Volkswagen Polo GTI (2015) Review

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The Volkswagen Polo GTI has always been a punch-above-its-weight kind of vehicle and now the third iteration of this little flyer has reached our shores. We spent a week with it and the good news is that it continues to be the potent little firecracker with a touch of mature class, just like its predecessors were.

New Engine

The big news this time round is that there’s an all-new engine in the 2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. The popular 1.4 TFSI engine has been replaced by a 1.8-litre turbocharged powerplant. With 141kW and 250Nm, performance is brisk with 100kph coming up in under 7 seconds. Power reaches the front wheels through the venerable DSG (double-clutch) setup. It’s a wicked combination and Polo GTI zips through the gears effortlessly.

We found it strange that the Polo GTI doesn’t feature a form of launch control. If it was fitted, this car would surely nip at the heels of faster and more premium machinery, especially off the line.

Manual Gearbox Coming Soon

More big news is that this generation of Volkswagen Polo GTI will also feature a manual transmission, which arrives in South Africa later this year. While it features the same 1.8-litre engine as its automatic sibling, torque is rated at 320Nm which is 70Nm more.

The difference we’re told is due to the torque limitations on this particular DSG unit. Still, this sounds very exciting and it’ll be cheaper than the auto, but if Golf GTI sales are anything to go by, the DSG models will be the more popular choice.

Refinement Deluxe

On the road, the Volkswagen Polo GTI feels mature and refined. Are these words you’re wanting to hear when thinking of junior hot hatch? We don’t think so. That said, you cannot drive like a hooligan all day long and this is where the Polo GTI shines. For a car marketed as a hot hatch, it’s able to perform well when not being pushed, ie: 90% of the time. Drive the Polo GTI sensibly and you’re likely see reasonable fuel consumption returns too. We regularly saw figures of around 7.8L/100km.

Not As Precise a Performer

The new electrically assisted steering makes life simple as its light, yet direct. The result is point and squirt action to your heart’s content. The electronic XDS system, which uses the traction control to mimic the effects of a mechanical limited slip differential, has been further honed to improve the handling even further and to counter understeer. Essentially, this is a device which makes front-wheel drive cars go faster around corners by making the outside wheel turn faster than the wheel on the inside of the corner. Sounds technical? It is! Is it as involving or as good at cornering as a RenaultSport or ST? Not quite.

Some Drawbacks

As good as the Volkswagen Polo GTI is, there are some drawbacks. The ride is very firm, something we discovered while driving on uneven tarmac. As far as Volkswagen GTI products go, it’s a lot stiffer than most and unless you specify the adaptive suspension, you could be in for a tiring journey if you’re on bad roads. Then there’s the case of its engine note, or lack thereof. It’s not as satisfying as the previous car and the gearshift pops from the DSG are noticeably muted. The boot is also not the biggest and can only offer you 952L of space even with the seats folded down.

Options Fitted To This Vehicle

The vehicle you see here came well specced as standard, with a few additional goodies bolted on. These included metallic paint (R900), panoramic sunroof (R9 200), LED headlights (R11 750), park distance control (R3 050), and rear camera assist (R3 050). This pushed the standard R326 400 price up to R354 350, which is pricey for a vehicle in this segment.

You still get a fair bit of kit fitted as standard. There’s Bluetooth connectivity, USB/aux, SD card input which link up to the touchscreen infotainment screen. There’s also cruise control, heated seats and a decent safety setup consisting of ESP and 4 airbags (optional 6).

Summary and Conclusion

The Volkswagen Polo GTI is a punchy performer and it offers great looks as well as a very premium cabin. It’s somewhat clinical, however, which means it lacks some of the emotion and personality that its rivals have in abundance. While the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio RS both offer similar performance and entertainment, they also make for hands-on and hard daily drives. By comparison, the Polo GTI is a far less strenuous daily driver. It’s a firm ride, for sure, but it feels aimed at a more mature audience who doesn't want to admit they've grown up.

If it’s thrills and outright performance you’re after, then best you head to your Ford dealership and grab yourself a Fiesta ST or pay the folk at Renault a visit. If you’re not that performance inclined and just want something that offers that premium feel, refinement, great build quality and enough grunt to put lesser cars in their place, then the Volkswagen Polo GTI is perhaps the most rounded of all the junior hot hatches. Much like a Golf 7 GTI then…

VW Polo GTI Price in South Africa

1.8 TSI 141 kW GTI DSG                         R326 400

The new Polo GTI comes standard with a 3 year/45 000km Service Plan, 3 year/120 000km warranty and a 12 year anti-corrosion warranty. Service interval is 15 000km.

Second Opinion

I was surprised to find such a firm ride on a Polo GTI, and it shows that Volkswagen wants typical boy racers to take the Polo GTI serious, too. In the end, however, it remains so good because it delivers such strong performance, a great cabin and a measure of entertainment ability in such a mature package.  - Hannes Oosthuizen

We Like: Build quality, refinement, great all-round performer

We Don’t Like: Lack of engine note, not as enthusiastic or dynamic as hoped, pricey

Also consider: Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio RS200, Peugeot 208 GTI, Audi A1

Compare the Volkswagen Polo GTI to the Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio RS200 here

Quick Specs