If you don’t love the Volkswagen Golf GTI, then at the very least you’ll probably begrudgingly respect its brilliant mix of great build quality, a good engine and everyday usability. But the latest Mk6 Golf GTI is just a little too rounded and refined, so what about something from the class below? Step forward VW’s new Polo GTI, with a supercharged and turbocharged engine that boasts 128bhp per litre…
So 128bhp/litre sounds like a lot, but just how much power does the new VW Polo GTI have?
Powering the new Polo GTI is VAG’s familiar 1.4-litre Twincharger engine. And with the help of a supercharger (which boosts the engine until 3000prm) and a turbocharger (which takes over thereafter) this little four-pot engine manages to squeeze out 178bhp. And there’s 184lb ft too, delivered from 2000 to 4500rpm.
It sounds reasonable too, burbling along at low speeds, with a deeper engine note in the mid-range and a nice whoosh when you suddenly lift off. And of course we could complain that it doesn’t offer the aural delights of something like the Clio 200’s naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine when that’s homing in on 7000rpm, but we know that’s the case with many, if not all, forced induction engines. The disappointment comes when you match the Polo GTI up against something like a Mini Cooper S, which despite being turbocharged can sound wonderfully rorty, and yet also play the quiet cruiser.
And unfortunately for the Polo it falls down even further over your favourite section of road. Yes it’s very competent, the steering is quick, the brakes are strong (and not the usual VW grabby mess) and you’ll blast along at a reasonable lick, but you can’t interact with it enough. A Clio 200 feels so alive, so alert, and the bouncy, bumpy nature of a Mini gets you involved (for better or for worse) but the Polo is too aloof, a trait not helped by the transmission. Like fellow VAG superminis from Skoda and Seat, the Polo only comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box, which just doesn’t seem right on something that’s supposed to be small and exciting. Doubtless it adds £1000 to the pricetag, too.
I can’t decide whether this little Polo GTI looks like a Golf GTI…
It does, but only from some angles. Catch one jinking along in your rear view mirror and the discreet red stripe around the grille will make you think the Polo is in fact its bigger brother. Drive past one parked up in the street, and unless you do a double-take the telephone dial alloys will probably fool you again – it’s only a proper look that reveals the narrower shell of the Polo. Some will like the understated elegance, but while the Golf GTI can always hold its own, against everything from a Giulietta to a Focus RS, the current crop of supermini hot hatches (DS3, Clio 200, Mito Cloverleaf, Mini Cooper S, not to mention Volkswagen Group siblings Fabia vRS and Ibiza Cupra) all look a little more enticing and exciting.
But very few of the aforementioned superminis can match the Polo GTI on interior quality. Climb inside, and from the hip-hugging yet beautifully supportive tartan seats, to the Golf GTI-alike wheel, via the top-notch plastics, it really does feel like its bigger brother. The Mini’s interior might have a bit more design flair, but that’s the closest any rival can get – the Polo is better built, more refined, and the best place to be on long journeys. And as you’d expect of a car costing £18,275 – £1730 more than the Ibiza Cupra and £2575 up of the Fabia vRS – there’s lots of equipment too, from climate control to heated seats. The only notable options are sat-nav and a set of rear doors.
Volkswagen’s new Polo GTI is a very competent car, but it only stands out where you really expect a junior hot hatch to fall down; while its rivals are raucous and delightful, or chic and stylish, the VW seems to ignore both camps and offer something more refined. Granted that does give it a USP, but something from the class above with a decent diesel engine could fulfil that role, as could a Mini Cooper S. The latest Mk6 VW Golf GTI has grown up a little too much, and now its little brother feels even more mature for its size too.
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