Our verdict - there's more fun to be had for less money
Steering is accurate, but gives little back to the driver
There's enough ground-covering pace, but not enough engagement
0-62mph in 6.9sec
It rides acceptably despite a 15mm ride height drop over the standard car
Seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox as standard
Hot supermini with a dash of practicality
GTI get s aslightly different look - we like it
Fine interior with space for back seat passengers
1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine
All the hallmarks of VW quality and innovation
Interior feels very well appointed
A new engine and gearbox make for a much improved small GTI - but is it a match for some stellar rivals?
What is it?
This GTI version of the new Polo is the latest in a line of fast Polos that began with the 1991 G40; though none of which to date has quite hit the mark in the same way that most Golf GTIs have.
It arrives a short time after the Seat Ibiza Cupra, and at the same time as the Skoda Fabia vRS, poignant not just because all three are based on the same platform, but because all three also use precisely the same powertrain - a 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged TSI petrol engine, mated to a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox as standard. There’s no manual option on any of them.
Compared to the Skoda and Seat, the Volkswagen demands a premium price: as I write it’s the wrong side of £18,000. In fact, it’s not just more expensive than its VW-group siblings, it’s also more expensive than the standout car in this class – the Renaultsport Clio 200.
What’s it like?
We’re fans generally of the Polo at Autocar. It’s a refined and well-sorted car with a fine interior.
So if there is a supermini that can justify an £18,000 plus price tag, the Polo may be it – certainly, the GTI feels very well appointed and equipment levels are strong. As I write I haven’t driven the latest Fabia vRS but, certainly, the Polo is a class above the Ibiza Cupra inside.
But a hot hatchback should be about more than just a decent interior and the refinement that, in fairness, is continued from cooking Polos into this GTI model. It rides acceptably on 45-profile, 17-inch rubber despite a 15mm drop in ride height over the standard car, and sound levels are well suppressed.
If the Renaultsport Clio and Ford Fiesta Zetec S have taught us anything though, it’s that refinement and an interesting cabin are not necessarily anethemas to delivering an enthralling drive.
And it’s here that the Polo fails to quite hit the spot. With 178bhp and weighing 1184kg it’s certainly quick enough – 0-62mph is claimed to take 6.9sec and it just about feels like it – but there isn’t enough interaction or engagement to really trouble the best cars in this class.
There’s enough ground-covering pace – grip levels are par for the course and traction is very good thanks to an electronic differential lock. The steering, though, for all its accuracy, delivers little back to the driver and there’s little adjustability in the chassis.
The Polo will only ever partly allow disengagement of its stability control and even on the road it’s easy to trouble it. The GTI rolls a bit, grips, reaches its limit, the tyres squeal so you know about it, the body is a bit unsettled, an ESP light flashes, then you just sit it out until the corner ends and you head off again. Competent, but very sterile.
Should I buy one?
On pure driving grounds, we’d say not, when there’s more fun to be had for less money elsewhere.
But there are people – you and I might not be them – for whom driving dynamics do not define a hot hatchback; for whom a pleasing interior and mini-Golf looks are more important; and who will never drive at more than four- or five-tenths, if that.
In which case, the Polo GTI isn’t a shabby choice. It’s not a bad car. Far from it. I just think it’d be more appropriate if the ‘I’ was knocked off the end of its name tag.