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2006-10-17 10:01

The Polo GTI is the spiritual successor to the original trend-setting Golf GTI

John Oxley

And after a day with the car in and around Uitenhage, in the Eastern Cape, as well as six laps of the Aldo Scribante Raceway in Port Elizabeth - in the rain - we can tell you VW has got yet another winner on its hands.

With a face taken straight from the iconic Golf GTI the new Polo version certainly looks the part.

It gets the Golf's GTI branded honeycomb grille with red detail lines and dramatic black surrounds extending down into the bumper.

Black side skirts make the car look sleeker and lower, while big 16 inch Denver wheels shod with 205/45 R16 tyres fill the wheel arches. A neat GTI feature is the red brake callipers which can be seen through the wheel spokes.

At the rear there's a top spoiler containing an integrated third brake light, plus neat chromed twin exhaust pipes.

The Polo GTI, which is made in the VWSA plant in Uitenhage, is close to the size of the original Golf GTI - the car that started the "hot hatchback" craze, and which itself created a huge cult following - and it is expected the Polo GTI will generate the same sort of interest.

And this is one reason why its designers have gone "back to the past" in terms of interior trim, offering the same plaid "Interlagos" design cloth inserts found on the original GTI.

However the rest of the inside is bang up to date, with an interior styling package that offers the enthusiast a real sporty look and feel.

The car gets sport seats, a three-spoke sports steering wheel, leather finish on the gear shift knob and gaiter, as well as the handbrake grip.

There's also a high quality aluminium-look plastic on the centre console and air vents, while aluminium-look pedals complete the sporty interior.

Standard specification on the new Polo GTI includes ESP, remote central locking, disc brakes front and rear with red callipers, climate control air conditioning, electric windows front and rear, and single MP3 compatible CD player and sports suspension.

Options include a sunroof, cruise control, radio/navigation system, front CD changer and the comprehensive Volkswagen Automotion maintenance plan.

On the road

The 5-valves-per-cylinder turbo-charged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine started its life under an Audi bonnet, but it works particularly well in this latest range-topping Polo incarnation.

A very free-revving unit, it rockets the little Polo off the line in just 8.2 seconds - more than two seconds faster than the original Golf GTI - and on to a top speed of 216 km/h. The good news, though, is that it averages just 7.8 litres/100 km!

And it's a little gem on the road. Ride quality is surprisingly good, and the chassis is very agile - as we found out pretty quickly when we came across an unexpected, and very large, pothole washed out by the recent heavy rains in the Eastern Cape.

A quick left, right, left flick and we were past without any danger, though anything less predictable than the Polo would have thumped into the hole and flattened at least the tyre, if not the wheel!

Later, on a race track wet but not streaming - but with lots of standing water - we found the car still able to find lots of grip to the point where the brakes became hot and stinky after our allotted three flying laps.

And the car could still be held in a lovely drift through some of the faster corners, without the traction control coming in (it's a matter of keeping things smooth).

That, and the fact that the latest setup is upgraded to allow more driver input without interference from the electronics.

Talking of the brakes, they started to fade a bit at the end of our sessions, but that was on the second round, which meant they had been driven by a dozen journalists.

But they quickly came back up again once cooled down, testimony to a well-balanced and sturdy set-up that's more than able to cope with everyday demands.

Steering was crisp and positive, and the 5-speed gearbox as slick and clean as expected.

At the moment there are no plans to put the DSG twin-clutch auto into the Polo, and nor is a 3-door version imminent - the current 5-door is the only one on offer.

But as VWSA marketing boss Mike Glendinning admitted: "Anything is possible in the future!"

Who, after all, would have expected the GTI badge to appear on anything else but Golf?

Price: R188 700.

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