Don’t be fooled by the rather placid looks. When compared to the Polo TDI there is very little difference. It all comes into its own when you turn the key, grab the gear and stab the throttle. Some of the words I used when that turbo spooled weren’t exactly G-rated; in fact they were far from it.
The Polo GTI only comes with two doors, which is both cool and annoying at the same time. They are very heavy so opening and closing can be difficult on steep inclines. But once you are inside, the fun starts. The seats are fantastic and wrap around you to hold you in tight. Although the seats aren’t leather clad the cloth trim has a great texture and is fantastic to sit in. Leather seats are available as an option for $2,490, which in my opinion is too much to ask for enough leather to cover two small front seats and a rear seat bench.
The Polo GTI retails for $26,990, making it just over $10,000 cheaper than its big brother – the Golf GTI. So, with a saving of over ten thousand big ones, is the Polo GTI really worth it?
From the moment you turn the key, you know there is something different about this Polo. It certainly doesn’t mind making noise; the exhaust emits an almighty roar in the lower end of the rev range. When you pile the revs on board you can hear the turbo spooling to its hearts content. Slamming down the throttle brings flurries of power in any gear, making the little 1.8ltr, 4-cyl engine very flexible for every day driving. The engine produces 110kW at 5800RPM and 220Nm of torque at 1950RPM.
I found that the claimed 0-100KM/h time quoted by Volkswagen (8.2 seconds) were in fact slower than what I was actually able to achieve. After about five runs from naught to one hundred kays, the best time I managed was around 7.5 seconds. This could partly be due to the fact the Polo GTI test vehicle had around 5500 Jouro kays on the clock. Of course, the downside to this was the fuel economy. At times I scoffed at the quoted figure of 7.9L/100KM. This figure sometimes doubled without much hesitation, however a turbo powered car and an attentive right foot will often cause these things.
Apart from the suspension being a lot firmer than a regular Polo, the ride was generally quite good. Throwing the car around often induced a bit of body roll; this is where the Golf GTI leaves the Polo for dead. The Polo also doesn’t have the same aggressive persona as the Golf. The Polo GTI is fitted with 16” wheels and tiny looking brakes. And the only other distinguishing features are the red stripe around the bonnet grille and small GTI badge on the rear.
Aside from the seats and steering wheel, the interior is almost identical to the rest of the Polo range. One handy addition is ESP (Electronic Stability Program), I often rave about how good these safety features are at helping drivers - and this occasion is no different. I took the GTI out through our test route and tested the ESP system. Although the Polo GTI is FWD (Front Wheel Drive), it’s still quite easy to induce a bit of oversteer with aggressive driving and that’s when the ESP system comes into its own. Although the situation involved inducing oversteer on purpose, it still overstated the fact that ESP needs to become a mandatory feature on all new vehicles.
One situation where the ESP didn’t help was at the traffic light grand prix. If you forget to switch the system off, the miniscule wheel spin you get off the line is immediately cut down by the TC (Traction Control), making you look like you almost stalled the car, which certainly doesn’t help when trying to beat the opposition to the speed limit. But, if you switch the system off and give the car just enough revs, you can get off the line with minimal wheel spin and plenty of motion, making this an extremely fun car to drive.
The gearbox and clutch are near perfection. The friction point of the clutch is in the perfect spot (just after lift off), making the car very easy to drive. The gearbox is very tight and lets you shift with such short and sharp precision, making traveling through gears light work.
Boot size isn’t spectacular but it’s enough to fit the shopping in. If you fold the front seat back and get your passengers in, they will soon start complaining about the limited amount of room. It was even more so the case when passengers sat behind me. My abnormally long legs mean that I had to push the chair back, leaving even less room for the rear passengers. And with only five gears the revs sit relatively high at highway cruising speeds, making a sixth gear rather desirable.
When you look at the asking price you don’t get all that much car. When you put that aside and look at the performance figures, there’s no doubting that this car is good value for money.
It out-performs a majority of other cars on the road and is an absolute hoot to drive both in the city and out on the open road.
The only real visible downsides are the extra firm suspension, lack of visual appeal and the missing sixth gear. As an only car it would lack the practical aspects of something more bigger but, as a second car it would be perfect. It’s more than capable in and around town and can be a load of fun on the weekends away.
If, on the other hand you are looking for a bigger car that also packs a bit of punch, it may be worth checking out the Golf GTI instead.
CarAdvice rating (out of 5):
- by Paul Maric