Since the introduction of the original 1,8-litre, turbocharged Polo GTI, it has been the entry point for fans of Volkswagen’s celebrated three-lettered performance badge. But when the previous generation Polo GTI surfaced with a smaller (if more powerful) turbo- and supercharged engine, some enthusiasts felt short-changed because in terms of specification and aural satisfaction, the flagship Polo no longer set the benchmark in its segment.
However, with the recent introduction of the facelifted Polo GTI, the Wolfsburg-based firm has bucked the trend and offers a larger capacity (1 798 cm3) turbocharged engine once again.
Have a close look at the peak output figures and the Polo’s 141 kW and 250 N.m are only 6 kW and 30 N.m less than the Golf 5 GTI’s. More importantly, these figures are now even closer to Renault’s Clio RS and tops Ford’s Fiesta ST equipped with a 1,6-litre turbo engine.
The Polo GTI, like its bigger brother, has always been the gentleman’s hatch, the car that might not receive as much attention in traffic as its two closest competitors, but ticks pretty much all the other boxes. Is this still the case with the latest incarnation?
There’s little in terms of exterior design that hints towards the GTI’s halo standing within the range. Small details such as the red line and GTI badge placed in the upper grille, a new front bumper, and the double exhaust pipe at the rear, places the GTI a notch above the rest of the Polo range.
This sporty theme continues when you open the hatchback’s door. Swathes of black piano plastic on both the centre console and multi-function steering wheel, together with red upholstery stitching are carried over from the Polo’s more premium Golf sibling. The infotainment system offers all the possible options you could wish for, including aux-in, USB, Bluetooth and even SD-card capability. The thin-rimmed, leather steering wheel feels upmarket in your hands, while the presence of a DSG transmission selector speaks volumes for the everyday usability of this particular model (aficionados will be happy to hear that a manual version is coming soon, however). It is the 17-inch wheels and stiffer suspension that threaten this peace, however.
In everyday use the Polo GTI showed that it has more than enough shove to keep up with its Fiesta and Clio rivals. The engine is eager to spin, and even when you don’t use the entire rev range the available peak torque delivery from 1 450 r/min allows you to enjoy a rapid level of acceleration. Select the Sport setting on the transmission, or start playing with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, and the lack of turbo lag is noticeable while the engine reacts with an improved level of enthusiasm compared with the outgoing 1,4-litre twin-charged engine.
The stiff suspension allows the car to feel solid on the road to such an extent that on some of our favourite back roads, the GTI portrayed a bouncy sensation through less than smooth corners. This very firm setup is acceptable – to some extent – if you’re trying to extract the full performance potential of the car, but most team members found the ride quality too uncompromising for everyday use. The harsh suspension even elicited a few cabin creaks.
On our test strip, the GTI did show its straight-line performance credentials though. The dash from standstill to 100 km/h was dealt with in 6,97 seconds. This figure not only beats the Fiesta ST by a significant margin, but virtually guarantees several traffic light victories. There is also the fact that this is fractions of a second slower than all the Golf 6 and 7 GTIs we have tested over the past few years. The braking system did a fine job of bringing the Polo to a standstill. On the economy front, the GTI returned a respectable 7,4 L/100 km in CAR’s standard fuel route test.
The latest Polo GTI has lost some of its gentleman’s entry-level hot hatch status thanks to the newcomer’s firm ride quality. If you unleash the full capability of this 1,8-litre engine out on your favourite (preferably smooth) back road, the Volkswagen is unlikely to disappoint, but don’t expect an engaging driving experience. It will be quicker than Ford’s three-door Fiesta ST, but it won’t be as engaging. Unfortunately, the GTI feels more like a pleasantly quick Polo rather than a well-rounded hot hatch that could have established itself as the champion of the light hot hatchbacks.