It might only be a facelift, but Volkswagen has made some very significant changes to the 2015 Polo GTI. Out goes the 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged engine and in comes a 1.8-litre turbo. Not only that, but the once default DSG automatic gearbox is now an option, with a trusty six-speed manual found in the standard car.
This might not seem like engineering progress, but hot hatches have always relied on a pretty simple recipe of squeezing a big engine into a small car. So, can these changes actually make the maligned Polo GTI as well regarded as the Golf GTI?
This is more like it. While the outgoing GTI was brisk, its power delivery was often a bit spikey, unpredictable even. The larger 1.8-litre has no such issues, picking up smartly at low revs and providing a constant surge of power which actually seems to take on a new lease of life over 4,000rpm. The figures are 189bhp (an 11bhp increase) and 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds, beating the Ford Fiesta ST by 0.2 seconds.
On the road it’s the in-gear acceleration which impressed us most though, with 320NM of pulling power giving the Polo impressive overtaking ability for a supermini. Press the ‘Sport’ button (a surprisingly good value £245 option we’d definitely choose) and the throttle response is sharper, while engine noise in the cabin is also amplified. The automatic version’s engine has a limited torque output to protect its inner workings, but it still manages a 6.7 seconds 0-62mph sprint thanks to its quicker gearshifts.
Ride and Handling
Hit ‘Sport’ and the dampers firm up noticeably, the steering is heavier and handling is noticeably tighter
While the changes aren’t as dramatic, Volkswagen has also tweaked the Polo’s chassis, and again we’d recommend splashing out on the ‘Sport’ button. With it off, this is one of the most comfortable hot superminis, with a smoother ride than the Fiesta ST, but a touch more body roll. Hit ‘Sport’ and the dampers firm up noticeably, the steering is heavier and handling is noticeably tighter. The GTI has an XDS+ electronic differential, which can brake an inside front wheel to improve cornering, but the Polo will eventually understeer if you push too hard. It also can’t improve traction out of corners with quite the iron fist of the Performance Pack-equipped Vauxhall Corsa VXR. The Polo GTI is a great road car, with enough pliancy to soak up bumpy roads, enough grip and power to keep you thoroughly entertained and a calm demeanour when you want to drive normally. It’s less of a track day car than the Fiesta ST and Corsa VXR, so which model appeals to you will largely depend on your driving habits.
Interior and Equipment
The Volkswagen Polo G40 of the late 80s and early 90s featured a supercharged 1.3-litre petrol engine and could reach 62mph in 8.1 seconds, before hitting a 121mph top speed.
The Polo’s interior is one of its greatest strengths, with a real sense of quality and the same 6.5-inch colour touch-screen infotainment system found in the Golf. With a proximity sensor and pinch and swipe, it’s a joy to use and as with every VW, the interior is logically laid out and easy to get used to. Being a GTI there’s an attractive leather sports steering wheel and design trinkets like the ‘Clark’ tartan cloth sports seats, which trace their heritage back to the 1976 Mk1 Golf GTI. They aren’t too hard or uncomfortable, but large side bolsters provide ample support in corners. Adjustability is good, with reach and rake for the steering column and height adjustment for the driver’s seat. Available in both a three- and five-door, we’d go for the latter if you plan on using the rear seats for passengers or child seats, as the three door has quite long and heavy doors. Once in the back, there’s decent leg and headroom for a supermini, while the boot measures 280 litres.
Fuel economy is rated at 50.4mpg, while emissions of 139g/km are impressively low for such a sporty car.
The Polo GTI starts from just under £19k for the three-door manual, so it’s close to the Fiesta ST-2 and Corsa VXR on price. Volkswagen’s typically have strong resale values, so this should help with its longer term running costs too. Fuel economy is rated at 50.4mpg, while emissions of 139g/km (47.1mpg and 129g/km for the DSG automatic) are impressively low for such a sporty car. The Fiesta ST should cost a similar amount to run, but the Corsa VXR is pricier, with a high CO2 figure of 174g/km.
With supple suspension and a grown-up demeanour the Polo GTI isn’t as sharp as close rivals like the ST and VXR, but it’s more comfortable and a very rewarding road car. If you’re after a hot hatch to take on track, it won’t be quite hardcore enough for you, but if like many of us you have to spend most of your time driving in traffic, the Polo is a very good place to be.