Volkswagen Polo GTI Review
The VW Polo GTI is the fastest model in the Polo range but its turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine and upmarket cabin also make it the most expensive…
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Impressively quick
- Comfortable for a small sporty car
- Feels posh inside
What's not so good
- Quite expensive for a small car
- Alternatives are more fun to drive
- Could look more exciting
Volkswagen Polo GTI: what would you like to read next?
The Volkswagen Polo GTI is a small family car that’s practical, well built and fast enough to keep up with some sports cars on a tight country road.
Sadly, this tempting combination doesn’t come cheap, but the VW Polo GTI’s upmarket interior helps justify its price tag. Its cabin shares most of its trim with the already upmarket Polo so it feels more special than a Peugeot 208 GTi. You get a pair of very supportive sports seats (upholstered in VW’s signature GTI tartan), shiny red inserts and you can even get it with a digital driver’s display instead of conventional analogue dials in GTI+ models.
Thankfully, these sporty additions haven’t made the VW Polo GTI any less easy to live with than the standard Polo – it’s still one of the most spacious and practical small cars around. There’s loads of adjustment to help you get comfy in the front seats and enough space in the back for six-foot-tall adults to sit behind an equally tall driver.
The VW Polo GTI’s practicality is streets ahead of the competition, too. There’s significantly more space in the boot than you get in the Ford Fiesta ST or Mini Cooper S and it feels more comfortable and more grown up than these cars around town, too. It’s easy to drive and – with the optional adaptive suspension fitted – it soaks up bumps and potholes impressively well for a small hot hatch, which you would usually expect to be quite bouncy.
You can pretty much have your cake and eat it with the VW Polo GTI – it’s quick, very well built and practical enough to live with every day. What’s not to like?
Head out onto an empty country road and the VW Polo GTI’s powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and boisterous exhaust noise certainly helps it stand out. It’ll sprint from 0-62mph in a thoroughly respectable 6.7 seconds and its sporty suspension helps it feel stable at speed and grip keenly in tight corners.
It might not be quite as agile as the smaller Ford Fiesta ST but driving the VW Polo GTI’s more relaxing for long periods and it’s quieter at motorway speeds – especially in range-topping GTI+ trim. These cars get adaptive cruise control that’ll automatically maintain a safe distance to cars in front – so they’re even safer than the regular GTI.
You even get an automatic DSG gearbox as standard in all VW Polo GTIs, so you can rest easy knowing the VW Polo GTI provides hot-hatch thrills in a more mature package than any other alternative.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI comes with plenty of sporty details to help it stand out against the standard Polo, but a few brittle plastics let the side down slightly
The Volkswagen Polo GTI’s cabin is just as spacious as the impressively roomy Polo, but you’ll still have to remove a bike’s wheel before it’ll fit comfortably in the boot
The VW Polo GTI has the competition licked when it comes to its luggage-carrying capacity. Perfect for high-speed deliveries, then…
The Volkswagen Polo GTI is one of the most practical small hot hatches around. In fact, it’s almost as roomy as the larger VW Golf GTI. There’s ample space in the front seats for very tall drivers to get comfortable and you get adjustable lumbar support as standard to help reduce back ache on long drives for you and your front-seat passenger.
All the buttons and controls are easy to reach and you’ll have no trouble adjusting the steering wheel so you get a good view of the dials or the digital driver’s display in GTI+ models.
All VW Polo GTIs come with front and rear doors, so your passengers can easily climb into the back. The seats themselves come with a more heavily contoured design and thicker side bolsters than the standard Polo, too, so those in the back won’t feel like they’re being thrown around on a twisty country road.
Headroom is impressively generous in the back for such a small car, too, and there’s enough legroom for a six-foot passenger to sit behind an equally tall driver. The central rear seat is fairly wide and there’s barely any lump in the rear floor so your middle-seat passenger won’t have much to complain about – on short journeys at least.
The back seats also come with two pairs of Isofix anchor points to help make it easy to fit a child seat. The rear door openings are wide enough to make lifting the seat in and out pretty stress-free, too. The only things you’ll have to worry about are the easy-to-lose removable covers for the Isofix points.
