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The warm Volkswagen Polo BlueGT promises both performance and efficiency, offering a halfway house between conventional and GTI models

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The Volkswagen Polo BlueGT owes its existance to the eco-minded Polo BlueMotion from 2006 as it does from a long line of performance models, culminating in the current Polo GTI.

It's certainly a product of rising fuel prices and ever-increasing taxes for polluting vehicles. Its 138bhp motor emits 107g/km, but still enables a 7.5sec 0-62mph time to be recorded. The former has much to do with the car's cylinder cutoff technology - which turns off two of the four cylinders when cruising - while the former is aided by a healthy 184lb ft of torque.

Technically impressive blend of pace and real-world frugality, but lacking in simple fun factor

If ever proof were needed of the benefits of downsizing and the march of eco-technology, the Polo BlueGT is it. Its performance matches that of the 2006 Polo GTI, but emissions have been reduced by 42 percent, and fuel economy is improved to the tune of 25mpg using official figures.

Of course, you'll not find the fizziness of a hard-tuned petrol engine here. Those thrills are reserved for the hotter GTI.

But as a car that blends hot hatch performance of a few years ago with eco car economy, it impresses strongly.

But therein lies the rub. It is a compromise between frugality and fun. The harder-edged GTI is offered for those wanting to eek out the maximum fun from every journey. The BlueGT is more of an all-round package offering warm performance.

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Nevertheless, the subject of this is review remains a fascinating prospect: a warm supermini with more power than a Peugeot 205 GTI, oodles more torque and the potential for diesel-like economy.

DESIGN & STYLING

Volkswagen Polo BlueGT headlight

If you know your Volkswagen Polos, you’ll have already clocked the similarity that the Polo BlueGT bears to two of its special range-mates – and even if you don’t, the name has probably given it away.

Volkswagen's Polo GTI donates its headlights and daytime running lights, roof spoiler and bumpers to the BlueGT, while the Polo BlueMotion chips in with its side sills and, out of sight, some aerodynamic underbody cladding, which together contribute to a drag coefficient of 0.30, identical to that of the BlueMotion model.

The BlueGT wears various pieces of gloss black trim

The BlueGT gets special 17-inch alloy wheels and stiffer than average sports suspension that also lowers its ride height by 15mm. The hardware itself is fairly stock Polo kit, though: MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear.

Riding noticeably low and filling its arches without problem, the BlueGT looks quietly purposeful. It’s still ‘only a Volkswagen Polo’, and a lukewarm one at that – not a car to satisfy the visual appetites of the out-and-out petrolhead. But for fans of the understated ‘sleeper’ aesthetic – and there are plenty at Autocar – the styling is well judged. The glossy black trim on the grille and door mirrors works particularly well at setting the car apart without screaming about it.

Power comes from the previously mentioned cylinder-shutdown petrol four-pot. A total of 138bhp finds its way to the front wheels, but there’s also a full 184lb ft of torque available between 1500rpm and 3500rpm. Neither peak output should prevent the car from breaking through the 60mpg barrier when touring, though – and if that claim is true, it really will be something to write home about.

MIRA’s scales recorded a kerb weight of 1210kg, which suggests that VW’s official claim of 1212kg is spot-on. That’s middling weight for a hatch of this size and performance. 

INTERIOR

Volkswagen Polo BlueGT dashboard

The Volkswagen Polo BlueGT is the sort of car you could get into, drive a few miles, get out of again and draw a blank when somebody later asks you what it’s like inside. Absolutely competent, absolutely everywhere is the short answer, but with few interesting features, and those drawn from the big Volkswagen book of mildly sporting interiors.

Namely, it’s the same as a non-sporting interior, with impeccable ergonomics, a totally sound driving position and brilliantly spaced pedals, but with a mildly interesting gearknob and a sculpted steering wheel (with a flat bottom).

The way the standard Bluetooth car kit is integrated is strangely aftermarket-looking by Volkswagen standards. It took me a day to realise you have to take the screen out of the glovebox to make it work

Is that a problem? It depends. If you think so, you could try a Mini or a Citroën DS3 instead. If not – and the opinion of our testers is broadly split – there’s much to admire about the Volkswagen Polo’s trimmings. Volkswagen resisted throwing options at our test car, and it’s little the worse for it.

We see no particular reason why you’d want climate control over air conditioning, and while it might be worth the functional and aesthetic improvement that the audio/sat-nav upgrade brings, even shorn of those the BlueGT doesn’t feel like a poorly specified car. Fit and finish and the feel of the switchgear is first rate. 

It’s also spacious enough, for a supermini. Adults can get comfortable behind adults and the boot is, as with other Polos, perfectly acceptable within the class. Not so very long ago, this kind of competence would have been competitive in the class above.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Volkswagen Polo BlueGT rear quarter

The 7.5sec that the Volkswagen Polo BlueGT took to reach 60mph at MIRA proving ground is a pretty impressive result, given that it has, by modern hot hatch standards, a relatively modest 138bhp. 

