So, what is it?
Volkswagen has upgraded, updated and upscaled its Polo chip off the GTI block with some subtle cosmetic revisions, a host of new safety and convenience tech, as well as more grunt from the compact rocket’s 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine.
Why should I care?
Believe it or not, the Polo GTI has been on sale in Australia for a decade, and this fourth-gen model’s mid-life makeover brings back the option of a six-speed manual gearbox (alongside the existing seven-speed dual-clutch), with the three-door body style deleted.
Like-for-like it’s quicker, more generously equipped, and cheaper than the model it replaces.
What’s new about it?
Exterior design changes are focused mainly on the nose, with a new bumper insert incorporating fog lights (with static cornering function) in the lower section, and signature red grille trim continuing into the headlight housing.
The car also rides on new 17-inch ‘Parabolica’ alloy rims wearing 215/40 rubber, with glimpses of bright red brake calipers shining through the spokes.
VW’s flexible MQB small car platform boasts sophisticated electronic architecture, and the new Polo takes full advantage of it, picking up the latest generation ‘Composition Media’ touchscreen audio system with 5.0-inch colour display, as well as automatic headlights, an alarm (with interior monitoring, tilt sensor and deadlock mechanism), tyre pressure indicator, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and automatic rain-sensing wipers.
LED headlights are optional, as is ‘Discover Media’ audio and sat-nav, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors and a ‘Driver Fatigue Detection’ system.
The 1.8-litre engine comes from the third-generation of VW’s EA888 GTI engine family, with 2.0-litre variants powering the GTI, GTI Performance and R models. It features a host of improvements, ranging from an exhaust manifold integrated into the head, to water-cooled exhaust gas routing to the turbo, and variable valve timing with dual camshaft adjustment. Like its larger capacity siblings, the 1.8 features dual injection (multi-point at low loads, direct-injection at high loads).
Reintroduction of the three-pedal manual means there are two versions of the same engine, depending on which gearbox you opt for; both producing 141kW, with the six-speed delivering 320Nm, and the dual-clutch 250Nm.
That’s a handy (9kW) power increase over the out-going model, with the new manual adding no less than 70Nm to the equation; plus, the points at which these peak numbers arrive have been broadened substantially.
That’s all fine, what’s it like to drive fast?
The Polo GTI has built a solid reputation for outstanding dynamics, and on the basis of a twisting launch drive through the Blue Mountains, along The Great Dividing Range in NSW, this latest model gives it some extra lustre.
The GTI’s suspension is lowered by 15mm, with a thicker front anti-roll bar and recalibrated dampers adding a sharper edge to the car’s cornering ability. Standard spec also includes an ‘Extended Electronic Differential Lock’ (XDL), which manages brake pressure to the inner front wheel in cornering to minimise slip, and maximise traction.
The electronic stability program (ESP) is switchable through three modes – Standard, with full traction control and stability support, one press for the (ASR) traction control off, and two presses for ESP Sport, which allows a certain amount of drift before the system steps in.
The electro-mechanically assisted, speed-sensitive steering combines good road feel with smooth, linear response. And the ride quality is amazing for such a small, sports-focused hatch. In typical Teutonic fashion, the front seats are firm but supportive, and the leather trimmed, three spoke wheel is pleasingly grippy.
Plus, the Polo GTI is genuinely quick, with VW claiming 0-100km/h in 6.7secs for both versions, although the manual’s fatter torque curve adds some extra meat to an already solid mid-range. The seven-speed dual-clutch, with paddle change, is quick, while the manual is a pleasure to snick up and down its six ratios; the engine rapidly climbing to a raspy roar as it hits the 6k rev band.
Braking is via 310mm ventilated discs at the front and 230mm solid rotors at the rear, and stopping power is prodigious and progressive.
And driving home from the city?
The Polo GTI’s superb dynamics and comfort mean it can serve as a weekend fanging warrior as well as quiet, refined and practical transport for a young or growing family through the week.
The interior design is drawn straight from the VW corporate mould, which means a clean, relatively conservative layout, that’s functional and easy to live with. Copious amounts of contrasting red stitching and ‘Clark’ tartan trim inserts also add to the familiar GTI feel.
Six-speaker audio is controlled through the 5.0-inch colour touch screen, plus there’s a CD player (old school…) an SD card slot, and compatibility with MP3, WMA and AAC music files.
Anything bad about it?
Rear room is ‘cozy’, although cargo space is surprisingly generous. And the interior design will be too low key and clinical for some.
How much would I have to pay? And is it worth it?
Pricing starts at $27,490 for the manual and $29,990 for the dual-clutch, the standard spec including, six airbags, Hill Start Assist (HSA), VW’s Multi-Collision Braking system, front and rear fog lamps, XDL, alloy wheels, climate-control air-con, cruise-control, Composition Media audio, aluminium finish pedals, multi-function trip computer and rain-sensing wipers. Plenty of fruit for the money.
An optional ‘Driver Assistance Package’ ($1,700) adds Discover Media audio and satellite navigation system controlled via a 6.5-inch colour touch screen, Driver Fatigue Detection, parking distance sensors front and rear with Optical Parking System (OPS), and a Rear View Camera (RVC) with static guidance lines.
For another $3,300 the Luxury Package delivers Alcantara and leatherette upholstery with heated front seats (GTI sport seats are replaced by comfort sports seats with this upholstery), LED headlights and LED daytime driving lights, plus a panoramic glass sunroof.
Would you take the VW Polo GTI or Peugeot 208 GTi?
Both are brilliant hot hatches with impeccable pedigree, and prices are line-ball. Like the Golf GTI, the Polo GTI can feel more efficient than fun, the Peugeot’s flamboyant personality ticking the box for some. But the Polo takes it on the basis of five-door versatility and its sublime ride/handling balance.
Click here to read the full review on the Volkswagen Polo.