What is it?
When you read the letters ‘GTI’, whether it’s in the first sentence of a car review or on the grille of a hatchback, you think ‘Volkswagen Golf’ – don’t you?
Bet you just have. Can’t help but. The Golf GTI celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, after all, and although Volkswagen has been trying to for more than two decades now, it has never quite successfully developed its defining hot hatch identity into a proper performance sub-brand.
There have been good attempts to do that (think Lupo GTI) and not-so-good ones (Mk3 Polo GTI, anyone?) since the mid-1990s, of course. But now there’s a new and more concerted bid to turn ‘GTI’ into an established family of models, and it involves the upcoming Up GTI city car and this: the go-faster version of the sixth-generation Polo.
As this car’s key creators will tell you, VW has toyed with the idea of a proper, supermini-sized GTI on previous attempts, committing to cars midway through a model lifecycle and adapting existing mechanical platforms for the purpose rather than designing them from scratch. But no longer. This Polo GTI has been in the making for the past three years, from the earliest design and specification stages of the VW Group’s ‘MQB-A0’ platform. As a result, the specialised powertrain, suspension and steering components it needs in order to be the best hot hatchback it can be have already been provided – they’re on the shelf, ready to go – while the car’s chassis has already been designed to accept the 18in wheels for the job.
The new Polo GTI gets the Golf GTI’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine; it’s slightly detuned to 197bhp and 236lb ft of torque but still strong enough to give the car a sub-7.0sec 0-62mph acceleration claim and top speed within a whisker of 150mph.
It’ll be available in May 2018 with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, or with a six-speed manual later in the year. It gets lowered, stiffened suspension springs, uprated anti-roll bars and upgraded passive dampers as standard, but it can be had with switchable ‘sport select’ suspension as an option (which isn’t ‘DCC’ adaptive damping as such but instead describes dampers with two lots of compression and rebound settings that you can chop and change between electronically via the car’s driving modes).
Compared with the standard Volkswagen Polo on which it’s based, the GTI also has completely different front suspension knuckles, a stiffer torsion beam at the rear, rerated suspension bushings and entirely different axle geometries and roll centres. On the face of it – not just on the face of it, really – it’s a proper piece of performance engineering.