Volkswagen Polo GTI
What's it about
GTI is synonymous with hot hatches. Although there are many hot hatch badges, such as ST, OPC and RS, none of them, no matter if they are equally good or better than that of the GTI, quite hold the same brand value.
It was with much anticipation that VW expanded the GTI brand to the Polo range. Since the Golf GTI is one of the best-selling premium hot hatches in the country, there were high expectations for the Polo GTI.
VW hoped to breathe new life into the Polo range with the introduction of this car, which is in the golden years of its model life. It happens to be the hottest Polo model to date, with VW squeezing a 1.8-litre turbo-charged engine under the bonnet.
At face value, the Polo definitely looks the GTI part. It shares a number of styling cues with its big brother Golf GTI, including the same prominent honeycomb grille with red lining.
The Polo's alloys were also copied from the Golf, although they are 16-inchers. Another neat feature is the red brake callipers.
Other sporty touches include twin exhaust pipes and a rear roof spoiler.
The interior is also a showcase of sporty details with red stitching on the steering wheel and gear lever. There are aluminium-look finishes on the centre part of the fascia. The Polo GTI's pedals also have a metal finish.
A chequered fabric for the seats, which reminds of the original Golf GTI, gives the Polo a bit of a retro feel. However, it is disappointing that the car doesn't have leather trim, especially since its price tag touches R200 000.
In fact, the Polo's cabin lacks a premium feel, while the Polo's age is also starting to show - the range has been around for five years.
In terms of comfort it comes with all the usual suspects and there is nothing that really stands out. You get air-conditioning and all-round electric windows. Options include a sunroof, cruise-control, sat-nav and a six-disc front-loading CD changer. Even the maintenance plan is optional.
Under the skin
The Polo doesn't use one of VW's latest engines and instead is fitted with the carmaker's ageing 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine.
The 5-valves-per-cylinder turbo-charged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine started its life under an Audi bonnet and did duty in the South African Golf IV GTI too.
Power is 110 kW while and there is 220 Nm of torque arriving at 1 950 r/min. A five-speed manual gearbox comes standard.
Safety gizmos such as ABS and ESP are fitted too.
This engine suits the new range-topping Polo incarnation. The very free-revving turbo engine has enough punch to get the Polo going and it rockets the car of the line to 100km/h in 8.2 seconds.
That is marginally slower than the Fiesta ST, but it doesn't come close its Spanish cousin, the Seat Ibiza Cupra. The Ibiza goes from 0-100 km/h in a claimed 7.3 seconds.
The five-speed manual gearbox is quick and accurate, while the steering is crisp too. Taking the Polo up to speed tackling corners is fun but we can't help to feel that it is lacks a bit of zest.
The Polo chassis isn't the most dynamic either, but the suspension has been reworked and lowered by 15mm.
Overall the car is agile, and the compact dimensions make it an entertaining drive. However, it lacks the Golf GTI's talents. Its Golf brother is more comfortable, composed and just a lot more exciting.
Also the Polo feels its age and its refinement isn't the best anymore.
Road-grip could have been better and the car's rivals, the Fiesta ST and Ibiza Cupra, have more sparkle. Then there is the new Renault Clio RS, with 145 kW on tap, which could just take ownership of the baby hatch segment.
Doesn't do the GTI brand justice
Feels its age
The wild Polo is definitely not the trendsetter its Golf sibling is, but and it could have been more of a thrill seeker. However, it does look as if it means serious business.
The car is expensive too, but the VW brand image always comes at a price. But the Polo GTI is a lively hatchback and should put a smile on most VW fans' faces.