?
Most manufacturers are squeezing more power out of lesser engines, but Volkswagen has actually given the Polo GTI a bigger motor. Up to 2.0-litres, the new 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine is a detuned version of the engine you’ll fine in a Golf GTI.
Credit where credit is due, it’s a good engine with plenty of mid-range shove. There’s a bit of lag to overcome, but its consistent pull thereafter is great. For now you can only have a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that’s refined when left to its own devices, but sometimes hesitant when flitting through the ratios using the wheel-mounted paddles. The good news for enthusiasts is that the Polo GTI will be offered with a manual gearbox at a later date.
Given some challenging roads to tackle, the new Polo GTI reveals itself to be much more engaging that its predecessor. Yes, there could be more feedback through the wheel, but as a car that you might want to play with, it’s a marked improvement. Taking full advantage of its differential-mimicking electronic XDS system (which brakes an inside wheel to improve turn-in), this GTI has a keen front end much like a Golf GTI. The similarities don’t stop there as the car’s composure and ample grip also apes its bigger brother — no bad thing.
Our test car was fitted with optional Chassis Control that allows you to select various modes to alter the car’s steering, throttle response and gearbox. The weightier steering is most welcome for added precision on faster roads, as is the optional adaptive dampers. The ride is pretty compliant even in Sport, but If you’re going for the optional 18-inch alloy wheels in the UK, you should consider ticking this option box.
Should I buy one?
It’s certainly one for the short list and absolutely among the most complete hot hatchbacks out there right now. Like the Golf GTI, the latest Polo GTI fuses a car that you’d be happy to use everyday with one that is enjoyable when taking the long way home. More fun than the old, already legendary but now defunct Fiesta ST? Not quite, but this gen has certainly loosened its tie and undone its top button.
UK pricing hasn’t been set in stone yet, but the 2018 Polo GTI will cost around £20k when it hits the road in manual guise. That makes it a little pricier than some competitors, but many will feel that the coveted GTI badge is well worth it.
A group test is on the cards to truly see how the hot hatch pecking order might have changed.