Updated: January 29, 2020
On the road again. On the wrong side of the road again. But there are good news, too. I had a sweet chance to lay my hands on a very nice, brand new Volkswagen Polo GTI, painted bright and shiny red, with a 2.0-liter engine under the hood, producing some 200 chipper horses. This means we will be having a nice little review right here, and tons of great pics.
Over the years, Polo has grown quite some. Not just in physical dimensions, which it sure has, but also in its identity and the message it conveys to the buyers. It's transformed from a somewhat shy and reserved mini hatch to a mature, confident and not-too-small family car, with the robust, effortless quality and seriousness of its bigger sibling, the Golf. The latest model, Mk.6, is also the first version to include a 2.0-liter engine, which promises lots of future growth (previous Polos had smaller units). The question is, has this growth harmed the fun factor? Well, I've got me here a 2019 Polo GTI 5dr DSG model, and it's time for a road test.
On paper, the minified Golf GTI is a no-nonsense hot hatch with a four-cylinder TSI engine, displacing just under 2,000 cc, with 200 HP and 320 Nm of torque. With the DSG transmission, the acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes 6.7 seconds, similar to its rivals. In fact, this is very much like the Opel Corsa OPC I've tested a few years back. But the numbers only tell a part of the story, because the perceived dynamic feel, of how the power is delivered to the road, is equally if not more important. We will talk about this later.
The GTI kit is similar to the R Line trim you get on the ordinary Polo (which comes with smaller engines), but comes with some extra perks, including by default 17-inch alloys, parking sensors front and rear, Hill Hold, electrically foldable heated mirrors, and 8-inch touch screen multimedia system with USB connectivity. But wait, there's more! You also get red soft plastic insets in the dashboard, which complement the red steering wheel stitching and the extremely comfy and huggy Jacara cloth seats. If you're wondering what Jacara stands for, yes, those are the awesome tartan seats dating back to Golf GTI Mk.1, so you get a dose of supreme 1970s nostalgia in the bargain. And don't forget red brake callipers. With the exterior color ALSO being red, this is a very melodious and elegantly themed vehicle. The security kit is also fairly impressive, including a 5-star crash rating, six airbags, automatic emergency braking (AEB), i.e. front collision detection, and blind spot assist for all driving regimes.
My test model was also equipped with a panoramic sunroof, Discover navigation system - which does not have Internet connectivity, but if you connect it to a hotspot, like a mobile phone, it will offer real-time traffic updates - 18-inch laser-cut alloy wheels, and a rear-view camera, a package worth some 2,000 imperial specie, half of which is just the glass roof thingie. We shall discuss how these bits and pieces behave as we go along. Or rather, drive along. Hi hi.
If you glance at the new Polo GTI and then quickly look away, you will be forgiven if you think it's a Golf. Because it looks more like one than ever before. Mk.6 is a bigger car, having crossed the 4-meter treshhold. It's 8 cm longer, 7 cm wider and comes with 9 cm extra wheelbase than the previous model. This surplus bulk translates nicely into a beefy, solid presence. Very pretty, too.
The GTI styling introduces, in addition to the actual mechanical changes, a more aggressive stance overall, which is noticeable from the bumper details, lowered suspension by 15 mm and the chromified twin exhaust. The thing is, despite the sporty finish, Polo GTI still looks fairly reserved and classy, so if you need the street creds during the night and a more somber mien during the day, you're all covered.
Posh. That's the best word to describe the interior. The flat-bottomed steering wheels is chunky, and feels just right. You get a nice, honest hand-operated parking brake, none of that electronic tomfoolery. By default, there's no climate control, only three old-school switches. Oddly, they feel right in the Jacara-clad interior, as they help convey the retro feel. Plus, unlike many manufacturers moving aircon buttons into touchscreens, Polo retains the manual setup, which is easier to operate without taking your eyes off the road.
I was surprised by the amount of cabin space. Plenty of room up front is trivial, but there's also loads in the back too, probably because of the increased wheelbase. With a 180cm guy sitting in the front seat, there was still plenty of room for my knees right behind, and my own height also happens to clock above the magical 180cm figure. In contrast, similar legroom arrangement was difficult in a BMW 218d Cabriolet, which I tested a few months back. True, the two aren't directly comparable, but it's an indication that external physical dimensions don't fully reflect how the inside is done, and it can be done cleverly.
Up front, the sport seats are also amazing. Very close to the supreme Recaros in the Corsa OPC. They hold and hug comfortably. In comparison, in the R Line models, the seats do have extra lumbar grip, but they are ever so less perfectly molded, and as a consequence, you don't feel them gripping quite as snugly. The only thing that could be improved is to have the actual seat part one or two centimeters longer. You do have the ability to adjust them how you see fit - well, not the million-dimension setup like in the BMW 330d - the levers are all manual.
At the far end, opposite, the boot space is adequate. There's an adjustable floor panel, which you can completely remove, if you like, or gently depress to gain extra volume. You can also stow things underneath, but most of it will be taken by the spare wheel, if you've got one. In the default position, you get a flat load compartment. The capacity stands at 351 liters, which means roughly two large suitcases plus change.
