In 1991 the Volkswagen Polo G40 was 'tantalisingly close to being excellent' against its rival, the Ford Fiesta XR2i

The self-effacing Volkswagen Polo wasn’t renowned for its potency until the firm’s engineers attached a supercharger to the 1272cc engine under the bonnet of the 1.3 GT model.

The result was a brawny GTI basher called the Polo G40, the suffix referring to the supercharger, the twin spiral chambers of which resembled the letter ‘G’ and were 40mm in width.

When Autocar tested the G40 Mk2, we described the effect of adding a supercharger as “nothing less than dramatic”. Peak power was raised to 113bhp at 6000rpm, with 111lb ft at 3600rpm. “These are outstanding figures for a 1300 and enable the Polo to step out of the junior GT class and into the tough GTI arena,” our tester wrote.

The Polo G40 cost £11,568, compared with £11,469 for the Peugeot 205 GTi 1.6 and £11,586 for Ford’s Fiesta XR2i.

While the VW’s MacPherson strut front and semi-trailing arm rear suspension were largely unchanged, the G40’s spring and damper rates received attention and its fine-lattice alloys wore 175/60 Continental tyres. Other hot hatch accoutrements included some red piping and a semi-sporting steering wheel. Our testers described the overall effect as “neat and understated”.

There was nothing understated about the performance, however. “Its top speed of 119mph isn’t too far adrift of VW’s 122mph claim and is remarkable for a 1300cc engine,” reported our testers. “The 205 GTi’s 122mph just about fights off the challenge, but the Fiesta is left red-faced at 118mph.

“The G40 is embarrassingly accelerative, too. It sprints from rest to 60mph in 8.4sec, taking 0.5sec out of the XR2i and shaving 0.3sec off the 205’s time. This truly is big-capacity lugging power from a tiddler and it leaves its 1.6-litre rivals gasping.”

The story out on the road was mixed. The gearchange was described as “sticky and imprecise” and part-throttle response “wasn’t especially crisp”.

The chassis handled the power well, though: “Torque steer is mild and traction consistently good. The steering is accurate and communicative but afflicted by a curious over-centre action that pulls on to lock under power.”

Nevertheless, the G40 was described as “a lot of fun”, with mild understeer as the staple handling characteristic, garnished with “a generous dollop of (admittedly crude) throttle adjustability” that allowed a neutral balance to be achieved mid-corner.

“Grip was good rather than exceptional and the mediocre ride is better at high speeds than in town, but all in all the chassis feels impressively well sorted. It would be nice to say the same about the brakes but, alas, they suffer from dead initial travel and feel disconcertingly spongy.”

Reservations were also voiced about build quality: “It seems to have taken a backward step. The plastic surround for the driver’s seat backrest tilt fell off and none of our testers was impressed by the cheap-looking mouldings and fabrics.”

A mixed picture, then. So would our testers choose a Polo G40 over a 205 GTi or a Fiesta XR2i? Not quite: “As a fully fledged £11,500 hot hatch, it faltered. Its handling is good but not quite good enough, while in both gearchange quality and cabin finish it disappoints. That said, the Polo G40 is tantalisingly close to being an excellent car.”

Previous Throwback Thursdays

5 April 1986 - Audi Quattro vs Porsche 944 Turbo

16 May 1987 - Ford Escort XR3i Cabriolet

17 October 1981 - The £12,000 baby Aston Martin

16 January 1985 - The launch of the Sinclair C5

15 April 1960 - Porsche's four-cylinder roots

17 August 2004 - The Honda NSX's last hurrah

11 October 1986 - Hyundai's second UK market foray

15 March 1980 - Triumph's TR7 Drophead

13 February 1991 - Mercedes F100 predicts future car technology

16 April 1997 - A modern 'Blower' Bentley 

Individual copies of Autocar with free next-day delivery can now be bought through Magsdirect.

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Polo

The fifth-generation Volkswagen Polo has junior Golf looks, but is that enough?

Join the debate


9 June 2016
Alas, it wasn't to be. I was 18 in 1991 and couldn't afford to insure one. Whilst the years have advanced pretty much everything about my person has deteriorated. Everything apart from my taste in cars. 25 years on and I now have a Polo GTI. Mid life crisis' have never been so insurable.

9 June 2016
£11,600 back then is equivalent to around £26k in today's money. For that price, I think I'd want something better than a supercharged Polo. From memory, the G40 didn't sound particularly nice and I'm sure that the chassis was not in the same league as the contemporary 205 GTi. It wasn't one of VW's finest efforts.

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