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
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. If you want a manual, you’ll have to wait until later in 2018.
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.
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 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.