REVIEW: Volkswagen Polo GTI

Upon its release in 2011, the Volkswagen Polo GTI completely blew the performance car market wide open.

Never before had you been able to buy this sort of speed - 0-100km/h in under seven seconds, sub-15sec quarter mile - for so little money.

It won two Bang for your Bucks titles by such a margin that we didn't know if anything would ever be released that could beat it!

The market responded, of course, as it always does, and the updated Polo GTI faces a much tougher test than when the original surfaced with the sector to itself four years ago.

Opel's Corsa OPC came and went, but there's still the Peugeot 208 GTi, Renault Sport Clio RS and, of course, Ford's wonderful Fiesta ST to beat if the baby Vee Dub wants to recapture its title.

Helping its cause is a new 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, a destroked version of the EA888 engine in its Golf GTI big brother.

Paired with the carryover seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, it produces 141kW, nine kW than the old 1.4-litre twin-charge engine, but torque remains the same at 250Nm, though it is now spread from 1250-5300rpm (previously 2000-4500rpm).

The big news, however, is the ability to choose a six-speed manual gearbox. Doing so doesn't just add a third pedal in the footwell but spreads peak power from 4300-6200rpm rather than 5400-6200rpm in the DSG and increases torque by a huge 70Nm, 320Nm on tap from 1450-4200rpm.

It's a muscular engine and endows the new Polo GTI with a serious turn of speed. VW claims 6.7sec 0-100km/h for both gearboxes, but we wouldn't be surprised if both manage to beat that claim.

The manual, in particular, doesn't feel that much slower than a Golf GTI, which makes sense given its lighter mass (1234kg) makes the two cars' power-to-weight ratios very similar.

It doesn't sound particularly special, but it revs strongly past its 6000rpm redline and is incredibly flexible, with virtually no lag.

The gearbox is light and easy to use, though not as slick as that in the Golf, with across-the-gate shifts (e.g 2-3 or 4-5) occasionally needing patience.

As you'd expect, the Polo is a calmer and more refined car on the road than the Fiesta ST, though a back-to-back assessment will be required before it can be given the nod over its French rivals, as there's a fair degree of 'hop' over bumps and compressions.

Unfortunately, the adaptive dampers that are optionally available in Europe will not be coming here, as VW can't make the sums add up.

Sadly, the chosen drive route didn't allow for much in the way of dynamic assessment, but initial impressions are the Polo GTI remains a fun device, though not able to offer the laugh-out-loud enjoyment of the Fiesta.

The agile, adjustable chassis offers plenty of grip thanks to wheels 0.5-inch wider all-'round and grippy Continental tyres.

ESP still can't be fully disabled, but there is now a Sport mode, and it allows enough latitude to not be a huge hindrance, on the road at least.

Sadly, where the Polo GTI has taken a backwards step is steering. While accurate enough, the now electrically-assisted tiller doesn't offer the feedback and communication of the old hydraulic rack.

It's not a deal-breaker, but it is a shame, particularly when the steering in the Golf GTI is so good.

What is good news is that thanks to having to shift gears yourself, the Polo GTI is more affordable than ever, with the manual starting at $27,490 with DSG an extra $2500 at $29,990.

An optional Driver Assistance Package adds sat-nav, parking sensors, a rear camera and a driver fatigue detection system for $1700, and the $3300 Luxury Package includes heated leather seats, LED headlights and a sunroof.

Faster and more affordable than ever, the Polo GTI continues to play near the pointy end of the baby hot hatch market. Whether it'll be enough to take a third Bang for your Bucks title, we'll find out in a few months' time.

4/5

Specs
Engine:
1798cc four-cylinder, DOHC, 16, turbocharger
Power: 141kW @ 4300-6200rpm (manual)/5400-6200rpm (DSG)
Torque: 320Nm @ 1450-4200rpm (manual/250Nm @ 1250-5300rpm (DSG)
Gearbox: Six-speed manual/seven-speed dual-clutch
Weight: 1234kg (manual)1242kg (DSG)
0-100km/h: 6.7sec (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 6.1L/100km (manual)/5.7L/100km (DSG)
Price: $27,490 (manual/$29,990 (DSG)

Click here to read the full range review of the Volkswagen Polo.

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