Grown-up Volkswagen Polo GTI brisk but not brash
Volkswagen's GTI models always feel classy and grown-up and the latest hot Polo is spot on. It's the most powerful, with 200PS and potent performance, but is still a delightfully easy, daily drive, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
I’m a fan of small, sporty cars and, as empty-nesters with a small dog, wonder if my wife and I need a family estate car.
If I had my way – it’s isn’t going to happen – I’d be drawn to the latest Volkswagen Polo GTI, hot-hatch version of this sixth-generation supermini.
Looks and image
I like Volkswagen GTIs’ ageless appeal with tasteful sporty styling that makes them more grown-up than overtly ‘boy-racer’ offerings.
There’s no mistaking the GTI-badged Polo with its sporty bodykit, traditional red radiator grille stripe, classic honeycomb structure air intakes, C-shaped gloss black bumper panels, black roof spoiler and red brake calipers. Inside, there’s the Jacara ‘tartan’ seat fabric.
Under the bonnet
The Polo GTI gets its first 2.0-litre, and most powerful, turbo petrol engine, a 200PS detuned version of the Golf GTI’s initially offered with a quick slick six-speed automatic gearbox with manual paddleshifters. It’s not all about top-end performance and a healthy 320Nm of torque from 1,500rpm to 4,400rpm for flexible, easy everyday driving.
Drive profiles – eco, normal, sport and individual – tweak the steering, engine characteristics and gearbox control. Sport mode makes engine response and auto gearshift points more dynamic so the GTI comes alive, accompanied by pops and crackles from the exhaust.
And 38mpg overall, 44mpg on a run, is good given the performance.
How it drives
At first, the standard, 15mm lower sports suspension feels over firm, despite standard active dampers with normal and sport settings – not helped by the test car’s optional 18in alloy wheels in place of standard 17in rims.
You feel the smallest bumps and ruts travelling slowly but the ride is not as hard and harsh as some rivals and quickly regains its composure and feels more supple at speed but you can’t hide the tyre noise.
It’s a similar tale for handling, ultimately not as sharp as more hardened hot-hatches but, overall, it’s a more real-world package, showing good poise and balance through corners thanks to the beefed-up suspension even if the road surface is far from ideal.
Space and comfort
Many people mistook the latest Polo for a Golf which speaks volumes about its size. Apart from length, it’s bigger in every dimension than the Golf Mk IV.
That means enough head and legroom to seat four adults comfortably and even three in the back is bearable for short journeys.
Because of the bigger 2.0-litre engine, the battery has moved from the engine bay to under the boot floor which means the GTI’s boot is reduced from the standard model’s 351 litres to 305 litres – still useful for a large shop or a couple of big cases (or a small dog Mrs R!) but it loses a height-adjustable boot floor.
Rear seats split 60/40 to free up 1,079 litres but don’t lay flat without weight on them.
At the wheel
The interior and fascia are classy for a supermini with squidgy, padded trim materials at contact points and good fit and finish.
Go for the GTI+ version and you get a 10.3in customisable active info display, which can be dominated by the virtual dials or optional sat-nav map, on top of the standard high-level eight-inch touchscreen.
GTI+ costs £1,500 more but also adds keyless entry and ignition, electric folding door mirrors, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, automatic lights and wipers and rear privacy glass.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI is sensible, practical, enormous fun to drive and easy to live with day to day. Brisk, but not brash, entertaining without being extreme. GTIs are grown-up performance cars, we’ve grown up with, and that’s why they tick the right boxes.
SPEC AND TECH
Price: Volkswagen Polo GTI £21,520; GTI+ £23,020
Engine: 1,984cc, 200PS, four-cylinder TSI turbo petrol with six-speed DSG automatic gearbox
Performance: 0-62mph 6.7 seconds; top speed 147mph
MPG: Urban 36.7; extra urban 57.6; combined 47.9
CO2 emissions: 134g/km
Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 26pc
Insurance group: GTI 26E, GTI+ 28E (out of 50)
Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles
Will it fit in the garage? L 4,067mm; W (including door mirrors) 1,964mm; H 1,438mm