POWER is nothing without control. When the updated VW Polo GTI rocked up at last year’s Bang For Your Bucks having gained 9kW/70Nm and lost $500 courtesy of its new six-speed manual gearbox, it was a short-odds favourite to recapture the title it so dominantly won in 2011 and 2012.
It didn’t quite work out that way, as while the new 141kW/320Nm 1.8-litre turbo engine made it a rocket in a straight line, it struggled around Winton, trailing the less powerful hot hatch opposition it had soundly thumped on the drag strip. In the end, its combination of pace and price still landed it the second step on the outright podium, but it was soundly beaten by its main rival, Ford’s Fiesta ST.
So why is it back this year? Well, its 2016 appearance is thanks to a little backflip on Volkswagen Australia’s part. Despite the facelifted Polo being offered with ACC adaptive dampers overseas, the system was absent from the local spec list, with supposedly no plans to introduce it either.
Imagine our surprise when less than 12 months later not only do adaptive dampers make it on to the Polo GTI’s standard equipment list, but they do so for no extra cost! Some tricky new struts might not seem like that big a deal, but it satisfies the ‘significant mechanical upgrade’ criteria for BFYB eligibility and, judging by the data, played a crucial role in the Polo’s victory.
Dampers and ESP locked in Sport, the Polo scorched around Winton in 1:43.3, a massive 2.2sec faster than its 2015 effort. While the revamped Winton is a little quicker, when you consider the other repeat contenders, the BMW M135i and Ford Fiesta, improved by 0.6sec and 0.1sec respectively it’s clear this revised GTI is a much sharper tool.
As you’d expect, most of that time was made up in the corners and the Polo showing significant improvement in our two measured corners compared to last year. Its speed increased from 105.69km/h to 109.85km/h through the fast turn five sweeper and from 53.00km/h to 57.17km/h through the tight turn nine.
However, while the new suspension has improved the outright ability of VW’s pocket rocket, it hasn’t greatly altered the experience behind the wheel. The Polo GTI still leans heavily on its front end with little enthusiasm for involving the rear, which is undoubtedly safe but not particularly entertaining.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this stability is a big plus to our tame racer, Luffy ranking the Polo seventh outright and praising its sure-footedness on the limit. The other judges were less enamoured, placing it between 11th (Morley) and 17th (Cordony) in the overall order.
VW’s refusal to allow ESP to be completely deactivated in its GTI models (which are supposedly drivers’ cars?) certainly doesn’t help, though for some reason it’s much less intrusive in the Polo than in the Golf.
To be fair, both the Polo’s insistence on understeer and electronic interference are much less of an issue on the road, where lateral loads are lower and the chassis stability allows you to drive the car hard with confidence, fully exploiting the enormous punch of the 1.8-litre turbo four.
Okay, ‘enormous’ is a relative term, but there’s no doubt the Polo GTI brings an unprecedented level of straight-line performance to the baby hot hatch class. VW claims 0-100km/h in 6.7sec but we smashed that, recording 0-100km/h in 6.26sec and a 14.50sec quarter mile at 159.80km/h, times that would be more than competitive in the class above.
It’s a breeze to performance test: release the clutch at just over 2000rpm, manage the wheelspin slightly in first and then simply ram each successive gear home as quickly as possible, which thanks to the light, easy shift is very quickly indeed. There’s masses of low and mid-range muscle, yet it’s still happy to rev well beyond the 6000rpm redline. A more inspiring soundtrack wouldn’t go astray, but you can’t have everything. Not for $27,490, anyway.
As its performance at this year’s Bang For Your Bucks proves, there’s little wrong with the current Polo GTI’s combination of price and performance, but there’s still room for improvement in terms of driver appeal. If VW can sharpen its responses and engineer some more adjustability into the chassis – even if that’s in the form of a more focused model (Polo R, anyone?) – then the Polo GTI would be a winner on the score sheet as well as the spreadsheet.
For now, though, let’s celebrate the fact that you can buy a small, practical hatch with the performance of a 1990s V8 sedan with plenty of change from $30K. Congratulations to the VW Polo GTI, the best value performance car on sale in Australia in 2016.
BFYB 2016 Results
This year’s outright order
|1||VW Polo GTI||201.9|
|2||Holden SS-V Redline||195.2|
|4||Holden SS Ute||187.8|
|5||BMW M2 Pure||187.0|
|6||Ford Fiesta ST||185.0|
|8||Ford Falcon XR6 Sprint||171.1|
|9||VW Golf GTI||169.2|
|10||Ford Mustang GT||167.5|
|11||Ford Falcon XR8 Sprint||167.1|
|=12||Audi TT S||166.7|
|=12||Peugeot 308 GTI 250|
|14||Chrysler 300 Core||164.8|
|16||Mazda MX-5 2.0||160.3|
|17||Renault Sport Clio Trophy||157.4|
|18||Ford Mustang Ecoboost||151.1|
|19||Mini Cooper JCW||135.2|
Want more? Check out the rest of 2016 Bang For Your Bucks.