Car reviews - Volkswagen - Polo - GTI
Cute styling, linear engine performance, nimble road manners, high build quality
Room for improvement
No reversing camera, tight rear seat, firm ride
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8 Oct 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
Hot hatches epitomise the art of getting more bang for your bucks.
Traditionally, they are shopping-trolley hatchbacks into which manufacturers shoehorn a bigger engine. Outwardly, it’s not rocket science.
But there’s devil in the detail. Even the garden variety Polo has a taut chassis and solid platform, effective suspension and low-ratio steering box.
From this base, the GTI dispenses with the 1.2-litre engine and upscales to 1.8 litres, tightens the suspension and equips the chassis with stronger components and bigger brakes.
The cabin caries over from the more recent upgrade of the range in April while the front seats are top-shelf items with heavier bolstering and upholstered in subtle tartan.
For 2015, Volkswagen offers the Polo GTI as a manual and automatic priced respectively at $27,490 plus on-road costs and $29,990 plus costs.
The addition of the manual transmission cleverly expands the Polo’s reach, giving choice to a niche market that contains the manual-only Ford Fiesta ST, auto-only Renault Clio RS and manual-only Peugeot 208 GTI.
The Polo GTI is a sharper looker than the other Polo derivatives thanks to a lower ride height, spidery double-five spoke 17-inch alloys, bodykit with more aggressively-detailed front spoiler containing driving lights and big hex-pattern intake panels, plus twin exhaust pipes.
Standard fare is reasonable and clearly there has been some equipment manipulation to push a lower price point.
Cruise control, a six-speaker audio with Bluetooth, single-zone air-conditioner, touchscreen monitor and leather trim – notably the heavily stitched and fat-rimmed sports steering wheel – are included.
But there’s no reversing camera, parking sensors and satellite navigation unless you tick the Driver Assistance Package box and cough up an extra $1400.
If you want metallic paint, it’s another $500.
Volkswagen maintains its crisp, Teutonic cabin that gets freshened up for 2015 with a new instrument binnacle and restyled centre console.
The effect is clean and simple, ergonomically correct and a layout that requires minimal disruption for the driver.
Volkswagen also carries over the tartan upholstery that was introduced for the first (Golf) GTI of 1976, changing its code name from Jacky to Clark for the current generation of car.
The tartan history seems murky. The tartan red and grey colours have nothing to do with Belgian racecar driver Jacky Ickx (given his ancestry, unlikely to have a tartan) and the Scottish pattern and hue of the Clark clan, which is blue. At least it looks nice.
The fabric is applied to sports seats with excellent lateral bolstering and very good support that befits the nature of the GTI. The split-fold rear seat is fundamentally unchanged, just now wearing tartan.
Adjustment is manual – you seriously don’t need electric motors to move a sports seat back and forth – and includes height adjustment for the driver and twirl graduations for recline.
Inside there’s also black headlining and some chrome-alloy trim that distinguishes the GTI from other Polos. Notably, the steering wheel is a flat-bottomed and thick-rimmed unit that enforces the GTI logo.
The tilt-telescopic wheel is kitted with audio and cruise functions to make life a bit easier for the driver.
Cabin room is reasonable. At 177cm your correspondent can sit behind himself – metaphorically – but the rear seat knee-room is minimal and relieved only by some scalloping of the seat back.
The Polo passes the baby-seat test but needs the front passenger seat moved forward a click or two to prevent any foot contact from said child.
Inquisitive child fingers will also readily locate the door latch and makes the child-lock button on the door-jamb an absolute necessity.
Boot space is better than the figures suggest. It has a modest 204 litres with the rear seat in place and 882 litres when the seat back is folded flat. There’s a removable hard floor panel above a space-saver spare but it offers little in the way of extra storage space.
Personal storage space is reasonable, with two cupholders within the centre console and some extra space within the console opening. The fold-down lidded bin offers a tiny storage area and serves best as an armrest. There are also bottle holders in the front doors but none in the rear doors.
Rear passengers have a single cupholder in the centre. They also miss out on any rear vents.
Engine and transmission
The troublesome and complex 1.4-litre twin-charger engine fitted to the previous Polo GTI – and still fitted to Volkswagen models including the Beetle, Golf Cabriolet, Tiguan and Jetta – has been replaced with a more conventional unit.
The new EA888-derived 1.8-litre engine in the 2015 Polo GTI is a turbocharged mill that is based on the 2.0-litre engine block used in various states of tune in other Volkswagen Group products.
It is, however, a two-valve engine – unlike the four-valve version in the Golf – that uses both direct and indirect fuel injection and a small turbo mounted hard up on the intake manifold to minimise engine lag.
Thanks to the removal of the supercharger and the replacement of some components with plastic parts, the new 1.8-litre weighs 5.4 kilograms less than its predecessor.
For the Polo GTI, the engine arrives in different outputs based on its use in the automatic or manual transmission models.
For example, the manual Polo GTI has the same 141kW but it peaks at 4300rpm and remains flat until 6200rpm. The automatic version produces this peak power output from 5400-6200rpm.
The same discrepancy exists for torque. The manual has 320Nm at 1450-4200rpm and yet the auto gets a considerably reduced 250Nm at 1250-5300rpm.
Why? It’s all about how the outputs are delivered at the front wheels and the smoothness of the transfer.
