Volkswagen Polo GTI Five-Door review
by David Finlay (3 June 2011)
The GTI is a startling car within the Polo range, but a less surprising one if you look at what else is going on within the Volkswagen Group. By far the most powerful Polo currently available, it uses the same 178bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine and seven-speed semi-automatic DSG gearbox as its close relatives, the SEAT Ibiza Cupra and the Skoda Fabia vRS.
Since all three are built of largely the same stuff - not just in terms of their drivetrains - it may not come as much of a surprise to you that they all feel fairly similar. Their key performance and green statistics are not far away either; the Polo's 142mph top speed, 6.9-second 0-62mph time, 47.9mpg combined fuel economy and 139g/km CO2 emissions are all nearly matched by its Spanish and Czech cousins.
But only nearly. If everyone is playing with a straight bat and the official figures are all correct, the Polo is the best car of the trio by a small margin. And while that doesn't mean much in the first three categories, the slight CO2 advantage means that it falls into a lower Vehicle Excise Duty band, so you'll pay £15 less in tax each year.
You might think that that's not much of a benefit, and I'd agree, particularly because the Polo is, at around £19,000 (slightly below or above depending on whether it has three or five doors), the most expensive of the VW Group hot superminis by a long way. The high-spec Bocanegra version of the Ibiza runs it close, but you can have a Fabia for more than £3000 less than the top Polo.
There had better be good reasons for this. And yes, there are good reasons for this, though not many. First, the Polo is, to me, the best-looking of the bunch. Second, it feels like the quality choice; it's not that the SEAT or Skoda are sub-standard, just that the VW is a shade more refined and seems more solidly built.
Third, the Polo is the best to drive, for one very specific reason. It has nothing to do with performance, or ride quality, or cornering ability, or the workings of the DSG box (which isn't ideal for trackdays but works very well on the road).
No, it's simply about the feel of the steering. The Fabia's is slightly over-assisted, the Ibiza's more so. Volkswagen asks you, the driver, to put in a greater proportion of the effort yourself, and although you don't have to work particularly hard as a result you do get more feedback. The SEAT and Skoda feel almost like arcade games; the Volkswagen feels like a real car with real tyres searching for grip on real tarmac.
I realise that none of this makes a strong case for spending so much money on the Polo when you get more or less the same car for much less. In the end, I'd have to say that if you can easily afford the Polo, that's the one you should buy because it's the best. If you're on a tight budget, buy the Skoda. If money isn't quite so critical and you want something better-looking than the Fabia, buy the SEAT.
And of course it would also be worth checking out the rather fine - and conceptually very similar - Abarth Punto Evo. But now I'm just confusing the matter.