The Volkswagen Polo has been around for over 40 years, and is now in its sixth generation. Most of those generations have featured a GTI hot-hatch version, and this latest update is no exception. It features a version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine found in the Golf GTI, but is smaller, lighter and cheaper.
Could this be the best value German hot hatch?
There are five Polo models available in New Zealand, starting with the $25,490 TSI Manual, with a 1.0-litre turbo 70kW/175Nm engine and 5-speed manual transmission. This spec includes engine start/stop, ESC, ABS, ASR, EDL, EDTC and trailer stabilisation, hill start assist, tyre pressure monitor, alarm and immobiliser, pedestrian monitoring, cruise control, brake assist and emergency city braking, blind spot monitor and rear traffic alert. You also get power folding, heated mirrors, parking sensors and rear camera, manual aircon, keyless locking and start, 6-speaker audio, 8” touch screen, Android Auto and Apple Carplay. Quite a list!
The $27,990 TSI DSG is the same spec but with a 7-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission.
An extra $2k adds the Beats pack, which adds gear shifter paddles, sports comfort front seats, a host of cosmetic changes inside and out, and a 300W Beats sound system with subwoofer.
Next up is the R-Line DSG at $32,990. Power is unchanged but you get LED headlights with auto range adjustment, front foglights with cornering function, rear privacy glass, dual-zone climate control, R-Line steering wheel, ambient interior lighting, R-Line seats and upholstery, 8” touch screen with satnav, and lots of R-line details internally and externally.
Finally we have the GTI tested here, prices at $38,490. The engine is significantly upgraded to a 2.0-litre turbo producing 147kW and 320Nm. You get the XDS electronic locking front differential (which provides better traction out of bends), sports suspension with driver profile selection, GTI steering wheel, that famous tartan GTI upholstery, honeycomb grilles, GTI badges, twin exhausts. The transmission is changed from a 7-speed to a 6-speed DSG.
I think the Polo GTI is a great looking little hatchback. It has a purposeful stance on those blade-spoked 17” wheels, with its downward-sweeping roofline towards that little rear spoiler. I like its frowny face, and the red GTI grille stripe which continues inside the headlights. There are red GTI wing badges which feed into two creases down the side and look really good from all angles. The rear has a clean look to it, finished off nicely with a twin exhaust pipe. Overall, the look is modern but not overly fussy and I like it a lot.
Our review car came in Reef Blue Metallic, which I think looks fantastic and goes well with the five-spoke design black and silver alloys. Other body colours available are white, pearl black and Flash Red
The Polo GTI has the traditional GTI tartan upholstery, and it’s certainly a talking point! Some loved it, some hated it, but it’s part of the GTI history. The seats themselves are very good – comfortable, good side support, and great looking. I’m a big fan of the red contrasting stitching which is carried on to the leather gear shifter surround and other trims. They’re manually adjusted, but it’s good to see lumbar support on both front seats.
The dash design continues the clean look of the exterior, with minimal buttons, a large 8” central touch screen and a fully digital instrument cluster. The cluster’s default display is the traditional large rev counter and speedo, but it can be changed to various other displays including the really cool looking, but a little distracting, full-screen colour satnav map. It’s an excellent display, clear in all lights and easy to read.
The large central touch screen has lots of different options for what can be displayed, depending on what you want it to do. The resolution is very good, and the reversing camera is hi-def and very clear, with moving lines and helpful displays. The screen can display a large satnav map, media information, or if you’re feeling sporty there’s a G-meter, boost gauge and power gauge, or even a lap timer.
The sound quality of the stereo is great, clear with good bass, and the Bluetooth pairs quickly, and switches back to where it was when you get back into the car. Lots of cars don’t do this simple thing, and go back to radio every time. It’s nice that VW get this little thing right.
The flat-bottomed steering wheel is comfortable to hold and looks great, with perforated leather trim and that contrasting red stitching. There are quite a few buttons on there to operate the stereo and screen displays, but they’re intuitive to use and soon become second-nature to use without looking.
Under the main screen are controls for the dual-zone aircon, a power and usb socket and a cubby for a phone.
Rear seats are comfortable with good leg room for a small car. There’s room for average height adults in there but if you’re 6ft or over it would be a bit of a squeeze. Rear passengers don’t get any luxuries though – no power sockets or arm rests. The seats are 60/40 split folding to make your little hatchback more practical. They don’t fold flat but when folded they expand the already large – for its class – 351 litres to 1125. The boot is a good shape for all of your shopping, and has a couple of bag hooks built into the sides.
