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VW Polo GTI (2018) review

Published:07 December 2017

VW Polo GTI (2018) review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By CJ Hubbard

Former associate editor; road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

By CJ Hubbard

Former associate editor; road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

 Best driving Polo GTI yet
 197bhp, 147mph flat-out
 
Superbly capable all-rounder

We signed-off our first online review of the sixth-generation VW Polo by suggesting the imminent arrival of the GTI hot hatch version had the potential to turn a good car into a great one. Well, folks, here is the new Polo GTI – and it’s…

…actually pretty awesome. We have some caveats, which we’ll explain along the way. But if you’re concerned about the forthcoming Fiesta ST’s downgrading to a three-cylinder lawnmower engine and keen to push the button on a brand new hot hatch as soon as possible, this hot Polo is now every bit the junior Golf GTI it’s always supposed to have been.

Is the new 2018 VW Polo GTI tasty to drive, then?

Rather. But in a particularly German, very Volkswagen way – which is to say if you’re hoping for a fling-it-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck kind of machine akin to the old Fiesta ST, then you’re perhaps in for a bit of a disappointment.

The emphasis here seems to very much be on precision. There’s a full nerd-out on the specifics below, but basically there are a lot of very detailed engineering changes, combined with a fundamentally sorted underlying platform and a whacking great (by modern standards) 2.0-litre turbo petrol, which results in a GTI that keeps the new Polo’s maturity and comfort levels while removing almost all of the slack.

You’d never describe the steering as feeling alive in your hands, but there’s immediate response with none of the dead-centre vagueness you often get with electric assistance, helping to make direction changes crisp and punchy. This transitions into stacks of smoothly predictable grip in fast sweeping corners – though you’ll keep the XDS busy in tighter turns if you’re too heavy footed – and a distinct impression that this is a chassis working as one, not a separate front and rear end coerced into grumbling cooperation.

New 2018 VW Polo GTI review

The engine adds a big heart into the equation, the full 236lb ft available from just 1500rpm and hanging around until it hands over to the Polo GTI’s 197bhp at 4400rpm – which then keeps going until 6000rpm. The DSG transmission will automatically kick you into the next gear just after this, no matter what setting you’re using, making the 6.7sec 0-62mph time easily repeatable, as long as you’ve got enough tyre and surface traction to keep all that muscle in check.

See above point about tight turns, and prepare to be patient if driving the GTI in the damp. The 2.0 engine could sound more exciting, but we suppose inoffensively parpy is better than loudly annoying for most buyers in 2018.

Tested with the optional Sport Select suspension, which uses twin-valve dampers to deliver fixed Comfort and Sport settings (like, but not as extreme as, the Ford Focus RS), the Polo GTI will happily do supple to the extent that big distances hold no fear. Yet press the button to engage the firmer Sport mode, and instantly everything comes into sharper focus. It is very nicely judged.

So about those tech details on the 2018 Polo hot hatch…

Cool stuff to thrill all your mates begins with knowing that the new Polo GTI was in development alongside the regular Polo from the start.

This allowed the dynamics team – headed by Karsten Schebsdat, a name you might recognise from the Golf GTI Clubsport – to ensure the Polo’s MQB bones were suitably up to the task; the Mk6 Polo body has 40% greater torsional stiffness than the old one, and the stiffer the structure, the better the suspension can work. Even so, there is still more structural reinforcement for the GTI, with Schebsdat particularly highlighting an additional bar between the rear wheel houses.

VW Polo GTI: UK prices from £21,500

Heading out into real geek country, the motor for the electric power steering is much bigger on the GTI than it is on regular petrol-powered Polos – generating more torque for quicker response and also making the steering more tuneable and precise. This is paired with revised suspension knuckles at the front to increase agility while maintaining traction; the car could be sharper, and it could be grippier, but the balance does seem about right.

Nerdier still, not only are the 21mm front anti-roll bars at least 1mm thicker than those on the regular car, the bushes that hold them are a remarkable 350% stiffer than on the previous Polo GTI. This helps control the initial roll moment – stopping the Polo lurching over as you turn in – making the lean more linear, and contributing to an overall 10% reduction in roll angle.

