For a couple of years now, the Volkswagen Polo GTI has been slapped around a little. At launch, it ruled the B-segment roost until along came a certain Ford Fiesta ST, followed by Peugeot’s 208 GTi and the latest Renaultsport Clio.
We had all four cars at our 2013 Performance Shootout where the Polo played second fiddle to the Peugeot and the Ford. The 208 GTi was quick and surprisingly comfortable, whereas the Fiesta ST was easily the most focused and agile of them all.
The Polo GTI looked to be beaten on all fronts. Which brings us this new facelift and the obvious question: can it reclaim its crown?
The new car ups its game in two significant areas: engine and suspension. (There are exterior and interior tweaks, too, but I won’t go into that now. You can read about that here.)
The powerplant is an all-new one. As opposed to the previous GTI’s overly-fussy super- and turbocharged 1,4-litre engine (132 kW/250 N.m), this car gets a 1,8-litre direct-injection turbo based on the current Golf’s engine block. Power is up to 141 kW and, while the torque figure remains the same, it’s now available much earlier (1 250 to 5 300 r/min for the DSG and 1 450 to 4 200 r/min for the manual). The 7-speed DSG is available now and 6-speed manual will be available from July.
In terms of its suspension, VW claim to have retuned it completely to deliver more agile and “secure” handling. There’s a XDS+ electronic front diff that now works under coasting as well as under load, a stronger anti-roll bar on the front axle and a new steering system. Newly designed 17-inch alloys come with 215/40 tyres that are 7,5-inches wide (as opposed to 7-inch previously) and are also said to improve handling.
Back to that obvious question then. And the answer is no. But to be fair, it does depend on what you think the crown-winning criteria ought to be.
I’d have to drive old and new Polo GTIs back-to-back to make the ultimate call, but the new GTI does not feel substantially faster than the previous one. It does, however, feel like it turns in a little better but still, “marginal gains” is probably the best descriptor. Nothing has improved dramatically.
So no, this facelifted Polo is does not out-perform the current King Of The Hill – the Ford Fiesta ST. It might have more power and a faster top speed, but it’s still not as pointy, agile and aggressive as the ST.
And that’s a good thing.
In the Polo GTI you have everything that its bigger brother has. This is, in every sense, a mini Golf GTI. And that means, when you’re talking a combination of speed, perceived build quality, and everyday driving comfort, it has no peers.
This doesn’t feel as viscerally fast as an ST, but its way more compliant and refined. That’s not to say this car isn’t quick. Its output numbers alone tell you the Polo GTI will put a big grin on your face. Think of it rather as the experienced racer comfortable in its own skin compared to the hooligan upstart that’s the ST.
(PS: Along with the release of the 6-speed manual in July – a derivative that will also have 70 N.m more torque – will be a Sport Performance Kit. An option on both the DSG and manual, it features a Sport Select suspension with electronically adjustable dampers.)
Price:R326 400 (for the DSG)
Power:141 kW from 5 400 r/min
Torque:250 N.m from 1 250 r/min
0-100 km/h:6,7 seconds
Top Speed:236 km/h
Fuel Consumption:5,6 L/100 km
Maintenance Plan: a 3 year/45 000 km
Notes:*All manufacturer’s claims