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The new VW Polo GTI carries an illustrious badge but, although a highly polished all-rounder, it lacks a little in the excitement stakes

There’s plenty to like about the Volkswagen Polo GTI and it has the performance required to wear the iconic GTI badge. However, it’s been set up to offer safe and sensible handling and as a result it’s lacking in excitement when compared to class leaders such as the Ford Fiesta ST.

The Polo GTI is bigger than ever, offers plenty of interior accommodation and is very refined for a hot supermini, but its lack of a manual gearbox option coupled with the slightly lacklustre performance of its DSG transmission means it’s not class leading as a drivers’ car, which in some respects means it misses the point entirely.

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Volkswagen Polo GTI

Volkswagen’s new Polo GTI has large boots to fill as the previous generation model was much-loved by fans of the brand. And the good news is that the new Polo GTI has a great range of talents and makes a good case for itself as one of the more sensible offerings within the current range of supermini hot hatchbacks.

The Polo GTI has an impressive range and breadth of talents but despite packing Volkswagen’s ubiquitous turbocharged 2.0-litre engine under its bonnet it’s perhaps not quite as feisty as its rivals. Those looking for the ultimate thrills from their hot supermini would perhaps be best advised to have a closer look at Ford’s excellent Fiesta ST or MINI’s Cooper S. All three offer the best part of 200bhp but go about their business in quite disparate ways, with the Polo being the most ‘grown-up’ of the three.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Volkswagen’s basic ingredients and as a result it’s a great all-rounder but you might feel that it’s not quite as entertaining as its two main rivals when tackling a favourite back road. The flip side of the coin is that the Polo GTI has its rivals beaten for refinement on the motorway.

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As you’d expect with a performance version of a supermini, the model line-up for the Polo GTI is not extensive, with just two versions to choose from, the standard GTI and the GTI+. Both use the tried and tested 2.0-litre VW Group turbocharged petrol engine mated to a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. Volkswagen is set to offer a manual gearbox in the near future too, and we feel this would suit the car better.

The DSG works seamlessly when punching up through the gears but is less happy when changing down, with pauses between the ratios that hamper your progress when trying to make full use of the car’s performance. And given this is meant to be a drivers’ car it’s likely that many buyers would be keen to have the additional interaction and control associated with a manual gearbox.

Both the GTI and GTI+ are very well equipped with suitably sporty, although somewhat restrained, styling add-ons. You get 17-inch alloys, sat nav, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The main difference between the two models is that the GTI+ offers Volkswagen’s Active Info Display which comprises a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster with customisable menus and displays. While it’s a good system we don’t feel it’s worth the £1,500 price premium on the hot Polo.

Overall the Polo GTI takes a rather more mature take on the hot supermini than the majority of its rivals that are keener to provide driving thrills. The Polo is perhaps a little too refined and sensible for its own good when the entire reason for buying this model over a cheaper Polo model is to provide an entertaining driving experience. As an all-rounder it’s an excellent prospect, just not an exciting one.

Engines, performance and drive

3.8
The Polo GTI offers good performance but in a rather grown up manner

The standard Volkswagen Polo is an eminently sensible premium supermini and the GTI version builds on this by adding more power and some additional poise thanks to a lower and more sporting suspension setup. While this does add some sparkle to the Polo it’s never what you would call genuinely exciting and if you want the ultimate in a thrilling supermini you’d be best off looking at the Ford Fiesta ST.

The new Volkswagen Polo is a larger car than before – it’s as large as a Mk4 Volkswagen Golf in some respects – and also has a wider track than the old model which provides it with a stable platform. Its suspension sits 15mm lower than on the rest of the Polo range and with revised suspension settings and dampers that can be switched between Normal and Sport settings, it has the right ingredients to provide an exciting drive.

However, the Polo GTI has been set up to offer safe and reassuring handling and as a result it doesn’t supply driving thrills in the same way as the Fiesta ST. It can also sometimes struggle to use all of its power with the front wheels scrabbling for grip and instead of fitting a mechanical limited-slip differential Volkswagen has opted for an electronic system called XDS which is not as effective.

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The steering set up doesn’t offer as much feedback as the ones in some of the Polo GTI’s rivals, which makes it difficult to know when grip is about to run out. The Polo GTI comes as standard fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels and in this configuration the Polo’s ride is perfectly refined. We’d advise against the optional 18-inch wheels though as this does make the ride a little firm at times, especially over rougher roads with the suspension set to its Sport setting. In Normal mode on the motorway it is refined though, absorbing bumps and lumps very well.

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

There’s just the one engine to choose from in the Polo GTI, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol that can also be found in the Golf GTI, but Volkswagen has tuned it for less power in the Polo. Having said that, with 197bhp it does feel quick. The car completes the 0-62mph sprint in 6.7 seconds and has a top speed of 147mph which gives it virtually the same figures as the Fiesta ST and MINI Cooper S.

However, the Polo GTI’s engine does feel a little flat when compared to the muscular MINI and the revvy Fiesta and it’s not as keen to rev to the top of its rev range as its competitors.

There’s only one transmission option in the Polo GTI, a six-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, although it is expected that a manual will eventually join the line-up. While the gearbox works well in most respects it does have too long a delay between shifts at times when changing gears manually via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Enthusiastic drivers may prefer the additional control and interaction that you can get with the manual transmissions in the Fiesta ST and MINI Cooper S.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

4.1
Decent economy and emissions levels should mean that the Polo GTI won’t break the bank

The Polo GTI’s official fuel economy figures under the new WLTP test procedure vary between 38.9 and 39.8mpg, depending on which wheels are fitted, and that’s pretty impressive given the performance on offer. It’s just eclipsed by the Fiesta ST’s 40.4mpg, but it’s not a true comparison as the Fiesta is only available as a manual whereas the Polo GTI can only be had with the DSG gearbox. The MINI Cooper S on the other hand ranges from 38.7 for the manual to 43.5mpg for the automatic version.