Don’t think you’re being ripped off by the reduced power of the auto engine because both models run the 0-100 kilometres per hour sprint in the same 6.7 seconds.
Fuel consumption is best in the automatic with a claimed 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres average compared with the manual at 6.1 L/100km.
Claims that the turbo lag has been dramatically reduced thanks to the dual-injection system and short turbo manifold proved true. There is little noticeable lag in the engine and any hesitancy is more likely to stem from the seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic.
The engine really is a pliable unit with lots of flexibility for the city and plenty of tow for some winding country roads.
That’s on par with the flexibility of the bigger Golf engine but in terms of delivery, the Golf’s locomotive low-end torque still makes it the master.
There’s probably an inclination to term the Polo GTI as a slightly detuned version of the Golf variant but in fact, they are quite different animals to operate.
But in favour of the Polo, it’s very responsive and so easy to punt thanks to its low body weight. There’s even a pleasant burble from the exhaust to confirm its GTI status.
Ride and handling
Like the Golf, the Polo has the knack of feeling right first time. That goes for the seating position and it certainly applies to the predictable way the car drives.
The first corner shows you this car means business. The electro-hydraulic steering is firm and lacks any annoying off-centre vagueness that appears in some rivals.
The steering ratio is also geared low so there’s plenty of sharpness left for mid-corner adjustments or for sudden direction changes. It’s similar in feel to the excellent rack in the Citroen DS3.
The Polo GTI for Australia has all the right stuff except optional two-stage adaptive dampers. European markets do get the option of these dampers and Australia may – or may not – follow that lead. No decision yet.
The difference may reduce the firmness of the Polo’s ride, especially at the rear where the torsion beam’s stiffness reacts sharply to low-speed bumps. The effect is more pronounced for rear-seat occupants.
Changes to the latest Polo GTI include adding slightly stiffer bushings in the rear to iron out lateral movement.
The MacPherson struts are also tweaked with stiffer bushes, a bigger roll bar and beefed-up steering linkages.
Borrowed from the Golf is Volkswagen’s latest extended electronic limited-slip differential (called XLD+) that has a torque-vectoring function to more accurately place power where it’s needed.
In function, it does what a mechanical LSD will do – only quicker and lighter – though it has a reliance on the brakes that can aggravate wear.
Cleverly, XLD+ will instantly flow torque from one wheel to the other to ensure full traction through a corner without calling on reductions to the engine management system.
The GTI’s neat handling is also attributed in part to its lower ride height – 10mm down at the front and 15mm at the rear compared with the entry-level Polo – and bigger 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/45 tyres.
Safety and servicing
The Polo is a five-star car that is backed by six airbags and ancillaries including an emergency brake display, tyre pressure monitor, daytime running lights and automatic headlights and wipers.
But there’s a bit missing off the standard equipment list, notably the reversing camera and parking sensors. Interestingly, its rivals also delete the camera.
Though it’s not a big car – it measures only 3.98m in length – it has wide C-pillars and aids such as the camera or sensors would improve its city credentials.
The Volkswagen warranty runs at three years or unlimited distance. Service intervals are annual and the capped-price service program lasts for six years.
For three years, the cost of the servicing is set at $1522. It’s the second dearest of the comparison here, beaten only by Peugeot by a $48 margin, but is about twice that of Ford and Renault.
Glass’s Guide estimates that the Polo GTI will have a resale value after three years of a respectable 55 per cent, close to the Renault’s 57 per cent and up on the Ford Fiesta at 45 per cent and the Peugeot 208 at 47 per cent.
Don’t think about the Polo GTI as being a Golf GTI rival and you’ll appreciate the car for its delightfully easy road manners, quick response and well-built cabin.
The option pack that includes the sat-nav and reversing camera is recommended.
Compared with its immediate Euro-sourced rivals the Polo has the option of a manual and a more convenient five-door package. It’s not for families but is the perfect fun car for the urban lifestyle.
Ford Fiesta ST from $25,990 plus on-road costs
This is a solid rival to the Polo though has a few glaring misses for many buyers – it’s only available as a three-door and there is no automatic option. But it’s nimble, has a rorty 134kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine and gets 6.2L/100km. Like the Polo and the two others here, there’s no reverse camera. Boot space is 290-974 litres. Capped price servicing for three years is only $850 and the estimated resale value is 45 per cent.
Renault Clio RS from $29,490 plus on-road costs
Hot RS Sports also tests your needs, arriving only as a five door and only with an automatic gearbox.
Granted, it’s a neat six-speed dual-clutch box attached to a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol with 147kW/240Nm for 6.3L/100km. Sat-nav is standard and the boot space is second best here at 300-1146 litres. Renault has a capped-price service program costing $897 for three years and the RS has a resale value of 57 per cent.
Peugeot 208 GTI from $29,990 plus on-road costs
Like the Fiesta, the 208 GTI comes only with three doors and a manual gearbox. It’s powered by a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine rated at 147kW/275Nm and drives through a six-speed manual box. Peugeot claims 5.9L/100km. The 208 has the most compliant ride here. It’s also the roomiest with a boot space of 311-1152 litres. Standard fare is up on its rivals with sat-nav, leather upholstery and rear park sensors, though still no camera. Capped-price servicing will cost $1570 for three years and the resale is forecast at 47 per cent.
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