Until now buyers in Ireland have been denied the Volkswagen Polo GTI. The arrival of this latest generation junior hot hatch joins the Golf to complete the trio of GTI family members, which also includes the cracking up! GTI.
In the metal
There's a subtlety to the Polo GTI, especially one chosen in a darker hue, that unquestionably adds a degree of appeal. It says performance when you look at it, but it's not shouting it in your face. As per the Golf GTI, the front grille carries a small badge and features a red line running through it that extends into the base of the headlights. The way in which the Polo has grown up and out in every direction, it wouldn't be surprising if some thought it was a Golf at first glance.
Unique front and rear bumpers and a rear spoiler differentiate it further. At the back, there's a twin exhaust on one side to highlight its GTI-ness. As standard, the Polo GTI comes with 17-inch five-spoke 'Milton Keynes' alloy wheels, but the car does look even better on the optional 18-inch Brescia rims. The impact on ride quality isn't severe either, making them a worthwhile upgrade to consider. Behind those wheels lurk upgraded brakes, with red callipers on all corners.
Inside, the multifunction wheel looks superb and feels great in your hands. Red stitching and a metallic GTI-badged insert add to the sense of quality. Sports seats up front hold you in place, but are comfortable and soft enough to comfortably use daily and also cover long distances without any aches. In fact, we'd prefer something a bit more race-inspired.
Other nice touches in the cabin include brushed stainless steel pedals and a handbrake lever finished in black leather. Ambient lighting adds to the upmarket feel at night. A splash of red across the dash and surrounding the centre console might not be to everyone's taste, but it ties in well with the iconic GTI tartan seat inserts.
Our test car was equipped with adaptive suspension that enables users to toggle between normal and sport settings for the dampers. When it arrives in Ireland, the Polo GTI will only be available with passive dampers, primarily due to attempts to bring the cost of the car down. We won't go into too much detail about the ride quality with this in mind, but it's worth pointing out that use of the Sport mode during road driving did make it a touch choppy. Better suited to track work we reckon.
As you might expect from Volkswagen, the Polo GTI isn't what you'd call a hooligan. The chassis feels more than capable of handling the performance levels available and the steering setup is well-judged for the car, with safe amounts of understeer coming in only when you start to overcook things. In tighter, more technical sections it manages well. At 1,355kg it's the heaviest Polo in the range, but beefier brakes haul it up in short stopping distances and there's a reasonable amount of feel through the pedal.
Where the Polo GTI works best is on fast flowing roads where the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine gets a chance to stretch its legs. You notice the 320Nm of torque, especially in the higher gears where the engine pulls strongly up to 5,000rpm. Snatch Sport mode on the DSG transmission (there's no manual option for the Polo GTI), and it runs each gear a little longer to eke out the performance. All the while a sonorous, if artificially enhanced, engine tone resonates through the cabin. You can cover ground at a serious rate in the Polo GTI, and the fact that it can do so seemingly with so little fuss is a bonus.
What you get for your money
Buyers of the Polo GTI get much of the same equipment that comes standard in the regular Polo Comfortline. The main items of which include the eight-inch 'Composition Media' infotainment touchscreen display with App Connect, two USB inputs and parking sensors front and rear. Adaptive cruise control features a 'stop and go' function for driving in heavy traffic, too.
Pricing is the make-or-break point for the Volkswagen Polo GTI. With a starting price of €32,395, it's a sizeable chunk of money for a 200hp hatch when you look at what else is available for less money. A Peugeot 208 GTi will save you over €3,000, while the new Fiesta ST should be competitively priced. But what many prospective Polo GTI owners will find tricky to ignore is its big brother, the Golf GTI.
The new VW Polo GTI, in everyday terms, is a lovely thing to drive. It has performance on tap to suit almost any occasion and yet its subtle looks certainly don't scream boy racer. In some ways though it's almost too grown up. Just as senior is the pricing, which is the biggest single thing that could hamstring sales.