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Driven: Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.

Driven: Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG
Ever the bridesmaid, has the Polo GTI’s time as a class-leading hot supermini finally come?


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Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: chiselled looks, quality interior, lusty drivetrain, composed manners

Not so good: still never lets its guard down fully when it comes to sprightly handling, why no manual option yet?

Key Facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG
Price: Polo range from £16,310; GTI from £21,520, car as tested £23,155
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive with XDS electronic diff lock
Body style: five-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 134g/km (VED Band 131-150: £205 in year one, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 47.9mpg
Top speed: 147mph
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
Power: 200hp at 4,400-6,000rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1,500-4,400rpm
Boot space: 305-1,079 litres

Our view:

Ah, pity the poor Volkswagen Polo GTI. Perennially trying to emerge from the sizeable shadow of the very car it seeks to ape, its big brother Golf GTI, it has never quite achieved the same illustrious praise as the larger Volkswagen hot hatch. With the previous-generation model of Polo GTI, it also had to face up to the mighty old Ford Fiesta ST, which was a task as unenviable as the one when Perseus had to pop off and kill the Gorgon, Medusa.

And things don't look any rosier for the latest Polo GTI this time around. Not only is the Golf still there in all its various high-performance guises, casting its form over everything else in the VW stable, but now the Polo faces additional in-house rivalry from the diminutive up! GTI - which has, first time out the box, received the sort of adulating critical praise that has always eluded the Polo (annoying...) - and, just to compound things further, the Fiesta ST has evolved into the remarkable three-cylinder model, which has set about redefining everything a B-segment hot hatch needs to be.

The Polo GTI seems to have all the right weaponry at its disposal, though. For starters, it now packs a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. It just so happened that our test Polo landed right between loans for two C-segment hot hatches, namely the Peugeot 308 GTi and the Renault Megane RS 280 Cup, and yet the Polo has (roughly speaking) 200- and 400cc on both the Megane and 308, respectively. Admittedly, its detuned EA888 makes 200hp, which is not only (quite rightly) dwarfed by the 272- and 280hp figures of the two larger Frenchies, but it's behind some key rivals in its own market sector: the 208hp Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport, the bonkers 212hp Toyota Yaris GRMN and the ageing, rather frustrating but 220hp Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy. At least it matches the 1.5-litre Fiesta ST for power, while eclipsing it on torque to the tune of 30Nm.

Drive goes to the front wheels through a fast-acting six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission, complete with paddle shifts... which are a bit feeble and plasticky, truth be told, but they're there, nonetheless. Supposedly, a manual option is on the way, yet it's still not in the price lists at the time of writing; a pity. Elsewhere, there's an XDS electronic differential lock and sportier suspension, lowered by 15mm and fitted with standard Sport Select dampers, which can be altered between Normal and Sport. Performance from the 2.0-litre engine, on paper, is strong, without being game-changing: a 147mph top speed and a 6.7-second 0-62mph time are perfectly acceptable for what is, ultimately, a souped-up shopping car. The Polo GTI also looks good, using the Volkswagen GTI memes of classy, big (17-inch, in this instance) alloy wheels, a red-pinstriped honeycomb radiator grille, neatly clustered twin exhausts and sharp, restrained lines. Actually, it looks better than good: it looks terrific, especially in Pure White (£340). Just like a GTI should, in fact.

The inside is wonderful too, using the latest Mk6 Polo's coloured-dashpad fascia to good effect by painting it red, which teams up with the GTI-branded, slightly flat-bottomed steering wheel and the traditional Jacara-check cloth seats to make the cabin feel suitably upmarket and enticing. That ambience is boosted by the eight-inch Discover Navigation infotainment screen in the centre console and the 10.3-inch TFT Active Info Display in the instrument cluster, but neither of these things are standard fit, costing £650 and £325 respectively. Indeed, along with the aforementioned paint, further options on our test Polo included the Gloss Black roof decal/door mirrors plus 65 per cent rear tinted windows (£295), dual-zone climate control (£415), keyless entry with a Start/Stop button (£310) and PreCrash preventive occupant protection (£140), all of the above resulting in a £23,155 supermini. That still lacked for cruise control. Hmm.

And, to drive, it's classic Polo GTI. That means it's comfortably the most grown-up and easy-going hot hatch in the B-segment, but it just never lets you access those final few degrees of driver interaction that would make it tremendous, instead of merely very, very good. Which is not to say that it's no more involving than the old 1.8-litre Polo GTI. Because it is. The straight-line performance translates from the data sheets to the roads and thus the VW feels robustly pacey, while there's just enough of an interesting soundtrack to the GTI to make it feel fun to drive quickly. The steering's accurate and the switchable damping is excellent, too... in its normal mode. In the tougher setting, the car becomes too bouncy and nervous for British back roads, so while the two-stage damping looks like key selling point before you drive the GTI, in reality it quickly becomes rather redundant as you keep the Volkswagen permanently in its suppler setting.

Like any self-respecting VW GTI, the Polo is utterly adept at the more humdrum driving activities, with excellent noise suppression, a comfortable ride, perfectly logical ergonomics and the ability to get close to 50mpg on a motorway run - we saw a best return of 47.7mpg from the trip computer on a long slog back from Heathrow, round the M25 and then up the M1 and A46, and across just shy of 484 miles in our company, it turned in 39.1mpg. Which is great. But therein lies the rub. That overall economy figure probably tells you that, beyond a few thrashes in the Polo GTI to test out its dynamic mettle, once we'd realised it was determined to remain strait-laced no matter what provocation we threw its way, then we just went back to using it like a regular Polo, i.e. gently. There was no great desire to use its 200hp all the time.

The new Polo GTI is a definite improvement on its forebears in the handling stakes, then, but it still lacks the outright vivacity and sparkle that some key competitors - none more so than that pesky three-pot Fiesta - have in abundance. And, at the B-segment hot hatch level, we think 'driving fun' should be placed front and centre of the ownership experience, rather than how lovely the shutlines are on the bodywork, or how glitzy the satnav touchscreen is, or what colour the dashpad is. So the outcome with the Polo GTI remains the same as it ever was - it's urbane, it's competent, it's the most refined and thoughtful of rapid superminis, lots of people will buy it and love it... but we just wish it was a tiny bit more involving, frankly. Maybe a Polo R is on the way, which would finally give Volkswagen's hatchback the thrilling driving experience it deserves.


Ford Fiesta ST: same old story for the Volkswagen - it's good, but it's really not as good as the blinding Blue Oval product.

Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport: clunky name and exorbitant price tag, but the French hot supermini is most definitely worth it - it's scintillating.

Toyota Yaris GRMN: a supercharged 1.8-litre engine, hardcore chassis settings, lots of fizzy fun and a limited build run. And the Toyota is all sold out. Ah. Damn.

Matt Robinson - 6 Sep 2018    - Volkswagen road tests
- Volkswagen news
- Polo images

2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.

2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG. Image by Volkswagen UK.


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