Choice is a fine thing, and when it comes to cars there are endless to choose from. It’s nice to see people get excited when you buy them something special for Christmas so a boring car is out of the question. Best to go for a magic combination of everyday fun, economy, performance and practicality. With the new Polo GTI, you can tick each of these boxes with confidence.
The VW Polo is mighty popular; in fact, it is the second bestselling VW in the UK to the Golf (that’s roughly one in four of every new VW sold). You can ditch the traditional ‘hot hatch’ label for the top of the range GTI+ we are testing here as all new Polos are five-door only. Externally, a bit like the Golf R, are only subtle hints to its potency: the red trim line across the full of the grille; the red GTI tagging to front, side, and rear; the 17-inch alloy wheels, and low profile 215/45 R17 tyres. It has a more muscular and potent stance over the standard car, not obviously, but subtly so.
The potency is confirmed under the bonnet – a transverse 2.0 litre, 4-cylinder turbo-charged engine; just under 200 bhp, 320 Nm of torque, the benchmark 0-62 mph in 6.7 seconds, and a top speed of 147 mph. Credible, quick and powerful.
On the economy front a light foot achieves just over 45 mpg, a really heavy foot 26.9 and one somewhere in the middle an average of 39.2 mpg. On a recent 200-mile trip of motorway, cross country and busy town driving, we achieved an average of 42.
Volkswagen reckon the new Polo offers premium segment technology. It does, including the debut of their second generation Active Info display and high-end infotainment. After spending time with the car, we’d confirm that the dash technology is one of its most impressive features – so well laid out, user friendly and efficient. Excellent. The quality of hands-free mobile phone reception was fantastic too, with minimal interference.
As the Golf seems to have got bigger and wider over time, those reminiscing over its compact thrills could do well to look in the direction of the Polo for its lithe fit-like-a-glove qualities. Yet inside we wouldn’t describe it as spacious but more so adequate. Yes, it seats four in comfort so there’s no compromise there, although it was necessary for me at 6ft to compromise a couple of notches of seat travel to secure rear passenger comfort. That said, passengers complimented the fit and finish of the car, with ‘quality’ featuring highly in the feedback, but rear passengers did feel the rear seating was a little too firm. Luggage capacity with all seats upright is good at 305 litres for this type of vehicle and excellent at 1,079 litres with rear seats down.
The Polo GTI+ is certainly on it when it comes to performance. It handles normal day-to-day work and play travel well; the DSG 6 speed semi-automatic gearbox allows you to stick it in drive on an eco setting in heavy traffic, or ultimately adopt the sport setting with optional manual shift for the enthusiast.
We are of course in the latter category, mostly opting for Sport with manual shift, either via gear lever or paddles. It is for this that you spend the extra money for the GTI Experience, and the Polo does not disappoint. Steering, engine management and suspension all tighten up to transform this car into a driving enthusiast’s thrill. A sporty exhaust note is combined with strong and long intermediate gear travel ready to use up all of that 190 bhp. The grin will soon become permanent when the car warms to the driver accelerating and cornering harder with zest. It’s proof that VW have long earned the knowhow of how to make a small hatch perform on a B road with the alacrity and sure-footedness of a proper sports car. Drive this car hard in real world driving conditions and you want for nothing in the driver enjoyment stakes. You will enjoy developing your driving skills over wishing for any more power.
The steering is relatively light and sensitive, but the Polo GTI+ turns in with such confidence and safety that you soon forget it, as you will also the rather sharp and sensitive braking. It’s one of those cars that gets better the harder you push it.
If someone bought me one for Christmas, I’d know I’m properly loved. While our fully loaded test car came up to just over £26,000, we imagine the average punter will be paying in the 24k region, and will undoubtedly have compared the odds with a contender such as the Ford Fiesta ST. On performance the Polo will have a contender with the ST, but on quality we think the Polo will be the better choice. Then it becomes a ‘your money, your choice’ issue on the preferences, but certainly the GTI+ will make you believe in Santa again.