Review: 2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI

10 September 2018 - 14:08 By Thomas Falkiner
2018 Polo GTI
2018 Polo GTI
The new-generation Polo has grown into a fine little thing, a car with the solid engineering, value for money and finesse to keep it at the bestselling compact hatchback in its market segment.

The recently-launched GTI version has added some pace and aspirational appeal to the equation, and though one is reluctant to refer to its R375 900 price tag as a bargain in a compact-car context, it does deliver a lot of bang for the buck.

Visually the new Polo GTI flexes its muscles with a sportier bumper and integrated spoiler lip and fog lights, a red stripe in the radiator grille, 17-inch "Milton Keynes" alloy wheels (or optional 18-inch versions), red brake callipers and C-shaped air curtains in the bumper.

The sporty show-and-tell at the rear comprises an enlarged and black painted roof spoiler, chrome dual tailpipes, a black diffuser and LED tail lights.

The heart of the junior GTI has been enlarged from the previous 1.8-litre to a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, raising the power output from 141 to 147kW, and there’s been a major torque hike from 250 to 320Nm.

High-performance hounds will be more than pleased with the Polo GTI’s ability to scoot from 0-100km/h in just 6.6 seconds (as tested by us at Gauteng altitude with a VBox). That’s just one-tenth slower than the Golf GTI manages, making this top-of-the-range Polo a relative steal, performance-wise, against its big brother which costs R172 700 more.

A six-speed DSG auto transmission, with the assistance of launch control, makes the chasing of such feats a simple task in the junior GTI. Unlike some needlessly complicated launch control systems that require a sequence of switches to be pressed, here it’s just a matter of holding the brake with your left foot, revving it up and releasing the brake.

For the fair amount of thrust going through the front wheels there’s minimum drama and tyre screeching. A brief chirp of the wheels and she’s off, and that fast hustle takes place with minimal torque steer. The power feels nice and linear with barely any turbo lag to spoil the fun during either off-the-line or overtaking acceleration. The 237km/h top speed also places this Polo GTI well into sports hatch territory, while in Sport mode the exhaust adopts a playfully rorty tone.

The test car sipped a respectably economical 7.7l/100km, and that was without sparing the horses.

Planted 15mm closer to the road than a run-of-the-mill Polo, the GTI gets around corners with better agility and less body roll. It also has a differential lock which, during robust cornering, diverts power to the outside front wheel when the inside one starts losing traction, thereby enhancing grip and allowing earlier corner exits without running into understeer.

It’s a tidy and well balanced car on the curvy stuff, and as extra-cost option it can be ordered with Sport Select suspension, which allows the driver to switch the active dampers to a softer or firmer ride. On the softer setting the Polo GTI delivers a commuting-friendly ride without any harshness.

Further giving it the ability to morph from boy-racer to suburb-hopper is the standard-fitted driving profile selection with Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual selections that adjust the engine sound, steering sharpness and gearshift response.

The cabin’s decked out with a GTI gear knob, sports seats, red contrast stitching and black rooflining, and the dash panel can be ordered in metallic iron or red. It all makes for an interior that’s sporty without being over-the-top flamboyant.

The Polo GTI is not particularly well stocked for the price but does come out of the box with dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a leather multifunction steering wheel, voice control, an audio system with USB and Bluetooth connections, front and side airbags and stability control.

Dipping into the options list gets you additional niceties such as a panoramic sunroof (R10 550), navigation (R12 150), keyless locking and unlocking (R4 950), and LED headlights (R12 450). For R11 850, an Advanced Safety Package bundles together parallel park assist, a rear view camera, blind spot detection and park distance control.

Grown up is perhaps an overused term to describe VW’s new-generation Polo, but it’s the most apt. Through its successive incarnations the compact hatchback has gained ever more features and finesse, which has led to the Polo being the bestselling car in its market segment by a healthy margin.

The Polo GTI has gained its own following in the pocket rocket ranks, and this one delivers sporty appeal in a car that doesn’t make you feel like you’re downgrading too much from a Golf GTI.

A strong contender for SA’s Car of the Year, methinks. – Denis Droppa

Fast Facts: 2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI

Engine: 1988cc four-cylinder turbo

Power: 147kW at 4 400rpm

Torque: 320Nm at 1 500rpm

Transmission: six-speed automatic

0-100km/h: 6.6-seconds (as tested)

Top speed: 237km/h (as tested)

Fuel: 7.7l/100km (as tested)

Price: From R375 900