After owning a Ford Falcon XR6 for over three years, I thought it was time for a change. I decided to go for a 2012 Volkswagen Polo GTI with a seven-speed DSG, and what a change it was.
Everything about the Polo, from the engine note to the interior, screams refinement. It has a little 1.4-litre four-cylinder unit that pumps out 132kW of power and 250Nm of torque. Not bad for a car that tips the scales at under 1200kgs.
Look at it from the outside, and Volkswagen's conservative styling stills looks great five years on. It's a bit of a love it or hate it design, but I think the styling is great and looks much better than other hatchbacks out there.
The engine can be hesitant at low revs, but quickly opens up at about 2000rpm. The massive surge in power it delivers means that getting off the line can be a challenge without the traction control system kicking in. The massive amount of torque, available from a broad rev range of 2000-4500rpm makes city driving a breeze, and allows the little Polo to zip around with little effort.
Mated to the engine is Volkswagens seven-speed DSG gear box. I will admit, prior to owning this car I had negative preconceptions about DSGs. But after owning the car for over a week, I can say those are dead. Although the gearbox can be hesitant to get off the line, push the car and it shifts gears at lightning quick speeds.
In the interest of fuel economy, it does shift through gears extremely quickly, jumping into seventh gear by about 70km/h. Put the gear selector into sport mode, and it holds gears in place for a much longer period. You also have the option of using the paddles located behind the steering wheel.
I just say, for a front-wheel drive, this car handles well, extremely well. Push the Polo through corners and it sticks, giving a sense of confidence and agility, partly helped by the lowered suspension which allows little body roll. The car also has Volkswagen's electronic differential which applies the brake to the inside wheel during hard cornering.
On a side note, even though the suspension is great for cornering, it is a bit too firm while driving normally, picking up even the smallest road imperfections. The Polo features electric steering, which is extremely direct and offers great on centre feel. The steering is quite firm, which is great for enthusiastic driving but does become a chore in carparks.
Volkswagen claims the car is capable of 6.1L per 100km on the combined cycle, and I got pretty close, averaging the high 6s, although how you use you're right foot has a massive impact on it.
Jump into the cabin and you'll find lovely sports seats with tartan trim, a flat bottom steering wheel and a large touchscreen infotainment system. As with all Volkswagens, the fit and finish of the interior is light years ahead of the competition, with all the plastics feeling solid and well placed.
The infotainment system is touchscreen, but it isn't the most intuitive system out there. It has DAB radio as well as support for AUX, USB, Bluetooth and an SD card. Although the Bluetooth is easy to set up and connects every time, the Bluetooth unit feels like an afterthought, and I feel like Volkswagen could of implemented it a lot better.
Legroom in the rear seats is acceptable for a small car, although taller passengers may find it uncomfortable. The rear passengers also miss out on air conditioning vents, which is a bummer on a hot day. Storage in the Polo is surprisingly good. Both front passengers have under seat storage, as well as a cupholder and small storage area in the doors.
Servicing is every 15,000kms or one year, whichever comes first. Volkswagen does offer capped price servicing, although it is rather expensive especially compared to the competition.
Overall, the Polo GTI is a great little car which is fuel efficient but also has plenty of grunt. It can be a pain in the city, with the firm suspension and heavy steering all making you work that little bit harder. The engine and gearbox are superb, and are perfectly matched to the car.