What is it?
The Holy Grail of motoring is to combine pace with parsimony, in terms of fuel consumption that is. Which is why these days so many manufacturers are investing so heavily in hybrid tech.
But is there a more conventional route to achieving this aim? Volkswagen thinks so, because it’s just launched the facelifted Polo Blue GT – essentially a detuned version of the full-fat Polo GTI.
In VW speak, blue - standing for Bluemotion - is the new green, and means that with technology like cylinder deactivation - whereby it cuts two of the four cylinders when demand is low – and engine stop-start, the GT manages some pretty impressive stats: 137mph and 0-62mph in 7.8sec. Driven carefully, it should manage a combined 60.1mpg, too, while emitting 108g/km of CO2 - as long as you have the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox fitted.
However, as is often the case, the official stats are one thing, but it’s how they translate to the real world that really matters.
What's it like?
The beating heart of this latest Polo GT is a new, more powerful 1.4-litre petrol engine that produces 148bhp and a hearty 184lb ft of torque. The engine’s turbo-fed induction system means it suffers a momentary delay before building boost, but from 1500rpm onwards it pulls well, with a lovely linear delivery all the way to the red line. Aurally it won’t set your heart racing like the snarling Ford Fiesta ST or the rorty Mini Cooper, but it makes up for this by being smooth and refined throughout the rev range.
The seven-speed DSG is excellent. In manual mode it snaps between gears in an instant, or, if you’re feeling lazy and switch to auto, slips seamlessly up and down ratios, with the darting rev counter needle being your only guide. The only letdown is that the combination of stop-start and the automatic hill hold feature can make for some jerky take-offs unless you’re super-smooth with the throttle.
With its larger 17in wheels, the Polo GT has plenty of grip and, aided by the standard electronic differential, turns in to corners eagerly and powers out of them with minimal torque steer or wheelspin. The body is well tied down and feels stable mid-corner, helping to create confidence in fast sweepers. That said, the Polo GT is safe and secure rather than outright fun like a Fiesta ST, lacking the feel and alertness that makes the Ford sparkle and keen drivers smile.
It counters this by being more comfortable than either the Fiesta ST or the Mini Cooper, and by some margin. The ride does break down over broken road surfaces and you hear the suspension working away underneath you, but given that the Polo GT has been lowered by 15mm over the standard car, it’s still remarkably compliant.
VW’s designers have restyled the Polo’s bumpers and added side skirts, along with the bigger alloys and twin tailpipes, to emphasise the GT’s more sporting intentions. Despite this, visually it doesn’t shout ‘look at me’ like some small hot hatches do, but, depending on your perspective, that’s no bad thing.
Inside, it’s a similar theme: smart but conservative, with some racy touches such as sports seats trimmed in a mix of Alcantara, faux leather and ‘Blue Speed’ cloth. The seats are particularly comfortable, the side bolsters giving welcome added support, although you might wish they went back a few inches further if you’re more than 6ft tall, and that the rake and reach-adjustable steering wheel extended by a similar amount extra. You sit quite high up, too, but this doesn’t affect headroom, which is plentiful.
As with all Polos, the centre console impinges slightly on the room available for your left leg, but overall it’s a pretty decent driving position for such a compact car.
In the back, things are tight for larger adults, but no worse than the class average, and the fact that it comes as a five-door makes getting in and out pretty painless. Boot capacity is a useful 280 litres, with the added flexibility of folding rear seats and a useful height-adjustable floor.
The Polo has arguably one of the best cabins in its class, too. There are hard plastics dotted around, but it’s the soft-touch dash, gloss black centre console surround and clear, simple, switchgear that are the focal points.
It’s also well equipped, with a leather multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, 6.5in colour touchscreen, DAB radio and a driver alert system all included. The infotainment system is also well thought through, making pairing a phone or using the sat-nav (a £700 option) a doddle.
Should I buy one?
That depends entirely on your needs and how much you're willing to spend.
In terms of pure driving enjoyment, the Fiesta ST and the Mini Cooper represent the Premier League to the Polo Blue GT’s Championship. Plus, the ST has an extra 30bhp, which means it’s nearly a second quicker to 62mph.
However, if you’re looking for something that blends performance with the ability to deal with life’s practicalities, rather than something for a weekend thrill, the Polo GT is highly recommendable. It combines a decent turn of speed with some impressive fuel efficiency claims, while also managing to be comfortable, well equipped, refined, practical and nicely finished.
The main issue - and what knocks it down the pecking order relative to the competition - is its price. The cheapest three-door manual is £17,860, and our five-door test car with the DSG ‘box is £19,865. To put that in context, the quicker Fiesta ST is £17,250, while the Mini, which shades the GT for economy and emissions and all but matches it for performance, is only £15,300.
The result? Well, the Polo Blue GT isn't the Holy Grail, but it is still a very likeable car.
Volkswagen Polo Blue GT
Price £19,865; Engine 4 cyls, 1395cc, turbo, petrol; Power 148bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 1500-3000rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1224kg; Top speed 137mph; 0-62mph 7.8sec; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 108g/km, 15 per cent