Review: Volkswagen Polo GTI (2018)
Impressive handling and strong performance. Very well equipped as standard. Refined and comfortable despite the firm suspension. DSG-only from launch with manual from late 2018.
Lacks the raw appeal of some hot hatches. Fiesta ST is cheaper and more fun.
Volkswagen Polo GTI (2018): At A Glance
The Polo GTI has always sat in the shadow of its bigger Golf counterpart. But now it seems Volkswagen is aiming to make the Polo GTI a serious hot hatch in its own right. And one that can match the excellent Fiesta ST.
That explains why it now has a bigger 2.0-litre turbocharged engine producing 200PS and giving it a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds. This makes it the most powerful factory Polo GTI ever produced but it's on par with the 2005 Golf GTI.
At first glance, the Polo GTI isn't all that different to look at than a Golf GTI. Indeed, it's easy to mistake one for the other, especially from the front. And those styling similarities continue inside with the trademark GTI chequered seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
That's no bad thing of course. The Golf GTI is still renowned as one of the best hot hatches around and this deliberate move by Volkswagen to make the two look similar (there's no Polo badge on the boot) makes the Polo GTI much more desirable than it has been in the past.
The quality inside shines through and this is a big step forward from the old car in terms of the quality of the materials used and the design. It feels a much more premium car than the old model which was always hamstrung by the very drab Polo it was based on.
It's very refined too with an impressively forgiving ride for a small hot hatch. Yes the suspension set-up is firm, but it doesn't crash over potholes and the dampers minimise vibration into the cabin, while road noise is well insulated. It means that on the motorway, the Polo GTI is a very comfortable and quiet cruiser - not what you'd expect of a hot hatch.
Get the Polo GTI onto a quiet road and it continues to impress with lots of front end grip and plenty of poise through corners. It's helped by the XDS system while there's very good traction, especially for a front-wheel drive car with 200PS.
Is it the most fun hot hatch out there? We'd have to say no. It's enjoyable to drive, but doesn't provide the same involvement as a Fiesta ST. We'd like a bit more drama, such as a louder exhaust - there are no pops or bangs when you come off the power - and more aggressive gear changes in the DSG. It feels like it just needs to be turned up to 11.
That's not to say the Polo GTI isn't a very accomplished car - and indeed a very capable one. But unfortunately it doesn't get the pulse racing the way you expect a hot hatch too.
What does a Volkswagen Polo GTI (2018) cost?
Volkswagen Polo GTI (2018): What's It Like Inside?
The impression that this is a mini-Golf GTI is reinforced when you get behind the wheel. It has the classic Jacara red and white chequered seats, red stitching on the flat bottomed steering wheel and metal trimmed pedals. You can even go all out and have red trim across the dash and on the central console if you want.
The quality of the finish has really gone up a notch compared to the previous Polo GTI and it's the small details which make a big difference. Gone are the cheaper-feeling plastics on the door handles and centre console. Instead you now have what genuinely feels like a premium interior, but just in a small car package.
It gets all the key things right with a good driving position and lots of adjustment, so even those over six feet tall won't feel cramped. The sports seats could do with being a little more supportive at the sides if you want that proper hot hatch feel, but they're very comfortable for a small car which you'll appreciate after a couple of hours behind the wheel.
It's clear this Polo has grown compared to its predecessor with more elbow and shoulder room inside. The back seats have a bit extra in the way of legroom too, although it's as tight back there as you'd expect for adults. But it's more than adequate for children and means more room for car seats too. The boot of this Polo is also bigger with 351 litres of carrying space - an increase of 70 litres.
The Polo GTI gets a large 8-inch touchscreen with a sharp and bright high resolution display. It's not only good looking but easy to use too and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.
GTI+ models go one better the Volkswagen's Active Info Display, which replaces the conventional dials with a digital display which can be configured between three different layouts, one of which is a full screen map view for the navigation. It's another premium feature which makes the Polo GTI stand out.
Standard equipment (from launch):
Polo GTI gets 17-inch Parker alloy wheels, GTI styling including red brake calipers, sports suspension lowered by approximately 15 mm, additional head airbags front and rear, XDS differential lock, driving profile selection, Volkswagen’s advanced Composition Media infotainment system, ambient lighting (white), door sill trims with GTI logo, air conditioning, front fog lights and cornering lights, LED tail light clusters, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, floor mats front and rear, electric windows all round with one-touch operation, ‘Plus’ multifunction display, Front Assist with City Emergency Braking, Pedestrian Monitoring and Automatic Post-Collision Braking system.
Polo GTI+ has 65 per cent tinted windows from the B-pillar backwards, Light and Sight pack, LED headlights, Active Info Display, Adaptive Cruise Control and keyless entry with start-stop button.
Child seats that fit a Volkswagen Polo GTI (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 (2018) like to drive?
It shows how far the Polo GTI has come that it now features a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine producing 200PS - a big step from the old 1.4 TFSI with 180PS that the previous model launched with. This is after all the most powerful Polo GTI ever made and it shares the same engine as the Golf R no less.
Its 200PS puts it on par for power with the MkV Golf GTI launched in 2005. And with the Polo only tipping the scales at around 1350kg, that gives it a 0-62mph time on paper of 6.7 seconds with the six-speed DSG gearbox. Much of that is down to the 320Nm of torque which peaks from as low as 1500rpm.
The Polo GTI is an easy car to drive fast with lots of front end grip and thanks to the XDS system it's tidy in corners. If you don't know what this is, it's an electronic differential lock which essentially brakes the inside wheel of the car in a corner and send more power to the outside wheel.
It also improves traction away from a slow corner and despite all its power, the Polo GTI does a good job of transferring that 200PS to the road without scrabbling for grip.
Add in nicely precise steering that doesn't feel overly assisted and the Polo GTI is a very pleasant thing, handling corners with minimal fuss. It even sounds quite good, especially if you put it into Sport, with a nice boom from the exhaust.
It's the refinement which really impresses though and makes this such a good all-round hot hatch. Despite the 15mm lower sports suspension it rides very well, even with the optional 18-inch alloys. Yes it's firm, but not uncomfortably so, and the dampers are well set up to insulate the cabin from knocks and vibrations when going over potholes.
The only criticism of the Polo GTI is that it lacks the fun factor somewhat - a Fiesta ST feels that bit more enjoyable to drive. The Polo is very capable and more than quick enough, but not especially engaging all that much.
If you're worried about DSG gearboxes, the one in the Polo GTI is the six-speed wet-clutch DQ250 which is far more reliable than the troublesome DQ200 dry clutch seven-speed fitted to the previous Polo GTI when it was launched.
As you'd expect of a twin-clutch gearbox, it provides very fast and smooth shifts, so you can either leave it in D or take control yourself using the steering wheel-mounted paddles. It's not truly manual, in that if you hit the red line it will change up for you, even if you're in Sport mode, but the changes are pretty instantaneous when you blip the paddle.
Thankfully, it doesn't suffer from hesitation at lower speeds either - for example when slowing for a roundabout and then asking it to accelerate - something which is often an issue with the DSG. There is also a manual available from late 2018.
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