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Driven: Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.

Driven: Volkswagen Polo GTI
Better than ever with its 1.8 TSI engine - but is the Polo GTI a class-leader?


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Volkswagen Polo GTI

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Good points: better engine, smooth ride, classy looks inside and out.

Not so good: still not as exciting to drive as rivals, the DSG has less torque, paucity of kit for expense.

Key Facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG five-door
Price: GTI from 18,900; DSG five-door from 20,775; car as tested 22,780
Engine: 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, seven-speed DSG automatic
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 129g/km (Band D, 0 first 12 months, 110 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 50.4mpg
Top speed: 146mph
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
Power: 192hp at 4,200- to 6,200rpm
Torque 250Nm at 1,250- to 5,300rpm

Our view:

For years, the Volkswagen Polo GTI (or any Polo performance model, for that matter, stretching back to the G40) has had to play a distant second fiddle to the bigger Golf GTI. However, Volkswagen's rapid Polo formula has been steadily evolving over time and during the recent, extremely mild, facelift of the wider range, some big changes were enacted on the GTI. The old super- and turbocharged 1.4-litre TSI engine, which was certainly interesting from a technical point of view, has been replaced by a turbo-only 1.8 TSI. That sees power rise by a reasonably modest 12hp to 192hp, but torque leaps massively - an extra 70Nm gives the new Polo GTI the sort of peak torque (320Nm) that would be fine for most turbodiesels.

A similar thing has happened with the SEAT Ibiza Cupra, which has made the same switch in hardware to up its performance game, but whereas the Spanish car comes as a three-door manual only, Volkswagen offers a little more variety for the GTI. It can be had with three or five doors (the two extra doors relieve you of 630), and with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. Driven here is a DSG five-door, the specification that probably best fits in with the Polo GTI's outlook on life. Like its big brother Golf, the Polo aims to be the most refined, grown-up hot hatch in its marketplace. On that basis, it's easy to judge it as a total success.

No other juiced-up supermini-based machine is as comfortable, well-built or as effortlessly stylish as the GTI. It looks great in white and even with the more pragmatic option of five doors, its appeal is not diminished. It apes a lot of the signatures of the Golf GTI, such as a honeycomb mesh grille with a red pinstripe (which stretches into the front lights), some tasty 17-inch 'Parabolica' alloys, discreet GTI badges on the flanks and back, a modest boot spoiler and a twin exhaust at the rear. The inside is lovely too, with the 'Clark' cloth seats reminiscent of the tartan check that's been running since the Golf GTI of 1976, while all the haptics are of the highest quality. The only problem is that with the seat set to its lowest position, the Polo betrays its city car origins as you feel perched on the car, not hunkered down in it.

At this point, we ought to make a confession about that torque number. The DSG version, due to 'technical differences' with the gearbox, has to make do with the old GTI's peak figure of 250Nm. It makes it over a wider rev range, from 1,250- to 5,300rpm compared to the manual's 1,450- to 4,200rpm plateau, as way of compensation. Volkswagen says its deficit doesn't affect performance, quoting the same 6.7-second 0-62mph time and 146mph top speed for the DSG, which is also 8kg heavier than the manual at 1,280kg in total. As a benefit, the DSG is the cleaner GTI, recording quoted figures of 50.4mpg and 129g/km CO2, against 47.1mpg and 139g/km for the manual. The tuned-in among you will realise that means the DSG is cheaper to tax, by 130 in year one and then 20 every year after that. However, we only saw 39mpg over 426 miles at an average 48mph from the GTI.

Can you determine a difference in the way the manual and DSG GTIs perform, then? Not really. With the newly fitted XDS+ electronic differential lock, it proves to be an amusing steer. The engine is quite muted until you begin revving the nuts off it, at which point it takes on a pleasingly muscular tone. It's not quite as good to listen to as the stronger 2.0-litre EA888 that sees service in so many Volkswagen Group products, but it's sporty enough all the same. Performance feels very lively too, while that torque deficit doesn't really make itself felt either lugging the GTI out of tight bends or when cruising along the motorway.

It's a leech-like little thing, the XDS doing a splendid job of preventing understeer and providing excellent traction, while body control is impressive. The DSG is good too, although it's not the absolute slickest version of the group's twin-clutch auto we've tried - we'd be inclined to say save your 1,245 and stick with the manual. And in spite of steering that's quick and precise, if not massively feelsome, the GTI is a fine little hot hatch, which can put on a spirited display on a twisting, quiet back road. The fact that, in steadier state driving, it then assumes pseudo-big-car composure unmatched by any of its peers is a major bonus.

Yet, the thing is, if we accept the tenet that B-segment hot hatch buyers are younger and less affluent than C-segment hot hatch buyers, is refinement really the main priority for most customers? Or will they sacrifice a bit of comfort because they want their supermini to provide them with more grins behind the wheel when the conditions are right? We can't help feeling it's the latter. While the Golf GTI can get away with being reserved, we reckon the Polo is a bit too sedate compared to the likes of (here it comes) the Ford Fiesta ST, Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack, Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport and - perhaps most alarming of all - the new SEAT Ibiza Cupra with which it shares mechanicals... and which is 800 cheaper and much better specified to boot.

Talking of which, for the 'grown-up' hot hatch of the market, and considering it will cost at least 20,775 in this five-door DSG spec, it's like one of those annoying Volkswagens of old that has a relatively spartan trim. Rivals of an equivalent cost chuck in cruise control (it's on the 'lesser' SEL and R-Line Polos, but it's 400 on the GTI, as part of a bundle with front and rear parking sensors), satnav (700 for Discover Navigation) and climate control (380) as standard - and on the GTI, Adaptive Cruise Control can't be fitted at all. Sure, these aren't crucial to the way the Volkswagen drives, but for an expensive, premium product, we reckon these are needless omissions. A final (unflattering) comparison to that Golf GTI: for its purchase price the bigger Volkswagen comes with a far better level of standard equipment, relative to its competition, than the hot Polo - our car was 22,780, which is the very top end of this particular sector.

There's no doubt the Polo GTI will find buyers, and it will find owners who end up very happy with it too. The 1.8 TSI engine has made it the most exciting Polo GTI yet, but on critical appraisal, it's still not up there with the class leaders for driving thrills, so considering the GTI's expense and paucity of kit, we'd recommend the Ford, SEAT and Peugeot first of all.


Ford Fiesta ST: you simply cannot review any B-segment hot hatch without referring to this gem. Still class leader because it's ludicrously cheap and yet its stunning handling is unbeatable. The ride is bouncy, though.

Peugeot 208 GTi: you need to splash out 22 grand to get the best out of the French hot hatch, but if you do you'll be rewarded with a simply superb performance car.

SEAT Ibiza Cupra: once again, like the bigger Leon, SEAT takes a Volkswagen and does it better, for less cash. Revised Ibiza Cupra has same 1.8-litre unit, sharper driving manners and starts from 18,100.

Matt Robinson - 30 Nov 2015    - Volkswagen road tests
- Volkswagen news
- Polo images

2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.

2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. Image by Volkswagen.


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