The new Volkswagen Polo had barely crossed my radar until last weekend. It is an important model for Volkswagen. One of the cheapest in the range, it serves a wide variety of purposes for potential customers. I actually own an earlier generation model. It serves as a daily driver, gets parked at the train station everyday, and (touch wood…) has never missed a beat.
So what happens to that perennial daily driver when Volkswagen engineers shoe-horn the engine from the current-generation Golf GTI? On paper, very promising things! The Polo GTI is about 50 kg’s lighter than the Golf GTI, with a shorter wheelbase and a lower price tag. But in reality, does it work? Volkswagen took us to Palma to find out.
The current generation Polo is actually built on a different platform to the outgoing version. The Mk5 used the latest variant of the Volkswagen Group A0 platform, a series of platforms Volkswagen has used since the very first Polo. The Mk6 version moves the Polo onto the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform. The one which underpins everything from the Passat to the Arteon.
As a result, the new Polo appears more mature. It gets improved internal space and has the general feel (and looks) of a pocket-sized version of the Golf.
The styling is typical of Volkswagen’s current crop of GTI models. ‘Clark’ plaid material, flashes of red trim and the trademark GTI badging hark back to the original Golf GTI. The Polo GTI gets a specific front and rear bumper with sportier side sills. It also sits 15 mm lower to the ground compared with non-GTI models thanks to model specific suspension setups. In the wild it looks impressive, in a conservative sort of way!
Under the bonnet, the 2.0 litre, 4-cylinder, TSI engine is slightly downrated when compared to the Golf GTI. The new Polo GTI makes do with just 200 hp and 320 Nm of torque. Which, on paper, should prove enough to push the GTI to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 237 km/h.
There is definitely a sweet spot in the power delivery. At lower RPM’s, it takes a few seconds to reach it. Once you do, the power helps to dispatch Sunday morning cyclists with ease, catapulting the GTI to motorway speeds. Volkswagen have also worked on the sound generated by the GTI. The turbocharged ‘four has a unique roar which adds to the sensation of speed.
The Polo uses a 6-speed DSG gearbox as standard. Manual mode helps keep on top of the slight power lag. In terms of powertrain mappings, the Polo offers the option of ‘Eco’, ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Individual’ modes. Sport mode holds the gears for longer than you might expect, occasionally leaving you to reach for the paddles to relieve the engine. Otherwise, the other two do what they say.
A six-speed manual gearbox will also be offered for purists. I suspect this will solve the issue described above. I for one, would be tempted to tick that option box. Inexplicably, the Polo with DSG feels like it misses something.
Of more importance as far as the Polo GTI is concerned though is the general feel of the drive – nobody jumps into a Polo simply to marvel at the power delivery and achieve the fastest commute time.
The MQB platform is notorious for its consistent feel across a variety of models. Coupled to the Polo GTI, the platform feels just as predictable. It isn’t as exciting or edgy as it’s competitors. It’s every bit as competent though. One positive that really shines through is the balance compared to previous generations. In five-door guise, it is nicely weighted despite the obvious disadvantages associated with it’s front-wheel drive setup.
The electronic differential lock plays its part in improving traction. Understeer is inevitable in any front-wheel drive hatchback. A combination of cold temperatures and damp tarmac exposed a slight tendency at the extreme edge of performance – to be expected. Otherwise, the Polo GTI performs admirably.
In terms of interior materials. The Polo feels better than ever. Most of the important surfaces are now soft-touch plastics lifted from the current-generation Golf. It feels executive. As with any vehicle built to a price-point there are exceptions. The interior door panels and centre tunnel both get the hard, scratchy plastics which have become the trademark of the supermini sector generally.
It’s the stuff that isn’t plastic that really makes the difference though. You can see Volkswagen’s clear efforts to attract a younger audience. The MMI system is top of the range, blending an integrated touch screen display with a digital instrument dial. There is the option of wireless charging plus Apple and Android connectivity. Volkswagen’s collaboration with Beats means there is an optional fashionable sound system.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI also makes use of options usually reserved for the likes of the Golf, Passat and higher-ups of the Volkswagen range. Assistance systems such as blind spot monitor, automatic post-collision braking system, area monitoring systems. There are even park assist options, normally reserved for more expensive models.
All-in, I really enjoyed my time with the Polo GTI. It has a certain charm that caters to more conservative tastes. It misses the scoops and slammed ride of the Mini Cooper S, the aggressive and dynamic design of the Fiesta ST. But it adds technology, subtle sporting prowess and superb build quality. In doing so, it caters for a more mature audience. Is it enough to tempt me into replacing my Polo? It might just… watch this space…