At the back there’s a specific GTI twist beam axle, which is 60% stiffer than the standard car's, promoting a more neutral balance between the front and rear. This coveted equality is reinforced by an aerodynamics package that’s also designed to keep the Polo neutral up to really big speeds, so you shouldn’t find it snapping into oversteer unexpectedly at the limit.

The standard wheels are somewhat unexpectedly monikered Milton Keynes, and 17 inches in diameter. All the test cars were on the optional Brescia 18s, however, and didn’t seem to suffer for it. Schebsdat reckons the reduced tyre sidewall means the bigger rims step up the precision another notch as well.

Will other people know I’m driving a GTI?

From the back, possibly not – take away the GTI badge, and the tiny rear wing and twin-tailpipe combination may be too subtle for most casual observers. The front almost over-compensates for this with lots of flashy red accents and a chunky bumper.

Interior of new 2018 VW Polo GTI

On the inside there are sports seats (which could do with bigger bolsters given the available lateral grip) with that reassuring GTI tartan motif. But most passengers will probably be too busy goggling at the beautifully integrated touchscreen and the Active Info Display digital instrument cluster (if you’ve optioned it) to really notice. See above.

Hardly something to complain about. Standard kit is generous, too, especially if you like driver assistance tech.

You mentioned caveats – what isn’t so great about the new Polo GTI?

Driver assistance technology certainly has its place these days, but we’re not sure a GTI needs such an overzealous autonomous emergency braking system. Switch this off before your passengers think you’re constantly on the verge of having a crash; it risks utterly undermining the Polo’s otherwise highly flattering driving chops.

The DSG twin-clutch auto transmission isn’t an overwhelming success, either. Even if you put it in manual mode it will still change up and kick down for you, which seems unnecessarily clumsy in this kind of car.

New 2018 VW Polo review by CAR magazine: prices, specs, dimensions and more

A genuinely manual gearbox is arriving in the middle of 2018, grumpy purists will be pleased to note; and it’s not just us, Schebsdat says he prefers this, too – partly because it also removes 20kg from the front of the car.

So there’s still more to come from fast Polos, then?

The manual ’box is the only official enhancement in the works. But Schebsdat did tell us that the new Polo platform could easily handle more power, should the opportunity ever present itself – hardly a surprise given its MQB origins. Similarly, VW’s trick VAQ differential will fit, apparently.

Polo GTI Clubsport – or at least a Performance Pack? Yes, please.

Volkswagen's MQB architecture explained

Verdict

With UK pricing expected to start at around £21,500 when it goes on sale with DSG in May 2018 – which should translate into a £20k manual car when that arrives a little later – the new Polo GTI adds solid value to its list of attractions, making it an all-round sound choice and an inevitably successful crowd-pleaser. Just like its Golf GTI big brother.

Is this a great car now? By many measures, certainly. But for all its capability, this VW still doesn’t quite get our blood running like the old Fiesta ST did – even if there’s also no doubt in our minds that the Polo would be almost infinitely easier to live with.

No pressure on Ford, then, for its new model…

More Volkswagen reviews by CAR magazine

Specs

Price when new: £21,500
On sale in the UK: May 2018
Engine: 1984cc 16v turbo four-cylinder, 197bhp @ 4400-6000rpm, 236lb ft @ 1500-4400rpm
Transmission: six-speed twin-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive with XDS
Performance: 6.7sec 0-62mph, 147mph, 47.9mpg, 134g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1355kg / steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4053 / 1751 / 1461mm

Rivals

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  • VW Polo GTI (2018) review
  • VW Polo GTI (2018) review
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  • VW Polo GTI (2018) review
  • VW Polo GTI (2018) review
  • VW Polo GTI (2018) review
  • VW Polo GTI (2018) review
  • VW Polo GTI (2018) review

By CJ Hubbard

Former associate editor; road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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