The infotainment system is also solid. Like most new cars, the connectivity element has become far more central to the car experience than ever before. Of course, there are apps, and you can hotspot and whatnot, or you can just ignore all of that, and just enjoy what the car has to offer. And that amounts to a touch-based, crystal-clear system that's fast and intuitive. The navigation system is precise, and it will even tell you which lane to be in when approaching junctions or roundabouts. The music player works fine, without any fuss. There's load of extra "apps" you can use, including detailed views of your car state and such. The only minus is that the screen can get greasy and smudgy from fingers, and you do need to see what you're doing, as you can't really feel what you're touching. In a way, with touch, you're out of touch. Hi hi.
Fantastic. The little Polo has it all - tight dynamics, speed, aurals. It's a combination of all these factors that make the GTI so fun to drive. The acceleration from 0-100 km/h isn't spaceship like in BMW 330d or the phenomenal M4, where you can feel the power coming behind you in a WARP-like gust. Instead, Polo has the typical less-sensational nose tug, but it complements this one with pleasant (if slightly synthetically boosted) exhaust noise.
Polo GTI was sure-footed in all conditions - motorway, B roads, swervy C roads, and the city. You can take it easy if you like, or drive aggressively. The steering is precise, the braking sharp, and there's little to no sway through corners. While the suspension is set stiff, it's not really a biggie. The only thing that stands out is if you roll over a pot hole, you can feel the perturbation over the back axle. This affects all small cars with a short wheelbase, as the chassis typically doesn't have enough time to harmonize the vertical shockwave.
The driving position is excellent. All snug. You feel the seat gripping you, holding you tight, which means you'll be fresh and relaxed even after a prolonged drive. Taller people might want to lower the seat. For someone like me, equipped with T-Rex short arms and Edward Longshanks long legs, finding a truly comfortable setting isn't always trivial, especially with manual cars, but with DSG, plus Polo's steering that comes out and down handsomely, I had no complaints. RHD notwithstanding, there's no pedal offset.
If for any reason things get boring, then you will love the Drive Mode Selection. There's a dedicated button for that, albeit too close to the Start & Stop and the TC off buttons near the gear lever, but then correctly positioned toward the driver, and not like in Golf R, where it was set for when the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and by that, I mean left. Anyway, press it, and you can then adjust the car's behavior. Eco is boring, so ignore it. Normal is what you get by default. Sport makes everything more fun. The suspension and steering turns stiffer, the car drops a cog and tries to keep higher revs, and when you slow down, there's a really nice throttle blip, befitting cars with far more horses than 200 present and accounted for here.
You can also tune the car's settings individually - like fast throttle and soft steering and such. Then, if you're still bored, you can also activate the Performance Monitor. It comes with three dials, which display, in a fashion akin to the good ole 80s turbo-powered sports cars, various engine metrics, including turbocharger pressure, acceleration (longitudinal and lateral g force) and the engine power rating. Say you press the pedal down, you'll see values from anything like 30 KW to 120 KW, all the way to the max. available output. It can also give you an indication of what kind of work is needed in different driving regimes. Educational and fun at the same time!
In the city, especially on Britain's less-than-modern roads, Polo's small dimensions make for a comfy, nippy treat. Parking is ultra-easy, because a) the size of the car shouldn't matter b) parking sensors + camera offer good visibility. Overall, not a necessity for a small hatchback, as what you see is what you get, but then it doesn't hurt. The sensors have a pleasant sound and aren't too jittery, and the camera comes with guide lines, so you can snuggle into tight spaces with flair and elegance.
Fuel consumption is moderate - but it depends on your foot sensitivity. If you're highway a-cruisin', then you'll see something like 6 liters/100 km. In a combined cycle, with some aggressiveness plus A/C, you're most likely to use about 7-8 liters/100 km. With a 45-liter tank, this gives you 600-700 km range, which ain't too bad. But a bigger tank would work well - for instance, my SEAT Leon 1.8 TSI had a 55-liter one, and it was really practical.
Nope, nothing. The car did everything dilligently.
Volkswagen Polo GTI is a wonderful car. It comes with a perfect blend of everything - small physical size with a plush, comfy, spacious interior, great looks with a nostalgia twist, solid equipment, an excellent and powerful engine with a dependable and fast gearbox, and a reasonable price. Perhaps it's not the most suitable choice for people whom procreation is the primary objective, and they need excess lugagge space, but it's absolutely adequate for 95% of uses. Kind of aligns with what Jeremy Clarkson said about Golf GTI being the most car you'll ever need, or something along those lines.
Perhaps in the olden days, Polo was just a mini-hatch, but now it's matured, become independent of its bigger brethren, and it comes with a new, extensible platform and a drivetrain that has loads of room to grow even more. That makes mid-gen lift, limited editions and future versions bound to be extra fun. If you need a car that can be leisurely and wicked, practical and sporty, turn a head and not bleed your budget, Polo GTI seems like an ideal choice. I'm very happy. 10/10. P.S. While I'm quite possible the most honest and objective reviewer of all things in the universe, I did buy a VW Group share or two back in the day, so please take everything I've written with a side dish of healthy, intellectual skepticism.