The VW Polo GTi comes with a decent number of storage spaces to help you keep its cabin looking nice and tidy. The front door bins are big enough to swallow a 1.0-litre bottle each and there’s just enough space in the two central cupholders for a decent-size cup of coffee. You can store your phone in a tray under the dashboard and GTI+ models come with an additional storage bin under the front-central armrest.
The rear door bins are almost as large as those in the front and you get a pair of seatback pockets to hold slimmer items but you don’t get any cupholders or a folding central armrest.
The VW Polo GTI’s 355-litre loadbay is significantly larger than the Ford Focus ST’s boot and more than big enough to carry a bulky baby buggy or a couple of large suitcases.
You get an adjustable boot floor as standard, but even in its raised position there’s a slight boot lip that gets in the way when you’re trying to load very heavy items. The boot’s square shape makes it dead easy to pack full of large boxes, however.
If you need to carry very large luggage and a passenger in the back at once, you can fold the back seats down in a two-way (60:40) split. Flip both seats down using the buttons beside the headrests and the VW Polo GTI’s load-carrying capacity grows to 1,125 litres. That’s easily big enough to carry a bike – once you remove one of its wheels – and much more than you get in the Ford Fiesta ST.
Dotted about the VW Polo GTI’s boot are numerous tether points and hooks to help you secure smaller items and bags of shopping.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI packs some serious performance from its turbocharged engine, but it doesn’t have quite the same grin-inducing fun-factor as other lairy hot hatches
If the Ford Fiesta ST is an adrenaline-fuelled extreme sports retreat, the VW Polo GTI is a well-organised adventure holiday. Not quite as exciting, but certainly less stressful
The Volkswagen Polo GTI comes with a 200hp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine as standard that drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox.
This might comes as a disappointment to some keen drivers, but the standard dual-clutch automatic suits the VW Polo GTI’s more mature character rather well. It changes gear smoothly, responds to your inputs in manual mode very quickly and helps this diminutive hot hatch launch from 0-62mph in just 6.7 seconds – that’s just a smidge slower than the Ford Fiesta ST with its manual gearbox.
The only downside to this DSG automatic is that it never fully relinquishes control. Even in manual mode, it’ll occasionally change up before the engine reaches the redline and down when you’d rather it stays in gear.
In terms of the sensible day-to-day stuff, the VW Polo GTI does reasonably well, however. Go easy on the accelerator and it’ll comfortably return more than 40mpg, which compares well with VW’s claimed 47.9mpg.
The VW Polo GTI is a very rapid little hot hatch, but it feels like a larger performance car to drive. Tear down a twisty country road and it’s more sure-footed and secure than the comparatively lairy Ford Fiesta ST. This is partly down to the Polo GTI’s steering, which feels more confidence-inspiring than the Fiesta’s darting, fidgety setup.
It’s a similar story with the VW Polo GTI’s suspension. It’s significantly firmer than the standard Polo’s, but not quite to the same extent as the rough-and-ready Fiesta ST. As a result, it soaks up bumps slightly better, yet still carves through corners with barely any body lean.
It’s even better with the adaptive suspension you get in GTI+ models. This allows you to switch between firmer suspension for sporty driving or a softer setup to help take the edge off long journeys.
Speaking of long journeys, the VW Polo GTI isn’t particularly quiet at motorway speeds – thanks to its bigger wheels and wider, grippier tyres than the standard Polo. Cruise control doesn’t come as standard, either, and adaptive cruise control is a very expensive option.
Thankfully, the VW Polo GTI is a doddle to drive around town. Its small size and fairly tight turning circle mean you won’t have much trouble manoeuvring through traffic or when parking. You can even get it with a feature that’ll steer for you into parallel and bay parking spaces – perfect for impressing your passengers.
You can also relax in the knowledge that the Polo – on which the GTI model is based – scored an impressive five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP in the strict 2017 tests. Automatic emergency braking comes as standard, and you can pay extra for blind-spot detection and a system that’ll automatically close the windows and pre-tension the seat belts if it detects an imminent collision.