All in all, the three class-leading models offer remarkably similar figures and given their sub-seven-second 0-62mph times, we think the manufacturers should be applauded for their efforts. With CO2 emissions of between 138 and 141g/km the Polo GTI isn’t quite as efficient as the automatic MINI Cooper S though, which manages a figure as low as 127g/km.

In terms of Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company car taxation, the Polo sits in the 27 per cent tax bracket while the automatic MINI Cooper S is one tax band lower and the manual Fiesta ST sits one banding higher at 28 per cent. It’s worth noting that the manual MINI is significantly higher in the 31 per cent bracket.

Insurance

As the Polo GTI is the performance model in the range you would expect to pay more for insurance and it sits in group 28 – exactly the same as the MINI Cooper S.

Depreciation

While the Polo GTI has a dependable image it doesn’t offer stellar residual values, perhaps demonstrating that most Polo buyers are after one of the less performance-orientated versions. After three years and 36,000 miles experts predict it will retain 42 per cent of its original purchase price which is the same as for the Fiesta ST but lagging behind the MINI Cooper S’s 48 per cent.

Interior, design and technology

4.3
Packed with technology, well-appointed and well put together, the Polo GTI is a class leader as far as its cabin goes

In keeping with the Polo GTI’s all-round ability it’s safe to say that the car’s styling is relatively subdued for a hot supermini. It’s a handsome car but the overall effect is subtle despite the GTI featuring reshaped front and rear bumpers, side sill extensions as well as a gloss black rear spoiler and twin chrome exhaust tailpipes. As is the case with all Volkswagen’s GTI models, the Polo also features the traditional red strip running along the car’s front grille.

The standard Polo’s interior has a quality feel to it with excellent materials and a robust build quality and for the GTI there are a number of enhancements in keeping with the sporty theme. The most obvious change are the sports seats covered in a black and red tartan cloth which are height and lumbar adjustable to achieve the perfect driving position. They’re comfy and hold you in place during cornering.

Elsewhere there’s a sports multi-function steering wheel with red stitching, some aluminium pedals along with gloss black instrument surrounds and red highlights.

If you opt for the GTI+ model (which carries a £1,500 price premium over the standard Polo GTI) you get Volkswagen’s Active Info Display, which comprises a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster with customisable menus and displays.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

For the Polo GTI Volkswagen has fitted its impressive infotainment system which includes an eight-inch touchscreen with sat nav, DAB radio Apple Car Play and Android Auto functionality. It’s a well thought-out system and gives the Polo a premium feel. There’s also three-year access to Volkswagen’s Car-Net that gives you information on traffic conditions.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

4.2
The Polo GTI is bigger than ever before resulting in excellent interior accommodation and a large boot

As with most cars these days, the Polo GTI has grown significantly compared to its predecessor which makes it a very practical proposition and could be used as a family car if you don’t need a huge amount of interior accommodation. With its five-door-only configuration it’s a good proposition from a practicality standpoint – though the Fiesta ST and MINI Cooper S can both be ordered in this bodystyle too.

As well as offering better passenger accommodation than the previous generation Polo, the latest Polo GTI has plenty of storage space for oddments and a decently-sized glovebox.

Size

At 4067mm long, 1751mm wide and 1438mm in height the Polo GTI is bigger than even the five-door MINI Cooper S and is only 40mm narrower than the current Volkswagen Golf.

Leg room, head room and passenger space

Thanks to its increase in size the Polo feels roomier inside than before, especially in the rear where head room has increased by 21mm while there’s more shoulder and leg room, too. Unsurprisingly three adults will struggle to be entirely comfortable for longer journeys but there should be plenty of space for three smaller children.

Boot

The Polo GTI models don’t have quite such a large boot as the non-GTI models, losing 46-litres of space over the regular Polo, but it still comprehensively trounces the MINI three-door’s 211 litres and even the five-door’s 278-litres. The Polo GTI’s boot is also marginally larger than the Fiesta ST’s which can accommodate 292 litres.

Reliability and Safety

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With Volkswagen’s good reliability and safety record the Polo GTI should be a painless ownership experience

For many years Volkswagen traded on the tagline; ‘If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen’ and its reputation for building solid and reliable cars remains to this day. The new Polo is too new for it to feature in our 2018 Driver Power survey but the Golf with which it shares many components placed a creditable 18th out of 75 cars. As a manufacturer Volkswagen came in fifth place out of 26 brands.

As well as being reliable the Polo GTI should be a safe prospect, scoring the maximum five-star rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP. Adult occupant protection was rated as 96 per cent while child protection was a little lower at 85 per cent. Standard fit safety systems such as Volkswagen’s Front Assist enables automatic emergency braking as well as incorporating a pedestrian detection system.

Warranty

Volkswagen offers a three-year 60,000-mile warranty on the Polo GTI which is starting to look somewhat less than impressive these days, although it does match that offered by Ford on the Fiesta ST. However, MINI has a three-year unlimited mileage warranty and of course manufacturers such as Hyundai and Kia stretch their warranties to five and seven years respectively.

Once the three-year warranty is up you can purchase a warranty extension with different prices for different levels of cover.

Servicing

The Polo GTI can be bought with two different servicing plans – Fixed for cars that are likely to cover less than 10,000 miles a year and Flexible for cars that are likely to do 25 miles or more every day. Service plans generally cover two services and cost just under £300 and can also be purchased in 18 monthly instalments of just over £16.

Last updated: 
8 Feb, 2019