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VW Polo GTI 2015 review

Latest VW Polo GTI hits UK roads - can it beat the Ford Fiesta ST in the hot supermini class?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

If an all-out, pulse-racing driving experience is what you’re looking for in a hot hatch, Volkswagen’s performance Polo simply can’t match the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST. But the GTI is still quick, and it’s easier to live with as well, making it an accomplished all-round package.

The Volkswagen Polo GTI has long lived in the shadow of its iconic Golf GTI bigger brother, but – thanks to a raft of improvements – now could be its chance to steal the limelight. 

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There’s a new 1.8-litre petrol turbo under the bonnet pushing out 189bhp, which is good enough for 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds and a 147mph top speed. Also new is a six-speed manual gearbox which joins the seven-speed DSG auto as fitted to the outgoing GTI.

Elsewhere, the Polo GTI features revised suspension and steering designed to offer a sportier drive, plenty of GTI styling touches, and the choice of three or five doors. 

On paper the Polo GTI is an attractive proposition. The TSI petrol engine packs 189bhp, which is 11bhp up on the last generation, and there’s 320Nm of torque available from 1,450rpm in the manual model.

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These figures help the GTI sprint from 0-62mph a tenth faster than the more powerful Peugeot 208 GTi. In addition, VW claims the stop-start-equipped Polo GTI is capable of 47.1mpg, which again is on a par with the 208 GTi.

As usual, the Polo’s GTI paraphernalia includes a honeycomb grille complete with red pinstripes and beefy alloy wheels. The upmarket and well laid-out cabin is brightened up with a smattering of red stitching, sports seats trimmed in traditional tartan fabric and a chunky GTI-badged steering wheel. 

LED lights and 17-inch two-tone alloys are standard, too, while inside you get VW’s familiar tartan cloth seat trim, plus red stitching for the steering wheel and gearlever gaiter. Overall, the latest Polo GTI sticks to the tried and tested formula of its predecessors, so looks every inch like a shrunken Golf GTI.

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The Polo gets the Golf GTI’s XDS+ electronic diff, which brakes the inside front wheel to improve cornering. Coupled with stiffer suspension, it means the car grips well around tight country bends. There’s more body roll than in the Ford Fiesta ST, but the trade-off is slightly better ride comfort. Hit the Sport button (a £245 option), and the steering tightens, the throttle sharpens, fake engine noise is pumped into the cabin and the dampers are stiffened. It gives a fidgety ride but, again, is still more comfortable than an ST’s.

In corners, the stiffer chassis makes itself evident, with far less body roll than other models in the range, while the XDS+ electronic diff is another development sourced from the Golf GTI. The system applies the brake to the inside front wheel to enhance cornering, and it works very well.

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Understeer on the exit of bends is well contained, and there’s little risk of the inside wheel breaking traction when you put the power down. Add in stability control that can’t be completely switched off, and the Polo GTI is a safe and secure track day machine.

VW offers an optional Sport pack for the Polo GTI. This option isn’t quite as comprehensive or adjustable as the Golf’s Dynamic Chassis Control system, but it adjusts the stability control system, firms up the dampers, enhances throttle response, beefs up the steering and pumps engine sounds into the cabin to create a more focused drive, all at the press of a button. While the system certainly improves the car’s responses, as well as the sound from the exhaust, the firm dampers will deliver a jarring ride on UK roads.

Stick with the standard set-up, and the Polo GTI is an accomplished hot supermini. It’s at its best on the road, where the refined road manners and overtaking torque make it feel exceptionally grown-up, while the chassis grip, vice-free handling and small dimensions make it enjoyable to drive on a twisting back road.

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