Hot Polo hard to swallow

There’s fashionably late and then there’s just plain tardy. The VW Polo GT TDi falls into the latter category. Which is odd, because VW was at the vanguard of the diesel hot-hatch revolution with the hugely successful Mk4 Golf GT TDi.

In the supermini class, however, there’s a posse of hot diesel hatches already in town: from the Polo’s cousins, the Skoda Fabia vRS and Seat Ibiza FR 1.9 TDi – with which it shares its floorpan and engine – to the Peugeot 206 GTi HDi, Renault Clio dCi 100, Vauxhall Corsa 1.7 CDTi SRi and Fiat Punto Multijet HGT.

At least the Polo doesn’t want for power. The ever-popular 1.9-litre pumpe düse turbodiesel packs 128bhp and 229lb ft of torque to match the Fabia and Ibiza. VW claims that it’ll propel the GT to 62mph in 9.3sec. It feels even faster, and probably is: we’ve managed significantly quicker times in both the Ibiza and Fabia. Maximum torque arrives at 1900rpm with a classic diesel low-blow that has the 205/45 R16 Dunlop Sport tyres chirruping merrily, but below that there’s a doldrum-like dead zone.

Choose the right gear, however (easily done from the reasonably slick six-speed manual ’box) and you’ve got a giant-killer: in-gear acceleration is spectacular.

The steering is less remarkable. It’s well-weighted, but doesn’t provide masses of feedback. It’s not helped by the wheel: the rim is pleasantly covered with perforated leather, but its four spokes are uncomfortably large and awkwardly positioned. At least it adjusts for both rake and reach.

Sports suspension gives the Polo a firm but well-damped ride: it’s a little harsher than the Fabia vRS’s, and body control is correspondingly better, albeit only a touch; a sensation heightened by firm sports seats.

With a heavy diesel block under the bonnet, the Polo will understeer if you push too hard in a corner, but lift off the throttle and it tucks neatly back into line. The all-round disc brakes with standard anti-lock are effective, but there’s not much feel from the middle pedal. And, as usual in a VW, the throttle cuts out when you apply the brake, so there’s no chance of heel-and-toeing.

Every time you put your foot down, however, you forgive the Polo these minor gripes: the big-engine, small-car combination is a classic one, and it really works. Especially when it’s time to fill up. VW claims a combined mpg figure of 55.4, and though we expect you’ll struggle to match that unless you’re very disciplined, you can reckon on at least about 45mpg. That means the GT’s 45-litre tank should give you a range of 450 miles.

Away from the driving experience, this Polo is disappointingly standard. Other than handsome 16-inch alloy wheels and a GT badge in the radiator grille there’s little to distinguish the car from a high-spec Polo Sport. The cabin is of a high quality, with smart black ‘Le Mans’ cloth trim, a six-CD autochanger, air-conditioning and electric front windows. You also get a leather-trimmed gearstick and handbrake.

Safety kit includes front and side airbags, standard anti-lock brakes and non-switchable traction control.

So it all looks pretty rosy for the Polo GT, but sadly things aren’t that simple, and it’s the VW group’s own products that complicate matters. The Skoda Fabia vRS offers pretty much everything the Polo GT does, bar side airbags and CD autochanger, for £2500 less.

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Adding those to the Fabia costs £550. Do you really want to spend £1950 for the sake of a badge?

Rory Lumsdon

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