New Volkswagen Polo GTI 2018 review

In the aftermath of the Ford Fiesta ST’s arrival, the latest VW Polo GTI lays its cards on the table

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The latest Volkswagen Polo GTI is an accomplished hot supermini. It feels like a forgiving hot hatch that’ll be very easy to live with, while the tech-filled interior sets a high benchmark in this class. Bought on these criteria, you won’t be disappointed. It’s not the last word in excitement, however; for outright thrills the latest Ford Fiesta ST has the edge.

It’s been a good a year for fans of hot superminis. So far, we’ve seen a new Ford Fiesta ST, a fresh Suzuki Swift Sport, and an updated MINI Cooper S arrive in showrooms. Not to be left out, Volkswagen has just launched its new Polo GTI in the UK, too.

An understudy to the larger Golf GTI, the hot Polo sits above the dinky up! GTI on the middle rung of VW’s performance car ladder. Previous incarnations have never quite hit the spot, though – however plush, they were outgunned on a twisty road by cars like the Renaultsport Clio and outgoing Fiesta ST.

Best hot hatches of 2018

It’s something Volkswagen has been keen to resolve with this latest Polo GTI, however. But upping the excitement without losing the comfort and usability of the evergreen standard car is no easy task.

One aspect of the Polo GTI that stands out is its engine. Going against the downsizing trend, the new Volkswagen gets a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol lump under the bonnet. It’s the same engine used in the Golf GTI, in fact, though power is capped at 197bhp, with 320Nm of torque on tap.

The 0-62mph sprint comes in at 6.7 seconds. There’s no doubting that the performance is there thanks to some impressive torque reserves low and mid-way through the Polo’s rev range. But, with a six-speed DSG gearbox sending power to the front wheels, the powertrain feels decidedly unstressed.

It never really sings, and nudging it towards the final third of the redline sees the torque disappear quite quickly. This is a powerful unit that delivers competent, if slightly unexciting performance, time after time. You could live with it quite easily day-to-day, but wringing it out on a B-road leaves you wishing for a bit more character. A six-speed manual version is due later, which should inject a little more involvement into the GTI package.

Selectable driving modes alter the Polo GTI’s character, though it feels like the task of transforming how responsive the car is feels, falls largely to the transmission. Instead of coaxing out a tangible change in the engine’s character, the DSG gearbox simply holds on to its ratios for longer.

All UK cars are equipped with Sport Select suspension with two damping settings. But, by and large, the different modes don’t affect the Polo GTI’s behaviour all that much. Stability and grip is excellent; bung the Polo GTI into a tight, on-camber corner, and it bites into the tarmac and stays admirably flat.

You’ll run out of confidence in the steering before you do the chassis. Feeling through the large steering wheel isn’t the most communicative, and its feedback begins to fade as you approach the realms of understeer. The Polo isn’t available with a limited-slip differential, either, so you can’t always pin the throttle with confidence.

But sitting on a modified version of the VW Group’s MQB platform, it feels remarkably Golf-like to drive when you’re not bothered about pushing on hard. It’s got a pliant ride, and you can put the most noteworthy bumps down to the 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres.

It’s a pleasant place to sit, too. The standard Polo sets the benchmark for interior quality in this segment, and the hot hatch continues in the same vein. It feels smart, with the same modern layout and soft-touch dashboard – tweaked with some trademark tartan trinkets. The optional digital dials give Volkswagen’s supermini a tech-focused edge, while the upgraded eight-inch central display is as sharp to operate as you’d expect.

Most Popular

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox
Dacia Duster gear lever
News

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox

With more drivers learning in autos and electric cars, the DVSA is looking to update the driving test so people can still drive manuals in future
16 Jun 2021
Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services
Tesla Model 3 police car - front
News

Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services

Tesla hopes to offer UK police forces a new zero-emission emergency responder option with the Model 3 police car
17 Jun 2021
New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power
Vauxhall Astra render
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power

The new Vauxhall Astra will get a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a more premium image - here’s how it could look
17 Jun 2021
Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review
Ineos Grenadier prototype
Ineos Grenadier 4x4

Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review

Can the Ineos Grenadier really fill the mud-splattered void left by the old Land Rover Defender? We take a first drive in a prototype to find out...
15 Jun 2021
Motorists think they can get away with driving offences due to lack of road police
police speed gun
News

Motorists think they can get away with driving offences due to lack of road police

Lack of road traffic police officers in the UK is making it easy for drivers to break the law, according to a survey of 15,500 British motorists
16 Jun 2021
New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review
Nissan Qashqai 2021
Nissan Qashqai

New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review

We get behind the wheel of the larger, more comfortable and higher-tech Nissan Qashqai SUV in the UK
16 Jun 2021
New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review
Audi Q4 e-tron 2021  front
Audi Q4 e-tron

New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review

We get involved with the new all-electric Audi Q4 e-tron SUV on UK roads for the first time
17 Jun 2021
Dacia unveils new badge design
Dacia badge
Dacia

Dacia unveils new badge design

The new Dacia branding will feature on the company’s cars from 2022, with the Bigster being the first candidate
17 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
'I was cynical about Hyundai's aim to be the world's 2nd biggest carmaker, not now'
Opinion Genesis Hyundai Ioniq
Opinion

'I was cynical about Hyundai's aim to be the world's 2nd biggest carmaker, not now'

Steve Fowler is impressed by Hyundai's electric cars, its N division and now its luxury Genesis brand
16 Jun 2021
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition
Ford Puma

Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed

Ford unveils a special edition Puma ST, with a black and gold colour scheme chosen by Ford fans over social media
18 Jun 2021
Mazda to launch 10 new hybrids and three new EVs by 2025
Mazda electric plan
Mazda

Mazda to launch 10 new hybrids and three new EVs by 2025

The electrification push forms part of Mazda’s goal to become a completely carbon neutral company by 2050
17 Jun 2021
New Renault Arkana 2021 review
Renault Arkana - front
Renault Arkana

New Renault Arkana 2021 review

Does an eye-catching coupe-SUV body give the new Renault Arkana the edge over other mid-size SUVs? We find out...
16 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021