It’s stunningly good

It’s stunningly good

Some people argue the Volkswagen Golf GTI has become too big and stolid to be a Golf GTI anymore. There’s an answer for that: it’s the Volkswagen Polo GTI and it’s stunningly good. It’s been years in the planning and it shows, with crisp, reliable handling, a terrific interior and a character all its own – all while being larger than the original Golf GTI. Finally, the Polo GTI will fit into a neat model range when it arrives in Australia in August.

GTI family ties

Volkswagen hasn’t traditionally thrown a lot of coherent thought into developing a coherent performance sub-brand, like Benz’s AMG, Renault’s RS, BMW’s M or Audi Sport. There have been six generations of the Golf GTI and three versions of the Polo GTI, but the latter has had a chequered history with the original Polo GTI being a limited-edition model based on the Mk3 Polo of 1994 and built only in left-hand drive. The Polo GTI badge didn’t return until 2005 on the Mk4 Polo and since then there’s been the Mk5 Polo GTI in 2010 and now the fourth Polo GTI based on the new Mk6 Polo.

Meantime Volkswagen has also been a bit hindered by its own insistence that a GTI is a front-drive hatch, which rules out GTI versions of the top half of its model range. Furthermore, the latest Polo GTI, which will arrive in Australia priced from $30,990 (plus on-road costs) in August, is a very good car all by itself. And it fits better and more logically as the middle child of a VW GTI family that is bookended by the Up! GTI (in Europe) and the eponymous Golf GTI.

Solid starting point

It helps that the latest generation of the Polo is the best the badge has ever been, because it finally moves onto a junior version of the Golf’s MQB chassis, giving it a lower centre of gravity and a whole suite of safety, strength and in-car entertainment features the Polo GTI never had before. It’s no toe-in-the-water exercise, either, as some previous Polo GTIs have been. Volkswagen worked on this car for three years – right from the initial stages of the Polo’s planning – and it’s more integrated into the family than it’s ever been. And that shows in the way it feels. It’s lighter than the Golf GTI by 32kg, so even though the angry-ant Golf GTI Performance outpunches it for power (180 to 147kW), it only outpaces the Polo GTI to 100km/h by half a second.

Yes, the 2018 Polo GTI now scores the same 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine as the stock Golf GTI, but with a slight detune that nevertheless brings an uptick over the old model’s 141kW/250Nm 1.8-litre turbo four. Throw in the slightly bigger size (and price) and the Polo GTI is starting to look a lot more convincing than it once did. In fact, close your eyes from the passenger seat of both GTI models, even when they’re being belted around a track, and they’re very, very similar in their characters. The Golf GTI is stronger in the mid-range, the Polo is a bit nimbler in the bendiest bits.

Of course it’s smaller than the Golf, although the sixth-generation Polo finally crosses the four-metre barrier at 4053mm long, and it scores a unique grille and twin exhaust tips, plus some signage on the side. There’s added stability, too, thanks to a 92mm stretch in the wheelbase, and it’s 69mm wider. All that gives it a bigger footprint, which is just the thing for a car that wants to be flung around, but stable while it’s doing it.

Heart of the matter

The engine is a tough little cookie too, with 147kW from 4400rpm to 6000rpm, while its beefier 320Nm of torque arrives at 1500 revs and hangs around until the power takes over the job. That same no-gaps attitude is found everywhere in the car. There are no weak points (other than the $3300 jump in price from the old car) and there’s nothing it doesn’t do at least well, and usually at least well with an added sparkle. Even the jump in price is deceptive, because the sixth-generation Polo offloaded the old three-door bodyshell and moved strictly to a five-door shape, plus there’s no longer the entry-level manual version.

The Polo GTI only runs a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission now, which really makes the price difference just $1000. For that, it actually delivers quite a lot. It’s not just bigger inside, but it’s bigger in its specifications list and its technical features. And it’s also big in its character and it wasn’t that long ago that a 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds was pretty special for this size of car. Hell, it probably still is, and so is a 237km/h top speed.

Natural instincts

It does everything like it was born to do it, not converted to do it. It helps that it was designed from scratch to use optional 18-inch wheels and tyres and big-boy Golf-sized parts, rather than upsizing stuff to fit its old PQ chassis. Handling, for example, is smooth, effortless, agile and sharp, but in a way that always lets you know there’s a level of security underpinning it all. And there is, with autonomous emergency braking going forwards and backwards, with grown-up cruise control, with advanced skid control and the list goes on.

It’s actually more advanced than the Golf GTI in some areas, though it can dull its on-track performance. We found it grabbing the brakes and nudging the steering across whenever we went deep under brakes at the Ascari private race track in Spain, where the Golf GTI just lets you go your hardest. That all felt like bonus safety on the road, though, rather than the slight hindrance on the track. It helped the car remain stable and swallow up any road imperfections or sudden changes in camber or grip without feeling like it was ever under stress.

It’s a deeply unflustered car at its core, at only a slight cost to its entertainment value. Its steering is well weighted and though it could be more informative, it should be remembered that it’s still a small car dealing with a big engine. It’s more nimble than the Golf GTI, whipping through low-speed corners with an alacrity that paces the bigger hatch and only slightly falls behind it in high-speed bends and out of corners in a straight line. It would be an interesting fight, putting a Golf and Polo GTI head-to-head on a road that was just second- and third-gear bends with shortish straights. My money would be on the Polo, especially if it was well driven. – Motoring.com

 

 

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