If it really wanted to, VW could have given us a car firmer, pointier and more adjustable in its handling than a Fiesta ST or Clio RS. But VW understands its client base perhaps better than any other manufacturer, and so the Polo GTI’s dynamic complexion is less engaging than those rivals (though not, we’re pleased to report, by very much), but demonstrably less demanding to live with.
Even on the drive up the M1 to Millbrook for the track element of this road test, there was a feeling that this supermini shames some saloons costing three times the price, such is the fluency of its ride at speed.
It’s a fluency the Polo GTI never seems like relinquishing, even as you begin to explore its capabilities on more threadbare A and B-roads. This is not the most balletic chassis, but it is remarkably composed, turns in effortlessly, is nicely balanced, and the front axle generates so much grip and stability that you can confidently ‘back’ the car into corners on the brakes and bring the rear axle subtly into play.
That said, hot hatch diehards would, we suspect, willingly trade some of the car’s everyday usability for a fraction more steering weight and closer vertical body control (lateral roll is rarely, if ever, an issue in the Polo GTI).
Millbrook’s hill route is precisely the sort of environment where, as a performance-biased supermini, the Polo GTI should shine. And, in the main, it does, albeit with a sense of imperturbability rather than excitement.
It lacks the body control of a Fiesta ST and the steering response of a Mini Cooper S, but it’s the most fluid of the three when driven briskly rather than flat-out, working its contact patches supremely hard via a combination of its sophisticated suspension architecture and Continental tyres.
While the ESP cannot be entirely disabled, in Sport mode it permits enough yaw for the chassis to feel adjustable through tighter bends. Overall, it’s a quick, competent performance, even if the long gearing does hamper proceedings a touch.
Supple but controlled damping characteristics mean this car’s métier is at about seven or eight-tenths, ultimately, and driven as such it will make fast and sure-footed, but not particularly enthralling, progress along any road you care to point it down.
It’s for this reason that the lack of a mechanical limited-slip diff is not felt too keenly. Rarely does the Polo GTI invite its driver to push so hard that the electronic torque-vectoring ‘XDS’ front axle, aided by particularly adhesive Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres, wilts into understeer, though push on too hard and that is precisely what will happen.