There has never been a better time to get yourself behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Polo GTI. With a starting price of just $27,790, the all-new VW hot hatch sets the benchmark in the light-car performance segment.
132 kW and 250 Nm from a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine? You bet! Fuel economy of just 6.1L/100km? You bet! How? Not only is the tiny engine turbocharged but it’s also supercharged. Plus, it’s engineered by “ze Germans” and they tend to be a good 10 years ahead of the rest as far as engine development goes.
Compared to the old 1.8-litre turbo Volkswagen Polo GTI, the new one outputs more power (132 vs 110kW), uses less fuel (6.1 vs 8L/100km) and is faster to 100km/h by 1.3 seconds (6.9 vs 8.2 seconds).
Although the outgoing model started at $26,990 ($1,000 less than the new one), it came as a manual. The fifth-generation Australian delivered Volkswagen Polo GTIs are only available with the company’s 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox (DSG). At first this may sound like a blow for ‘true’ car enthusiast, but having driven a new Polo GTI for over 500km I can reassure you that the manual will not be missed.
Remember, this technology has had time to prove itself. It was originally made famous in the Volkswagen Golf R32 (2003) and went on to find itself in legendary cars such as the Bugatti Veyron. It’s not a gimmick by any means and if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, have a read.
From the outside you can differentiate a standard Polo from a GTI thanks to its “honeycomb” grille, new 17″ “Denver” wheels, red brake calipers, chrome tailpipes and a rear spoiler. It also sits 15mm lower and looks rather mean.
Sit inside and you’ll quickly realise why the Polo has won so many awards. Unlike other light cars in the segment, the Polo’s interior feels expensive. Even though it’s not.
Soft touch plastics, great instrument feel, an upmarket ambiance in the cabin and an overall sense of quality will instantly differentiate the Polo from most of its rivals. It’s fair to point out that given the German’s love of all things black, the interior does have a slight darkness to it which might take some getting used to.
As for the GTI version, specific leather steering wheel (with GTI badge), sports seats and a traditionally GTI black roof lining will set it apart.
Facts and figures aside, how does the Polo GTI drive? To find out, Volkswagen Australia brought the automotive media to Adelaide where we would drive from the airport to Collingrove Hillclimb in the Barossa Valley. On our way we took certain sections that are part of the now extinct Classic Adelaide Rally.
If you’ve never driven a Volkswagen with a DSG, it will come as a bit of shock to you the first time. The ferocity by which the Polo GTI changes gears is nothing short of extraordinary. You can either leave it in D, use the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters or stick it in S and it will hold the right gear and drop down at the appropriate time.
Although I am a big fan of using paddle-shifters, I did prefer to leave the DSG in Sport mode as it did a better job than I could. Apart from being near instantaneous in gear changes, the Polo GTI’s gearbox can also work out what angle the car is approaching a corner or hill and drop down to the appropriate gear when needed.
Unlike traditional automatics that tend to wait for you to put your foot down before they drop down a few gears, the DSG (in Sport mode) is always a few steps ahead of you.
Drive it flat-out towards a corner in third. Hard on the brakes as you take the 90 degree hairpin. Plant your right foot to accelerate out and the GTI is long ago in 2nd and waiting in the right revs to power you out. 10 years ago this sort of technology was only found in race cars and supercars. But it’s not perfect. There are annoying things about DSGs too. For example, it takes its sweet time to go from Drive to Reverse (or vice versa), which gets rather annoying if you’re not a patient being.
Speaking of being in the right revs, given the tiny 1.4-litre TSI engine is both super and turbo charged, power delivery is rather smooth. The supercharger does most of the work till about 3500rpm whereby the turbo kicks in for maximum torque.
Given the car weighs under 1200kg, acceleration is smooth and effortless both from a standstill and on the highway. So that leaves us with the biggest question of all: how does it handle?
Volkswagen doesn’t stick the GTI badge on something without making sure it’s damn good. The new Polo GTI is no different. Around the tight mountain bends of Adelaide’s country side and the 750m long Collingrove Hillclimb, the little Polo proved itself a worthy sports car.
It goes around tight bends with ease and little to no noticeable assistance from the car’s nanny controls. That’s not to say they may not be helping in the background. Like its bigger brother - the Golf GTI – the Polo also gains XDL (extended electronic differential lock). The system works by stopping the unloaded wheel at the inside of the curve slipping by applying just the right amount of power to the brake. All of this is done while you’re trying to bend the laws of physics. Essentially, it makes driving a front-wheel drive car seem a bit more like an all-wheel drive.
As for torque-steer, it’s still noticeable at times but it’s in no way off-putting. The only real concern I had with the Polo GTI’s handling was the suspension. Making use of MacPherson front suspension and semi-independent rear suspension, the Polo is a mean little thing. It sticks to the ground and goes around corners like nothing else in the segment. As a result, it also happens to be a bloody hard ride.
Driving through Adelaide’s surrounding towns, I could easily feel every bump. The slower I went the harder it felt. This may not be an issue in Germany where the roads are near perfect, but in Australia where politicians drive around in floaty Commodores and have little to no idea, it’s a pain in the back side.
As a day to day affordable light-sports car the Polo GTI is easily the number one choice in the market today. It beats its rivals in class, equipment level, price, performance and handling and pretty much anything else you can think of. Nonetheless, if you do value your ride-comfort over handling and performance then this car probably isn’t for you.
Safety wise the Polo comes with pretty much everything. Driver and front passenger airbags, curtain airbags (front and rear), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist, Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD), Hill Start Assist (HSA), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), Extended Electronic Differential Lock (XDL), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) and Electronic Stabilisation Program (ESP).
If you were after a light performance car under $30,000, what else could you consider instead? The Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart is getting old and the interior is far too underdone, the Ford Fiesta XR4 and Peugeot 207 GTI no longer exist and the Suzuki Swift Sport is set to be replaced soon. So, there you have it folks. The Polo GTI is easily the number one choice when it comes to a new sports car under $30,000.