Adaptive suspension can often throw up more questions than answers: is the premium over standard dampers too much? Which fifty shades of sport settings do I choose for a particular road? Is there a cure for nail biting?
Even Volkswagen Australia seems unsure, having launched the facelifted Polo GTI without the Sport Select suspension available overseas. Three months later it, umm, err, uhh, okay, yes, included it as standard for no extra cost. That makes the first question easy to answer.
The second is a cinch, too, because the MY16 Polo GTI has just one button on its dashboard labelled Sport. Press it and the 141kW/320Nm 1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder makes a deeper growl, while steering weight becomes heavier and the suspension gets its hard on.
In its normal setting the VW Polo GTI feels superbly compliant. With a clutch and H-pattern lever now re-installed (huzzah!) VW’s smallest hot hatch is now a joy around town – light, fluffy steering (sadly with a vacant on-centre patch) and a sweetly light gearchange team to give the initial impression of it being merely a heavily boosted Polo 81TSI.
With 40Nm more torque than a 1364kg Mk6 Golf GTI, this 1234kg hot-hatch feels every bit as quick as its 6.7-second 0-100km/h claim. And we’re pleased to report the fast-but-boring hatch bit is an illusion, too.
In corners the smallest VW GTI feels transformed, with its excellent 17-inch Bridgestone Potenza rubber now backed by a Sport stability control mode and extended electronic diff lock function. Playing Polo is no longer the frenetic game of managing wheel-spin on corner exit it was with the pre-facelift twincharger.
Where the old Polo GTI would be bumped around on ragged surfaces, the subtly tensed sports-mode crushes bad roads just like a Golf GTI. It lacks the pin-sharp front-end and superb steering of a Ford Fiesta ST, but finally boasts the power-down ability and composure to match its fine balance.
It isn’t during hard punting that the Volkswagen loses out, but rather around town. The cabin feels semi-premium (now with rear-view cam and brilliant Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring tech), however the silly-high driving position and loose steering are a world away from the snug, pointy Ford that rewards during every sprint to the shops.
It’d be ace to have the firmer steering (which at least stabilises the on-centre) and deeper soundtrack with the softer suspension… but that would require another mode.
Especially for sub-$30K, the double personality allure of sports-luxury urban conveyance, and proper hot-hatch, means that a comparison with the benchmark Blue Oval – and perhaps a certain little French hatch, too – should make for a nail-biting finish.
4 OUT OF 5 STARS
LIKE: Grunty engine, adaptive dampers a big plus
DISLIKE: Steering lacks on-centre feel, high driving position
Engine: 1798cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 141kW @ 4300-6200rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1450-4200rpm