Volkswagen Polo GTI review
While we’re fans of the standard Polo, the GTI model fails to make an impact at the top of the hot hatch tree
Volkswagen has built faster versions of the Polo ever since the Mk1 edition, starting with the rare Polo GT in 1979. Things were turned up a notch with the Mk2 and the supercharged Polo G40, while the GTI badge first appeared on a limited-run Mk3 in 1998. This is the sixth-generation model, featuring a 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine, while a six-speed manual gearbox has returned as well.
With its simple lines and upmarket cabin, the Polo has gained a reputation for trying to offer the qualities of the Golf in a supermini package. The GTI model takes this formula even further, as the DNA of its larger hot hatch sibling runs through the car’s styling.
The new Polo features red pinstripes on the nose like the Golf GTI, while the honeycomb grille and lower air intakes add to the sporty look. LED headlamps are standard, and these have red detailing and a distinctive crosshair motif within the light clusters.
Elsewhere, you get 17-inch, two-tone alloys, GTI badges on the front wings and deep side skirts, while at the back, there’s a tailgate spoiler, tinted lights and a deep bumper with a pair of chrome exhaust tips poking out the back. Overall, the Polo GTI is subtly aggressive, and like its Golf sibling, looks best in solid colours.
It comes in red as standard, but white and black are £260 options, while metallic silver, blue or black cost £540. Inside, the homage to the larger Golf GTI continues. There’s grey tartan cloth for the seats and a GTI-branded multifunction steering wheel with red stitching, while gloss-black trim is added to the centre console for a classier look.
Overall, though, the Polo’s interior is reserved when compared to the flamboyant, retro-themed MINI Cooper S’, plus the touchscreen is smaller and its graphics aren’t as clear. There’s no faulting the quality, but the MINI’s is just as good, and the Peugeot 208 GTi’s cabin is arguably more stylish.
In an effort to give the Polo GTI greater driver appeal, VW has reintroduced a manual gearbox. You can still get a seven-speed DSG auto box for £1,245 extra, but the positive shift of the six-speed manual definitely makes you feel more connected with the car.
Power comes from a 1.8 TSI turbo petrol engine with 189bhp. There's also a meaty 320Nm on offer from 1,450rpm. At our test track, the Polo raced from 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds.
The Polo’s torque also means it's fast in-gear, although the GTI’s lack of drama means it never feels exciting. In corners, there’s lots of grip, but the chassis is so composed and controlled that the MINI Cooper S, Ford Fiesta ST and Peugeot 208 GTi feel livelier and more engaging.
The £245 Sport Pack adds dynamic chassis control, which firms up the damping and steering for sharper cornering. However, this adds unnecessary stiffness which sees the Polo GTI shake over every surface imperfection. The standard set-up offers a far better compromise, while the only other benefit it provides is extra engine noise piped into the cabin.
The Polo GTI uses plenty of tried-and-tested components, including a version of the Golf GTI’s engine and electronics that are shared with the rest of the Polo range. That means it should be reliable, although Volkswagen’s reputation for building cars that will last isn’t as strong as some Japanese rivals’.
The brand came 19th in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, while its dealers placed a woeful 31st out of 32 – only sister firm SEAT’s network fared worse. Customers complained about poor value, bad service and a lack of technical knowledge, among other things.
So, if anything goes wrong with your car, you may not be in for the best experience. The revised Polo hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP yet, but the pre-facelift Mk6 earned a five-star rating back in 2009. There are six airbags, while the stability system incorporates skid control, and the electronic differential helps to improve road holding.
In the pursuit of performance, Volkswagen has moved the Polo’s battery into the boot to even out the car’s weight distribution, but this has had an adverse effect on luggage space.
There’s 204 litres on offer, which is a disappointing figure. You do get a level load lip, while the back seats fold flat to create 882 litres of space, although that’s well behind the rival Peugeot 208 GTi’s 1,076-litre maximum.
Back seat space is reasonable, and if you need to access them regularly, you can spend an extra £630 to get your hands on a five-door Polo GTI. Storage is good, with deep door bins and a big glovebox, while the bin ahead of the gearlever includes a USB socket, making it easy to charge your phone on the move.
There’s a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment, but if you want the added peace of mind of parking sensors, they cost an extra £400.
The three-door manual Polo GTI is cheaper than the rival Peugeot 208 GTi, but whichever Polo you go for, you’ll be disappointed by its lack of standard kit. Sat-nav, cruise control, parking sensors and climate control, all standard on the Peugeot, add £1,880 to the VW’s price tag.
Hot hatches have made great strides in efficiency as well as performance, and the stop-start-equipped Polo promises 47.1mpg economy.
Still, road tax costs aren't very big, and strong residuals are a positive for private buyers, although Volkswagen’s two-year fixed-price servicing package isn’t as good value as MINI’s five-year plan on its Cooper S.