Review: Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018)
Vastly improved from 2015. Snappy manual gearbox. Fun handling. Easy to live with. Three or five-door.
Old 1.4 twin-charged model is poor. Suspension a little too firm for poorly surfaced roads.
Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018): At A Glance
Volkswagen more or less invented the hot hatch with the original Golf GTI, so it has a wealth of experience to build on. Sadly the latest generation of Polo GTI was beset by problems from its launch in 2010 – but from 2015 things have changed for the better. There have been numerous major tweaks and revisions, raising the Polo GTI from a fairly poor hot hatch to one of the best.
The biggest change is the engine. Volkswagen has thrown out the old Polo GTI's 1.4-litre twin-charged engine and replaced it with a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol. Power is up from 180PS to 192PS and peak torque is up from 250Nm to 320Nm. Plus there is now a manual transmission as standard in place of the old car’s seven-speed DSG – though you can still specify the auto as an option.
Inevitably the Polo must be compared to the Ford Fiesta ST - a car that is both cheaper and more fun on the right road - but the Polo GTI has a different character from the hyperactive Fiesta. It's more mature and easier to live with, thanks to a quiet engine and easy controls at low speeds. Around town or at a cruise it's barely any different to a regular Polo.
It’s fairly subtle in style with bumpers and a spoiler that are much less ‘in your face’ than the oversized add-ons you get with a Vauxhall Corsa VXR. It’s still noticeably different from a lesser Polo, though, with a red grille surround and GTI-specific alloy wheels the most noticeable features. Those in the know will recognise this as a GTI, but your neighbours will see it as just another small car.
It might look relatively subdued, but it is an impressive performer. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 6.7 seconds and, thanks to that meaty peak torque figure, there’s always performance on tap when you want it. Overtaking is effortless and on a country lane there’s a lot of fun to be had, plus the engine makes a meaningful growl at higher revs.
However there are problems – notably with the suspension. It’s a little too stiff on very poor roads, causing the car to jitter and jiggle. That’s not particularly confidence inspiring if you want to put your foot down and have some fun, but on a wider road with a better surface the Polo GTI is great, thanks to good grip levels, nicely weighted, nimble steering and a snappy gear change.
If out-and-out enjoyment is top of your list the Ford Fiesta ST is still king of the current crop of hot hatches. However, for someone who really wants the fun of a hot hatch and isn’t in favour of bright paint and oversized styling kits, the Polo GTI is ideal. It is a little more expensive than its rivals from Ford and Vauxhall, but it is more practical thanks to a five-door option, plus it feels like a more mature, better-made car.
What does a Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018) cost?
Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018): What's It Like Inside?
Volkswagen has stuck to GTI tradition in the cabin, giving the Polo GTI signature tartan cloth upholstery, along with a GTI specific gear lever and steering wheel. Besides that it’s all regular Polo, but that’s fine – material quality is good, the layout is user-friendly and practicality is reasonable, particularly since you can choose either three and five-door body styles.
There are no five-door variants of the Ford Fiesta ST or Vauxhall Corsa VXR, so if you’ve got a family and need a bit of extra versatility the Polo GTI is a smarter buy. Boot space is reasonable at 280 litres and a double layer boot floor is available, which gives a place to hide valuables while making the load deck flat – handy for bulky items.
The rear seats can be folded flat to liberate 952 litres of space to the roof, which is plenty for most flat packs or other bulky items, plus there are some nice touches like a 12V outlet for plugging gadgets or chargers in at the back of the car.
As you would expect from the top model in the range, Polo GTI models come with a good level of standard equipment. All cars get air conditioning, a touchscreen system, front and rear parking sensors, front fog lights and GTI-specific 17-inch alloy wheels. Options include full-LED lights and a Sport Pack.
This adds a sport button in the cabin, which sharpens throttle response and noticeably stiffens up the suspension. It also enhances the sound from the in-built actuator, a system that enhances the engine note in the cabin when the engine is at higher revs.
GTI models come with air conditioning, touchscreen infotainment, sound enhancing actuator, GTI interior detailing, GTI exterior body kit, H7 headlights, front and rear parking sensors, fog lights and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Child seats that fit a Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018) like to drive?
From 2015 the Polo GTI gets a new 1.8-litre turbocharged engine, replacing the old 1.4-litre, DSG-equipped twin-charged petrol fitted from 2010. The new engine produces more power at 192PS, plus it has a higher peak torque figure and – perhaps most importantly – it comes with a manual transmission as standard.
Acceleration from 0-62mph is taken care of in an impressive 6.7 seconds, yet running costs are reasonable. Officially the manual-equipped car is capable of 47.1mpg, while the now optional DSG automatic bumps economy up to 50.4mpg. We’d still stick with the manual, though.
The new engine and gearbox transform the Polo GTI from a fairly weak model into one of the best hot hatches on sale. The transmission is slick, precise and enjoyable to use, while the engine produces a strong spread of torque, making acceleration and overtaking very easy.
Through corners the Polo GTI is a lot of fun thanks to nicely weighted, accurate steering – but it lacks the precision of the Ford Fiesta ST. There’s plenty of traction from the front wheels and there is next to no body roll, making quick changes of direction and high speed cornering a lot of fun.
This is helped by an XDS+ electronic front differential that helps keep the Polo GTI going where the steering is pointed. It works very well, subtly braking individual wheels in an unobtrusive way. It’s certainly less noticeable than the often very aggressive Drexler differential in the brash Vauxhall Corsa VXR.
It’s not all good, though. The suspension, particularly on cars with the £245 sport pack, is a little too firm for the worst of British back roads. The Polo GTI jitters and jiggles over rough and rippled surfaces, which robs the driver of confidence when driving enthusiastically. Thankfully this is only an issue on particularly bad roads.
When not being driven hard the Polo GTI is perfectly easy to get on with. Around town the controls are no more difficult than on a basic Polo, while the engine is reasonably quiet and subdued. It’s the same story on the motorway, where the Polo GTI isn’t noisy or uncomfortable.
|1.4 TSI DSG||48 mpg||6.9 s||139 g/km|
|1.8 TSI||47 mpg||6.7–7.8 s||139 g/km|
|1.8 TSI DSG||50 mpg||6.7–7.8 s||129 g/km|
Real MPG average for a Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018)
Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.
Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.
Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.
What have we been asked about the Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018)?
Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.
Is my car clever enough to recognise that most of my driving is around town and remap its engine management accordingly?
What Cars Are Similar To The Volkswagen Polo GTI (2010 – 2018)?
Unclear on what your next car should be? Use our Car Chooser to pick something that suits your needs.