The Polo GTI has keyless start, with a red-backlit silver button in the centre console. Give the button a poke and it rumbles into life with a little bit more of a growl than you normally get from a modern car. And that rorty exhaust note is one of the best things about this car, it sounds great for a four-cylinder and has a bit more character than most exhaust notes these days. Occasionally when cruising along at low speeds I found it to be a little bit droney, but that’s soon forgotten the second you start accelerating again.
In slower driving, the suspension feels firm, but not uncomfortable. You certainly feel the bumps, but it’s not too harsh. Nothing like as firm as a GT86 for example. Give it a bit of a squirt, and back off the throttle and you get a little pop-pop-pop from the exhaust. Something that never fails to make me grin.
In traffic it’s fine, with good visibility, plus you get blind-spot monitoring to help you out. Radar cruise would have been nice to take the effort out of commuting, but with a six-speed DSG it’s not exactly hard work.
Get the Polo GTI out on a twisty back road, and that’s where it really shows its true colours. Slot the lever to S mode, and the throttle gains a little bit more sensitivity, and gears are held for longer. There’s a manual mode, with flappy paddles if you want to do your own shifting, and it is fun to do it, but the car always seems to know when to downshift at just the right moment to give you the power you need to pull out of a corner. Also in S mode, there are a lot more exhaust pops, and this is a very good thing.
There’s plenty of power from that 2.0-litre turbo motor to really have some fun with this car. Set off with some enthusiasm from a standstill and you’ll get a bit of scrabbling for grip, a little wheel hop, then the traction control seems to realise and reign it in just enough for the car to leap forward. VW have done a really good job here. Some cars have over-enthusiastic traction control that cuts the power too much, which is annoying, but the Polo GTI never seems to bog down, it just goes. And that bit of wheelspin followed by the surge of power is grin-inducing, and addictive. A little bit childish I’ll admit, but just the right feel for a hot hatch.
There’s also launch control, which I tried once on a quiet bit of road, and it wasn’t exactly what I expected. Press the brake, push the throttle right down and the car sits at about 3000rpm. Foot off the brake and there’s a surprising amount of wheelspin, followed by a decently fast launch. And for the next minute or two, a smell of burning tyres wafting through the cabin. Definitely not something you’d want to do every day, but the quoted 6.7 seconds 0-100 time is certainly believable.
With all this performance, you need decent stopping power, and the brakes are excellent, biting early, pulling the car up strongly, and with plenty of feel. They certainly give you confidence when you need them.
The GTI corners rather well, turning in sharply with good grip, with the electronic front diff allowing you to put the power down out of corners with a big smile on your face. Yep, this is one of those cars that makes you grin as you chuck it around on your favourite corners, or even just cruising along and it makes those pops as it downshifts.
As for fuel economy? VW quote 5.9 litres per 100km and I managed an average of 7.5, which I think is a respectable real-world for an engine and car this size.
|Boot Space, Litres
|Price Highest to Lowest
|2.0 litre 4 cylinder turbo
|Mini Cooper JCW
|2.0 litre 4 cylinder turbo
|Alfa Romeo Guilietta Veloce
|1.7 litre 4 cylinder turbo
|VW Polo GTI
|2.0 litre 4 cylinder turbo
|Holden Astra RS-V
|1.6 litre 4 cylinder turbo
|Toyota Corolla ZR
|2.0 litre 4 cylinder
|Honda Jazz RS Mugen
|1.5 litre 4 cylinder
|Suzuki Swift Sport
|1.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol turbo
The pros and cons
What we think
There’s a pretty short list of cars that have made me grin every time I took them out, and the Polo GTI has joined that list. It’s a great fun car to drive, and has that classic hot hatch feel. It handles well, goes and stops well.
But it’s the fun factor that makes this car stand out, the way it It scrabbles for grip sometimes, the exhaust pops, combined with good looks, a quality interior, modern dash, and great safety systems.
I like it a lot, and I think you will too.
Rating – Chevron rating (5 out of 5)
2018 VW Polo GTI
|$38,490 plus on-road costs
|$38,490 plus on-road costs
|2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo
|Power Kw / Torque Nm
|147 / 320
|0 – 100 kph, seconds
|Kerb Weight, Kg
|Length x Width x Height, mm
|4053 x 1964 x 1461
|Cargo Capacity, litres
|351 seats up
1125 seats folded
|Fuel Tank, litres
|Advertised Spec – Combined – 5.9L / 100km
Real World Test – Combined – 7.5L / 100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
|3 year unlimited km mechanical warranty.