Ford Fiesta ST v Volkswagen Polo GTI : Comparison Review

Rarely has Volkswagen’s iconic GTI badge been so humbled as it was in November 2013 when we last put the go-fast Polo in the ring with the Ford Fiesta ST.

The big-name fighter with all the pomp and pedigree was made to look overpriced, under-equipped and lacking fun factor compared with the featherweight upstart that so resoundingly reminded us that simplicity and greatness are not mutually exclusive.

While the Molten Orange car in the blue corner has since shrugged off a challenge from the Renault Clio RS200 to retain its crown and deservedly rest on its laurels, the sore and sorry Spaniard has headed back to its German base for a training camp, with engineers analysing the Fiesta’s strengths and working on the Polo’s weaknesses.

The result is the 2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI: heavily revised and primed for a rematch.

Touch gloves. Ring bell. Heck yes we’re ready to rumble!

Price and equipment

Unsurprisingly, the Fiesta ST’s sensational $25,990 price tag (plus on-road costs) is still untouched in the pocket rocket class, though the Polo GTI has closed the gap. Previously giving little change for $30K, the updated GTI now starts at $27,490.

The lauded return of the manual transmission explains the Volkswagen’s sharper entry point (the dual-clutch DSG version is still available from $29,990), creating a win-win for traditionalists and enthusiasts.

The GTI’s two rear doors could be seen to offset much of its $1500 premium, and Australia’s overwhelming preference for ease of access over sliding seats and hunched scrambles suggests it’s a format that most will be prepared to sacrifice a few extra dollars for.

The duo shares plenty of standard features including 17-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights and wipers, front foglights, hill start assist, single-zone climate control, cruise control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cloth upholstery and alloy pedals.

Pictured above: Ford Fiesta ST (top); Volkswagen Polo GTI (bottom)

While both media systems feature Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming and a USB input, the Polo’s is far more sophisticated, boasting a 6.5-inch touchscreen with proximity sensing and an SD card reader, making the Fiesta’s tiny 4.0-inch display look like it belongs to a lower weight division.

Note: As part of a range of sweeping updates announced just last week, the Polo GTI will within weeks get an App-Connect USB interface for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink, and a reverse-view camera, at no charge. Our test car lacked this, and we weren't aware of the pending changes when we drove it Ed.

Both hot hatches have been awarded five-star ANCAP safety ratings, protecting passengers with electronic stability control and dual front, side and curtain airbags, while also offering Isofix child seat anchor points and tyre pressure monitors.

The Polo uniquely adds a multi-collision braking system, though the Fiesta more than counters with an extra airbag for the driver’s knee, rear parking sensors, an Emergency Assistance function that automatically calls emergency services if the car has been involved in a crash, and MyKey technology, which allows owners to pre-set vehicle limits and parameters to the key fobs of inexperienced drivers.

Pictured above: Ford Fiesta ST (top); Volkswagen Polo GTI (bottom)

Unlike in the Fiesta, whose only option is metallic paint at $450 (versus $500 in the Polo), Volkswagen shoppers can add the Driver Assistance package for $1700 to match the Fiesta’s rear sensors and also gain a reverse-view camera and driver fatigue detection system, in addition to an enhanced media system with satellite navigation.

Note: Once the mentioned update lobs (which you can order now), this Driver Assistance package becomes $1400, and ditches the now-standard reverse-view camera.

It’s disappointing, however, that the advanced safety features available in the less expensive Polo 81TSI Comfortline – such as adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency city braking – can’t be had in the GTI.

Pictured above: Ford Fiesta ST (top); Volkswagen Polo GTI (bottom)

Polo GTI customers do have access to many other premium features unavailable in the Fiesta ST, however, with the $3300 Luxury pack adding alcantara/leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, and an electric panoramic sunroof.

Standard auto-folding side mirrors, smart key entry with push-button start, and incredible Recaro bucket seats (more on these later) sweeten the deal in the Ford.

Your priorities will determine which is the better buy in your eyes here. Straight off the shelf, the Fiesta ST takes the points based on its stickers price, though if you can’t live without the likes of a reverse-view camera (soon to be standard), sat nav and a sunroof, the Polo GTI is the only one that will meet your needs – albeit at a price.

Pictured above: Ford Fiesta ST

Running costs

There’s no potential for a split decision on running costs, with the Fiesta being significantly cheaper to service than the Polo. Both offer capped-price servicing at 12-month/15,000km intervals, however, while Ford charges a maximum of $1335 for four years/60,000km, Volkswagen will sting you up to $2435 over the same period.