Its pace is helped by the torque that it develops throughout the rev range. This engine is no fizzer. Its power is developed broadly and strongly, to the extent that there’s not really a great deal of point taking it beyond 5500rpm, some 1000rpm short of the red line. The exception here is that if you do rev it out, it’ll reach 60mph in second gear, which is what we did during our acceleration runs. 

The linearity of the throttle on big openings plus the brake pedal feel and sweet gearshift make this one of the easiest cars in which to heel-and-toe

Curiously, it won’t hit 62mph in second, which would suggest that VW is missing out on a few attention-grabbing tenths of a second on a 0-100km/h acceleration claim but, truth be told, you don’t lose that much by swapping to the next cog. The boost is subtle enough that throttle response is good once the engine is spinning beyond 2000rpm, and the gearshift itself is extremely pleasing. 

It’s not that the lever is short of throw or particularly sporting in its feel, but what it does have is a freedom from notches and bumps and a real positivity about it. In fact, that consistent ease is replicated in all the control weights – the steering (which we’ll come to in a minute), a brake pedal that has progressive feel and is easy to modulate, and a throttle response that, for a turbo unit, is pleasingly linear.

There’s one caveat here, mind you: on part throttle – and only on occasion – you can sometimes detect the engine slipping into and out of its two-cylinder mode. The effect is subtle, and on stronger throttle openings you barely notice it, but just for a moment as you get back on the gas it can feel treacly. Then, after barely a fraction of a second, it’s gone. 

The decent brake pedal feel is backed by strong stopping power – at first. After just two laps of our dry handling circuit, and in cold conditions, they overheated. But although we’d rather they lasted longer, we suspect that only a committed drive down a mountain pass would bring it about on the road.

RIDE & HANDLING

Volkswagen Polo BlueGT front quarter

First things first, then. The Volkswagen Polo BlueGT’s ride errs towards the knobbly and unsettled at low speed. It’s not outright harsh, but those 215/40 R17 tyres leave it on the busy and noisy side until you get a bit of speed into proceedings. From that point onwards, the Polo is fine – you hear surface imperfections but more rarely feel them, leaving the BlueGT feeling composed

Composed. That word will apply often within this section, because it’s probably the one that most comfortably defines what the BlueGT is about. Throw a challenging road at the Polo and it deals with the changes in camber and those uniquely British lower-frequency surface changes with unruffled ease. Body control is good and isolation levels are sound. 

The Polo turns with just about enough vigour, but nothing here inspires you to press on with great enthusiasm

Perhaps, if anything, for a warm hatchback, the BlueGT’s handling is a little too isolated. Its steering is stiction free and retains the same weighting and accuracy virtually all the time. We suspect that there is a missive within the VW Group that suggests all steering systems should feel the same: consistently VW-ish, which includes being devoid of unwanted feedback. 

The Polo’s slickness and freedom from kickback, plus the predictable ease with which it self-centres, are all admirable traits, but with them comes a lack of definition and feel. On most VWs, that’s no bad thing; on a warm hatchback, it’s a bit of a pity.

The rest of the handling is similarly inert, most of the time. The Volkswagen Polo turns in well enough and grips well enough, but there’s little engagement. As a car in which to cover ground competently and briskly, the Polo delivers. As a car for the likes of us, it could do with a little more involvement. 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Volkswagen Polo BlueGT 2008-2014

You won’t be shocked to read that you'll pay a bit of a premium for the Volkswagen Polo BlueGT.

Fast superminis with almost 20 per cent more power are available for more than £1000 less outlay – and from brands much more likely to give you a discount than your VW dealer.

Standard spec is fairly generous, but it’s worth shelling out for black Alcantara seats (they’ll mark less quickly) and rear parking sensors.

But consider what you’re actually getting – the pace and economy that we’ve discovered while testing this car – and you could well consider the premium  to be worthwhile.

And about that economy: it’s not quite diesel-like, but it’s probably close enough to turn your head. Our touring test result was 49mpg exactly – from a diesel of the same performance, you might do 10 or 15 per cent better, but remember that the black pump is also about six per cent more expensive to fill up from in the first place. 

Our overall economy result of 39.8mpg may be a long way short of spectacular, but it compares very well with the result we got from the Citroën DS3 1.6 THP (35.8mpg) and Alfa Romeo Mito MultiAir (36.1mpg) under the same conditions.

Your everyday return from the BlueGT is likely to be somewhere in the low 40s. Considering the very competitive CO2 rating and low associated benefit in kind costs, that could well be economical enough. 

VERDICT

4 star Volkswagen Polo BlueGT

The Volkswagen Polo BlueGT represents as big an indication as any of the tidal shift from diesel to petrol. That a petrol-engined vehicle manages to be both as quick and economical in the real world as this, especially when it is possessed of such an enjoyable drivetrain, is something to write home about.

And if that is all you want from a lukewarm hatchback, then fill your boots.

Relatively quick and commendably economical, but short on fun

However, given that you’re reading this review, you may want more than that. And although the Polo BlueGT hits all the right notes on paper, in everyday driving it’s a less satisfying steer. 

It’s a capable and competent car in all the right areas, but when it comes to involvement, fun and all the other tangible, tactile things that we want of a warm hatchback, the Volkswagen Polo reveals its identity – and it’s more Blue than GT.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.