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Volkswagen Polo GTI

It looks like hot Golf, but is it as thrilling to drive?

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, the Golf GTI should be pleased with itself! The new hot Polo mimics its bigger brother in almost every detail, so there’s no hiding where the designers looked for inspiration.

From a distance, the two cars look so similar you might struggle to tell them apart. Whether this is regarded as a good thing or not depends very much on your opinion of what a hot hatch should be. For those who don’t like to shout about their car’s performance, the subtle understatement of the Polo will appeal. Others will prefer the SEAT’s more attention-grabbing approach. With its bold nose and boy racer exhaust, it is a much less self-conscious choice.

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Delve deeper into the Polo’s design, and you’ll discover plenty of neat details. For instance, it features smart red highlights around the grille, complemented by the red brake calipers. Elsewhere you’ll find polished twin tailpipes, a rear wing, LED headlamps, chunky sill extensions and a deep chin spoiler. It’s a chunky and assured design that lacks the aggressive intent of the Ibiza, although it’s likely to age much better.

The similarities between the hot Polo and Golf continue inside, where the GTI’s cabin is filled with soft-touch plastics. Only a couple of cheaper materials lower down provide evidence of its supermini roots. Other details borrowed from its larger stablemate include bucket seats embossed with the GTI logo and covered in trademark tartan.

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Strangely, the door panels are finished in a different material which goes down as a missed trick in our book. Still, the seats are comfortable and supportive.

Other curiosities include the Polo’s mismatching black-ongreen LCD climate control screen, which doesn’t tie in with the high-quality colour display for the stereo or white-on-black trip computer readout. Red stitching on the steering wheel, gearlever and handbrake adds to the racy feel, though, while piano black inlays on the centre console and doors are a classy touch. Despite this, the car’s low waistline means drivers will feel like they’re sitting higher than in the SEAT.

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In front of them, the smart steering wheel is clearly inspired by the three-spoke design from the Golf, but the Polo does without its big brother’s multifunction controls for the stereo and on-board computer. Clamber into the back and you will find a little more head and legroom than in the SEAT, plus it’s brighter and airier thanks
to its larger glass area.

Performance feels similar to the SEAT, and our figures back up this impression. However, the VW has a slightly smoother power delivery and has a more refined engine note than the bassy Ibiza. Against the clock the Polo was marginally faster, hitting 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds, which is one-tenth of a second quicker. Its in-gear performance at higher speeds was more impressive, though, as the GTI raced from 50-70mph in sixth in only 6.7 seconds.

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At lower speeds the Polo has a tendency to tramline that we didn’t experience in the SEAT.

The wheel rim tugs your hands under hard acceleration too, as the car deploys its power – again something we did not notice in the Ibiza.  

The VW makes up for this unruly behaviour by providing more comfort. Its suspension is better judged, so no matter what speed you’re driving at, it delivers more control and composure than the crashy Ibiza. There is more body roll in corners, and the car leans very hard on its front tyres, but the XDS electronic differential does a decent job of keeping you on your desired line. You also get more steering feel in the Polo, and its overall weighting is well judged. However, the brakes feel spongy in comparison. There’s no doubting the Polo’s ability on the road, but we just wish it was a little more involving for the driver.

We couldn’t ask for much more from an eco perspective, though. It has similar engine technology to the SEAT, but the Polo is a greener choice. Its CO2 emissions are 9g/km lower at 139g/km, which results in a £15 annual saving on car tax. And with superior economy claims, you’ll save money at the pumps as well.              

As an ownership proposition the Polo is hard to argue with. It’s also deceptively quick and looks the part. So, while it costs more than its SEAT rival, that extra quality might just be enough to see VW crowned the winner here.

Details

Chart position: 1
WHY: Promises to be the best Polo GTI ever, and takes lead from larger Golf. Twin-charged engine and DSG offer impressive pace, while subtle exterior and classy cabin make it a great all-rounder.

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