And though Ford says the Fiesta’s engine has been “optimised for premium unleaded” petrol, it can be run on cheaper regular unleaded, whereas the Polo demands the more expensive option (though at least now, unlike the previous version, it no longer needs even dearer 98RON).

The GTI wins back some points by being marginally more fuel efficient. Officially, it’s rated at 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres, pipping the ST at 6.2L/100km. Our real-world test measured up closely to the claims, with the Polo burning through 9.2L/100km and the Fiesta 9.5L/100km.

Pictured above: Volkswagen Polo GTI

Fuelling the Ford with regular and the Volkswagen with premium at current Sydney prices (131.9 cents per litre and 141.9 cents per litre respectively) for the annual average 15,000km gives the Fiesta a slight edge ($1880 versus $1958), though the cost climbs to $2022 if filled with the same quality juice.


Perhaps needing to land a few punches after the first two rounds, the Polo finds form in a big way on the inside. Jump from one to the other and the Volkswagen is in league of its own for sophistication and maturity. The dashboard is more Golf than ever, in particular its large centre screen and elegant climate control panel.

It excels in the finer details too, with generous lashings of satin chrome, neat red stitching on the buttery leather steering wheel, and a higher quality feel to its plastics (both hard and soft-touch) and buttons and dials.

The contrast is stark when switching to the Ford, which looks and feels juvenile in comparison. The old-school mobile phone-inspired centre stack is incredibly busy, with 40 buttons packed into its top half. There are another 11 if you count the climate controls and engine start button, and 10 more counting those on the steering wheel.

Pictured above: Ford Fiesta ST (top); Volkswagen Polo GTI (bottom)

In reality, it’s a lot easier to use that you might think as you tend to only use a handful of them regularly anyway – though that’s arguably a case for simplifying the layout to include buttons for only the most frequently used functions.

The highlight of the Fiesta ST’s cabin is those aforementioned Recaro buckets, which are better than the seats in some sports cars worth five times the Ford’s price tag. Your thighs, torso and even shoulders are embraced on either side, and there’s good length to the base too. Bigger bodies may feel a little squeezed, though we heard no complaints during the car’s week in the CarAdvice garage.

The GTI’s front seats feel generic in comparison, failing to offer anything like the bolstering of the Ford’s, though in isolation they are adequately supportive and comfortable. Their tartan upholstery injects welcome colour and character into the Polo’s cabin that some may still find a little too grown up and conservative for such a playful section of the market.

Both offer useful spaces for phones and conveniently positioned USB ports for charging, as well as decent gloveboxes, door pockets and cupholders up front.

Pictured above: Ford Fiesta ST (top); Volkswagen Polo GTI (bottom)

The five-door Polo naturally takes the points for ease of access to the rear seat row, though the Fiesta’s long (but not overly heavy) doors and large aperture mean you don’t need to be a contortionist to slide into the second row.

Legroom is tighter in the back of the Ford and the Volkswagen also offers better headroom, though both spared my scone from rubbing on the headliner. And while the Fiesta’s rear bench is flat and unsupportive, the Polo’s seat base is cleverly angled to support your legs and is much more comfortable. Fabric door liners, rather than scratchy plastic sidewalls, are another tick for the GTI.

Those comfortable seat bases also flip forward to create a flat expanded loading space in the Polo. The GTI’s boot floor sits higher than in the regular Polo, however, as it sits on top of the battery that’s been relocated from under the bonnet to improve the car’s weight distribution. The result is a rather puny 204 litres of luggage space with the rear seats in place, compared with 276L in the Fiesta.

Pictured above: Ford Fiesta ST (top); Volkswagen Polo GTI (bottom)

Engines and transmissions

Arguably more important in hot hatches than litres in the boot are litres under the bonnet, and here the GTI lands another blow. Its new 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine is bigger than both the old Polo’s 1.4-litre twincharger and the ST’s 1.6-litre turbo.

Producing 141kW between 4300-6200rpm and a meaty 320Nm from 1450-4200rpm, the Polo’s powerplant pips the Fiesta’s for power (134kW at 5700rpm) and pummels it for torque (240Nm between 1600-5000rpm).

The ST has a trick up its sleeve, however, with an overboost function (where the turbocharger temporarily spins to higher speeds) allowing it to deliver 147kW and 290Nm for 20-second bursts. A 62kg weight advantage to the Ford helps it narrow the on-paper performance equation further still.

