Extra power and a manual gearbox breathe new life into Polo GTI – but it's still pricey

What is it?

It’s easy to feel sorry for the Volkswagen Polo GTI. Not only does it play second fiddle to VW’s iconic Golf GTI, but more recently the huge – and warranted – success of Ford’s current Fiesta ST has also kept the Polo firmly in its shadow.

That could be why this facelifted version is quite a radical departure from what went before. Gone is the previous car’s 178bhp turbocharged 1.4 petrol engine, replaced by a more powerful 189bhp 1.8, while those who prefer a manual gearbox now have that option – in six-speed guise. The choice of three-door or five-door body styles remains. 

It’s no surprise, then, that the new Polo GTI is now quicker, sprinting from 0-62mph in 6.7sec both as a manual and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The DSG model also emits less CO2 than the old car did, and the new manual model will travel slightly further on a tank of fuel.

All these marginal improvements are very well, but the Fiesta ST has proven that huge fun behind the wheel needn’t cost the earth. With a starting price of around £18,800, the Polo is comparatively expensive, so will its pace and handling prove that it’s worth the extra?

What's it like?

Due to the different tolerances of the two gearboxes, the Volkswagen Polo’s engine is allowed to produce more torque paired with the manual ’box than the DSG. However, as mentioned, both are equally quick in a sprint, thanks to the DSG’s faster shifts, and frankly you never really get a sense of the manual’s extra pull.

Bury your foot hard, though, and the Polo feels decently fast, and it has short bursts of acceleration in gear sorted, too, pulling hard from low down over a usefully wide range of revs. 

Choose to add the optional (around £250) ‘Sports Performance Kit’ and you’ll be able to stiffen the dampers, sharpen the throttle response and have a more aggressive engine note, by pushing the Sport button located on the dash. In truth, the sharper throttle is welcome when pressing on, but the Polo’s actuated engine noise sounds overly enthusiastic under load.   

The GTI’s suspension has had a thorough revision over the old car, getting stiffer anti-roll bars and a new set-up to ensure more traction. Even without the Sports Performance Kit added, the Polo controls its body well in tight turns, but stiffening the dampers improves things further, helping you to enjoy exploiting the impressive grip.

The steering isn’t quite so impressive. It just doesn’t offer the same level of communication as a Fiesta ST’s, and you never get the sense that the Polo has the same front-end agility threading from corner to corner. Don’t expect the rear end of the Polo to be as playful as the Ford’s, either; it’s capable and secure but nothing more.

There’s more to be said for the Polo’s more supple ride, which feels firm but controlled over broken asphalt at all speeds and will be easier for some to live with than the Fiesta’s even firmer set-up; despite its many talents, the bouncy ride in the Ford isn't for everyone.

Inside, there’s the same brilliant infotainment system and high level of build quality as any other Polo, with the addition of GTI trademark tartan cloth seats that provide very good lateral support. A GTI sports steering wheel and plenty of red stitching round off the sporty look.

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Should I buy one?

If you want the best-handling small hot hatch on the market, then no. The Ford Fiesta ST remains that car and will offer it to you for a lower price, with an even more exciting power delivery and a remarkable chassis.

The Polo is now back in contention in this class, and paying the extra for the VW does get you a more comfortable ride, a higher-quality cabin and better resale values than the Fiesta, but handling and driver involvement come first, and while the Polo is undoubtedly capable, it remains an also-ran in this class.

Volkswagen Polo GTI 3dr manual 

Price £18,800 (est); 0-62mph 6.7sec; Top speed 146mph; Economy 47.1mpg (combined); CO2 139g/km; Kerb weight 1272kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1798cc, turbo, petrol; Power 189bhp at 4200rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1400rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Join the debate

Add a comment…
vrskeith 8 December 2014

Polo GTI R

When will this model be launched and at what price / spec.

As I would sooner invest in that if it means waiting 6-9 months.

Jakehig 4 December 2014

Polo GTI

Looks like they have given the engine diesel characteristics despite it being petrol-fuelled. Max power at 4200 rpm and peak torque at 1400....what's "sporty" about that?!
May as well buy a diesel.
bobbyanderson 4 December 2014

Interested to see what SEAT

Interested to see what SEAT do with this engine in the 2015 version of the Ibiza Cupra considering that it's already available in the Leon FR range.