Why can’t Volkswagen build a hot Polo that works? There’ve been attempts over the decades, with warmed-over GTI travesties, Sports and the startlingly quick, finesse-free and supercharged G40, but the inventor of the GTI has never fashioned a decent example of the genre from the Polo, which ought to be prime meat for such make-overs. Especially now, given today’s Car of the Year winning edition.
But if you think that buying a Polo GTI will get you a polished miniature of the Golf GTI, think again - this a car that is as disappointing as its bigger brother is satisfying.
Today’s Golf GTI, like the best of them, has a dual personality that produces a grown-up, long-haul cruiser when you want to kick back, and an exhilarating, B-road banshee when you crave a blast. But the Polo manages neither of these things despite lowered suspension, big wheels, assorted GTI fiddling and a 178bhp super-and-turbocharged engine whose seven-speed, standard-fit DSG shift spits it to 62mph in 6.8 seconds. As the Golf long ago proved, it takes more than mere performance to make a GTI.
Among the Polo’s GTI tweaks is an amplification of the engine’s induction suck in the quest for some sporting roar, a mod so miscalculated that it frequently makes this car hard to live with. Instead of a throaty burble you’re served a blaring serenade that would be better reserved for the gearbox's sport mode – which would at least create more of a dual personality.On motorways, it makes this Polo feel under-geared, while a backing-track yell of road roar on anything less than satin-smooth tarmac makes long trips wearisome.
The TSI motor certainly provides real zest, but unsubtle throttle-prods are rewarded with jerky launches, even if a spot of self-paddling can entertain on back-roads.
This Polo is quite wieldy thing too, but anyone anticipating the deftness of a RenaultSport Clio will be waiting in vain. The VW’s chassis a disappointingly crude contrast – there’s not enough feedback, nor subtlety of response.
Of course, the qualities that won the Polo its Car of the Year colours are far from entirely absent - it's well made from quality materials, the front seats are unusually comfortable, it feels terrifically robust, its dashboard is a pleasure to survey and in three-door form it’s not bad-looking, either.
But this GTI is a Polo that fails to gel, that doesn’t deserve a CoTY sticker in its rear window and sadly, continues VW’s long and now rather baffling history of producing sporty Polos that aren’t.