Pictured above: Ford Fiesta ST (top); Volkswagen Polo GTI (bottom)

Those 80 extra Newton metres in regular mode give the GTI an unrivalled feeling of effortlessness, pulling robustly from low in the rev range and delivering strong, linear acceleration.

The GTI claims to be two-tenths quicker from 0-100km/h (6.7 seconds versus 6.9sec), though the ST’s theatrics ensure its sprint is anything but arduous. A solid stomp on the throttle fills the cabin with an intoxicating warble as the EcoBoost engine bellows like a baritone. The Volkswagen engine is almost too composed and serious in comparison, lacking the Ford’s smile-inducing soundtrack and its top-end enthusiasm.

Both six-speed manual transmissions are sweet shifters, though the very fact the Polo’s exists at all will be enough for many to get on board. The Fiesta’s is slicker to snap into gears while the Polo’s slides more smoothly, and both are inspiringly accurate. The Polo’s clutch pedal is lighter and more feelsome, making it easier to live with in stop-start traffic.

Steering, ride and handling

You may expect the more reserved Polo to deliver greater urban ride comfort, though that’s not the case here. The Polo GTI has always been very un-Volkswagen in its fussy disposition over small imperfections and its reduced ability to isolate the cabin from bigger bumps and sharp holes and road joins.

While far from cloud-like, the Fiesta ST isn’t busy like the Polo over rutted roads and is softer over larger lumps.

Note: However, and here's where that Volkswagen range update comes into play again, the company will soon make the Sport Select suspension (electronically adjustable dampers) standard on the Polo GTI. This has a comfier regular mode, as well as a sportier mode operated via a button, offering revised tuning across a range of parameters such as steering, the sound actuator and accelerator response.

In our experience at the global launch of the GTI late last year, this system improved the car's on-road manners and sporting potential, and we look forward to seeing if it improves things for the Volkswagen on Australian roads.

The GTI’s new electric-assisted steering takes a turn (pardon the pun) for the better, however. Previously too heavy at low speeds, it’s now lighter and more liveable than ST’s in urban environments.

The Polo’s suspension is better on the highway, where it enjoys the typically flatter and better-maintained surfaces. It bounces less than the Fiesta and smooths out undulations with greater composure. There’s also less road and ambient noise at higher speeds in the Volkswagen, and its steering is less reactive and easier to make small corrections to.

The city and the highway are just sparring matches in this context, however. The title fight takes place around country corners and on the track.

Driven at seven or eight tenths, the Polo GTI is settled and grippy, and dare we say it, borderline boring. You’re rewarded for pushing beyond there, though, as it unleashes thrilling straight-line and cornering speed towards its limits.

It’s at nine tenths and above where other parts of the Polo’s dynamic package start to let it down, however. With CarAdvice’s wickedly fast Dave Zalstein behind the wheel at the tight and twisty Marulan driver training centre, it becomes clear the GTI’s softer springs allow more roll through corners than you might hope and hinder its ability to change direction quickly. It also spins up its inside front wheel without too much encouragement, squeals its Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 rubber at the slightest hint of enthusiasm, and smoked up its brakes after just four hot laps of the compact circuit.

In contrast, the mighty little Ford’s Bridgestone Potenza’s had loads of grip around the track and its brakes remained strong and delivered a consistent pedal feel throughout the day, despite, Dave says, being pushed even harder than the Polo.

Its steering is simply superb, more reactive and more communicative, and its handling more nimble and agile, doing what you want, when you want it.

In Dave’s words: “The Ford is far more capable, far more responsive, far more agile, and far more engaging and entertaining. Not everyone is going to track or push super hard in their ST, but if and when they do, the smile they will already have from driving on the road will get even bigger.”


There’s no suspense-filled wait for the referee’s ruling in this featherweight bout – the Ford Fiesta ST continues its undefeated career with another knockout.

The return of the manual transmission and the consequent lower price tag, its more sophisticated interior with much greater scope for optioning up with premium features, and its bigger and gruntier engine that deliver near-effortless pace make the current-generation Volkswagen Polo GTI more engaging and appealing than ever before. The imminent updates should help further.

But the Fiesta sings louder, steers sweeter and corners harder, and is at the same time cheaper to buy and cheaper to run.

Another brave challenger, another triumphant victory for the legend that is the Ford Fiesta ST.

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