Volkswagen Polo GTI Manual (2015) Review

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Like the maturity of the VW Polo GTI, but desire a bit more engagement? The new six-speed manual version could be just the ticket.


 - Return of a six-speed manual gearbox

 - 70 Nm more torque than the DSG

 - Great combo of zest, practicality and quality

No… your eyes are not misleading you. We’ve already had a go in the revised Polo GTI earlier this year, and it was painted in exactly the same (and rather attractive) Blue Silk colour. So why another, then? Well, the car tested here is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, as opposed to the DSG (dual-clutch) version that debuted first. We lamented the fact that the first (DSG) model lacked in the driver engagement stakes, so the opportunity to be more “hands-on” as a result of the fitment of the manual transmission should make this Polo GTI a better driver’s car right?

Honey I Shrunk The Golf GTI” looks

The current-generation Polo is ageing remarkably well, and following its recent facelift looks especially sharp in GTI form. It’s very conservative at its core, and quite chunky compared with the more flowing lines of later arrivals, but with all its GTI bits and pieces, it looks handsome and every bit the junior Golf GTi that Volkswagen wants it to be – mature, yet sporty. Of course, the five-door body has considerable practicality benefits – the Polo’s two main manual-gearbox rivals, the Ford Fiesta ST and Peugeot 208 GTi, are only offered in the three-door shape.

You have to keep in mind, however, that the Polo GTI’s good looks do come at somewhat of a cost. The lovely paint colour of this test car adds R900, the Light & Vision package a further R3 700, the Panoramic sunroof costs R9 200 and the LED headlamps a whopping R11 750. All-in-all, the Polo GTI as tested costs over R350 000, and that’s plenty of money for a Polo.

Inside, it’s a similar story, with finishes that put all other cars competing in this segment to shame. To make the GTI feel special, there are figure-hugging seats, a different steering wheel and… of course, that manual gearlever. Our test car’s standard features package was further bolstered by the addition of Park Distance Control (R3 050), Rear Assist/Camera (R3 050), Climatronic air-conditioning (R3 550) and the Sport Select function (R4 200).

In fact, given the price, colleague Ciro de Siena’s latest video suggests you may also want to look at buying a used Golf 6 GTI for the same amount of money. View that video here…

But let’s compare apple with apples – the Polo GTI is more practical and of a higher perceived quality than its main rivals, yet looks suitably upmarket and sporty, too.

Strong mid-range thrust

Like the DSG model, the manual-gearbox Polo GTI is powered by Volkswagen’s 1.8-litre turbopetrol four-cylinder engine. It delivers 141 kW from 4 200 to 6 200 rpm and 320 Nm of torque from a low 1 450 to 4 200 rpm. The torque figure represents a 70 Nm improvement over what is offered in the DSG-equipped car, and that torque curve stretches very wide, promising great flexibility.

Interestingly, Volkswagen claims exactly the same headline performance figures for the two models – a top speed of 236kph and a 0-100kph time of 6.7 seconds. Of course, the DSG-equipped model is easier to launch and achieve that claimed time, but it has to be said that once it gets going, the manual version feels notably brawnier. And compared with its predecessor (the 1.4-litre turbocharged model) it feels far more responsive and also sounds more entertaining – quite a deep growl.

The gearbox itself is a typical Volkswagen unit… in other words it doesn’t like to be rushed and feels quite “un-sporty” when stepping out of something like a Ford Fiesta ST. Some of our testers also felt that the gearlever was placed too low. Still, the mere fact that it is there, combined with the impressive power from the engine, means that the Polo GTI is indeed a far more engaging junior hot hatch to drive than any Polo of recent memory.

Surprisingly stiff ride

Compared with a standard Polo the GTI is 10 and 15mm lower in the front and the rear respectively, and the anti-roll bars are significantly stiffer too. Our test unit, however, also came with the optional “Sport Select” suspension system, which further firms up the dampers when the Sport button on the facia is pressed. You’ll also notice that steering then becomes a bit meatier, and the engine sound more pronounced.

Drive around without the Sport Select mode being activated, and the ride is already surprisingly firm for a Polo, a clear indication that Volkswagen wanted this model to be a bit edgier than its woolly predecessors. In truth, even with the Sport button pressed, the Polo GTI never feels quite as light on its tyres as a Ford Fiesta ST, for example, but there’s definitely fun to be had. The grip levels are very high, and because the drivetrain is so responsive and, yes, because there’s a manual transmission, it’s a pleasant car to grab by the scruff of the neck and drive hard over a challenging piece of tarmac.

Conclusion and Summary

The Polo GTI appears pricey on the face of it, but it is quite easily the most complete car of its type. Practical, well-built, fast and now quite entertaining to drive, it covers all the bases exceptionally well. Ultimately a Fiesta ST is more fun, but if you’re looking for a more mature offering, you can’t beat this Polo GTI.

Volkswagen Polo GTI Price in South Africa

The Volkswagen Polo GTI costs R313 300 and comes with a three-year/120 000 km warranty and three-year/45 000 km service plan.

Second Opinion

Sticking a manual lever in the Polo and adding a noticeable amount of torque has given this Polo GTI more character. It keeps you on your toes as it breaks traction under power easier and is more engaging than the DSG. - Ashley Oldfield 

We like the Polo GTI and what it offers, and the addition of the manual transmission has given it an added appeal. It's great fun to drive and brimming with enthusiasm and personality. Most entertaining, but the price will raise some eyebrows. -David Taylor

We Like: Performance, Quality, Ride/handling balance

We don’t Like: Pricey, gearlever placement

Also consider: Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio RS200 Lux (dual-clutch), Peugeot 208 GTi

Compare the Volkswagen Polo GTI with the Ford Fiesta ST and Peugeot 208 GTI here

Volkswagen Polo GTI manual - Quick Specs