“Practical performance” is the new mantra that Volkswagen wants its GTI badge to represent: we’ve had three new or renewed GTIs in the past 18 months, starting with the Golf GTI Mk7.5 early last year, and all have carried forth that message loud and clear.
The sub-brand will continue to have its wilder moments, of course, when its limited-series, end-of-line specials (GTI Clubsport S and the like) will flirt with a more fiery temperament than you might want on your daily commute, but they’ll be few and far between.
That’s because, by and large, VW wants its GTI-branded Golfs, Ups and now new Polos to sit at the more refined, mature and usable end of a notional hot hatchback character scale that has Renault RSs, Ford STs, Seat Cupras and Honda Type Rs at its other end.
Potential owners could therefore consider ‘GTI’ an initialism of ‘Grand Tourer Injection’ – or perhaps of ‘Girlfriend Test Invulnerable’, if it happened to suit their personal circumstances better. This is how VW GTIs have defined themselves for decades, of course.
However, when you get into the nitty-gritty details of this week’s test subject, there’s quite a lot that’s new and interesting about the latest wearer of the GTI colours: the fourth-generation VW Polo GTI.
Unlike other hot Polos that have been engineered midway through the lifecycle of the standard hatchbacks on which they’ve been based, this one has been in the product plan from the earliest stages of the conception of the Mk6 Polo, and those of the MQB-A0 model platform.
It therefore has more specialised running gear than any Polo GTI before it, and uses a larger and more powerful engine than any of its direct predecessors. The earliest Polo GTI had 123bhp in 2000; 18 years later, we’re welcoming one with 197bhp that’s almost 2sec quicker from 0-62mph than the original.
But will it measure up as described against the Autocar road test timing gear or are we looking at another lukewarm junior GTI here, as guilty as ever of flattering to deceive?