Big things were expected of VW's new Polo GTI at this year's Bang for your Bucks.
After all, this is the updated version of the car that turned the BFYB formula on its head so comprehensively it called the future of the event into question; its back-to-back wins in 2011-12 were by such a margin that at the time it didn't look like anything would ever be able to beat it.
It's a measure of the evolution of the performance car game, then, that VW's latest pocket rocket managed 'only' third in class at BFYB 2015, despite, on paper, offering a stronger case than ever. As rivals downsize, the Polo GTI has gone the other way, increasing capacity from 1.4 litres to 1.8, albeit ditching one form of forced induction with only a turbocharger now present.
Power is up to 141kW and torque increases by a massive 70Nm if you specify a manual gearbox, the result of which is a stunning 6.36sec to 100km/h (over three-tenths faster than the pessimistic claim) and 14.61sec quarter, quicker than all bar the XR6 Turbo and S1 Sportback.
Allied to its sharp new $27,490 sticker price, this prodigious pace should've made success a formality, so where did it go awry? Well, while the Polo's straight-line speed was well up on its peers, it was unable to convert this into circuit supremacy.
Its 1:05.50 lap time trailed both the Fiesta ST and Clio RS (albeit only just), which suggests whatever it was gaining on the straights it was losing in the corners.
Its 105.69km/h minimum speed through Winton's long sweeper was last-in-class, though 53.00km/h through the tight turn nine was competitive. Regardless of its speed, however, in general the judges felt that it failed to match its Ford and Renault competition in terms of driver appeal.
The exception was Luffy, who placed it second, impressed by its ease of use and the way it inspired confidence at the limit.
It could be fairly argued that the racetrack isn't the Polo GTI's natural habitat, but it must be said that while the Fiesta ST and Clio RS shine when taken to the track, the VW is entertaining up to a point, but beyond that it all gets a bit scrappy. Make no mistake, it's still a polished performer, but all that torque easily overwhelms the front tyres, dragging the nose wide.
There's little that can be done about it, either, as if there's one thing that holds the Polo back, it's the lack of chassis adjustability. It's not completely inert, but neither is it particularly keen to involve the rear end, though even if it was, the non-switchable ESP would soon kill any fun.
VW will argue the 'Sports ESP' setting is enough to cater for the enthusiast driver, but while the system may offer enough latitude for the road, on track its constant interference frustrates. There's a suspicion the new electrically-assisted steering is a step sideways, too.
In some ways the new Polo GTI is the muscle car of the small hatch class, as silly as that sounds. Capable of dominating its rivals in a straight line, it's not quite as capable or rewarding in the corners. Would the adaptive dampers recently announced as standard on MY16 Polo GTIs have been enough to make the difference? We'll have to wait until next year to find out.
0-100km/h – 6.36sec (3rd)
0-400m – 14.61sec @ 157.14km/h (3rd)
Lap time – 1:45.5sec (7th)
Bang Index – 108.7
Price - $27,490
Bucks Index – 127.9
BFYB Index – 176.5
Campbell 5th – “Class act road car that love to let its hair down on track. It’s got oomph.”
Morley 5th – “Bucks the trend of small engines in hot-hatches. And the better for it.”
Newman 6th – “The muscle car of the mini hatch brigade; mega grunt.”
Spinks 5th – “Suave yet muscular. A little hatch that punches hard.”
Luffy 2nd – “You can definitely see that it shares the same DNA as the Golf R; it's like a mini version of it. It does everything very similar to its big brother, but it just doesn't have the power, refinement and mechanical grip as it’s a much smaller car. It's still a beautiful car to drive. It's easy to drive on the limit and it gives you confidence to push on.”