Car reviews - Volkswagen - Polo - GTI
Linear and punchy powerplant, fuel economy, ride quality, manual gearbox change and clutch action, instruments and pedal layout, sports seats
Room for improvement
Restricted rear vision, optional camera and parking sensors not standard, tight rear seat space, limited cargo area
16 Apr 2015
By TUNG NGUYEN
STUART MARTINUNDERSTATED and mildly handsome, the GTI flagship of the light-sized Polo range follows in the footsteps of the Golf GTI with uprated turbocharged performance and, with the new model now on sale, a purist-pleasing option of a manual gearbox.
As with the hot Golf, the Polo GTI is differentiated from regular variants with red headlight highlights, subtle bodykit additions and a feeling of quality within the cabin, which in standard guise is trimmed in retro Clark tartan.
A conventional handbrake has been retained and, thankfully, the centre armrest can be lifted to limit clashes with it when applied.
Suburban motoring is easily executed in both transmissions but the DSG is generally the more fuss-free, with few concerns about engaging the wrong gear or in making less-than-timely decisions.
As expected, the twin-clutch transmission slips through the gears easily as the tight underpinnings deal with larger bumps better than when travelling across smaller road imperfections.
Seat comfort is good in either guise – those choosing the optional leather/Alcantara trim combination get the “comfort” seat and lose the bolstering of the sport seat – and firmness is the watchword for the suspension, but it rarely jars the occupants.
The MQB platform that underpins the Polo delivers cabin quietness and refinement for the most part, interrupted only by tyre growl on coarse-chip bitumen. But at cruise it’s one of the quieter machines in the hot-hatch sub-segment.
Punch from the 141kW 1.8-litre TSI turbo-petrol engine is well delivered when demanded, with the DSG model and the manual claiming identical sprint times from 0-100km/h of 6.7 seconds.
Where the more frugal 250Nm DSG falls behind the manual model is in-gear acceleration, where the extra 70Nm of torque unleashed with a manual transmission – peaking fractionally later at 1450rpm (DSG: 1250rpm) – makes itself apparent.
Volkswagen was not able to offer up factory in-gear acceleration figures but if you can operate three pedals then you are in for a more satisfying surge.
The Polo does have to haul a little more heft than its rivals – 1234kg for the manual (DSG: 1242kg) – while the cheaper 134kW/240Nm Fiesta ST (which jumps to 147kW/290Nm on overboost) sneaks under it at 1197kg.
The 208 GTI might be just the other side of $30,000 and not offer an automatic but it, too, sits below 1200kg – 133kg to be precise – with 147kW of power and 275Nm.
The fuel economy claims are not complete flights of fancy, with the launch drive resulting in single-digit numbers from trip computers in both manual and DSG vehicles.
The launch drive route was undemanding, consisting mainly of highway cruising intermingled with roadworks and heavy traffic that allowed the automatic engine idle-stop and brake energy recovery systems scope to reduce fuel consumption.
There were few opportunities for enthusiastic driving to explore the sporting abilities spruiked by its maker.
What little chance we had to push the GTI found well-weighted steering, decent body control and enthusiastic turn-in, all pointing towards character traits that have been passed on by the Golf GTI to its smaller sibling.
There is a sense of composure in the corners but few of the bends presented serious challenges to the suspension in terms of mid-corner bumps or camber changes.
Cargo space isn’t class-leading, nor is the available space in the rear seat compartment – legroom in particular is tight if the front occupants are tall – but the flexibility of five doors will win it friends over three-door-only models in this brat pack segment.
The Fiesta ST, 208 GTI, Citroen DS3, Kia Pro_cee’d GT and Alfa Romeo MiTo QV are all three-door only, while the Renault Clio RS has five doors but no manual is offered.
Day-to-day driving can be easily and comfortably completed in either guise, but the long lists of options take some shine off the sharp price, as does the absence of key safety features from the standard offering, including a reversing camera and rear parking sensors sensors.
But the bottom line is that the extra torque available to those capable of operating three pedals – made easier with the inclusion of hill-start assist – makes the manual a more attractive proposition.
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