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Polo GTI: Less really IS more!

2011-04-07 06:51

WITHOUT THE PLATE... would you be able to tell that the Polo GTI isn't its bigger brother?

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Volkswagen
Model Polo 1.4 TSI GTI (turbo and supercharger)
Engine Transverse four-cylinder, quad-valve, 1390cc
Power 132kW @ 6200rpm
Torque 250Nm 2000-4500rpm
Transmission 7-speed DSG
Zero To Hundred 6.9sec (same as Golf GTI)
Top Speed 229km/h
Fuel Tank 45 litres
Fuel Consumption 5.9 litres/100km (claimed)
Weight 1269kg
Boot Size 204 litres
Airbags Yes
Tyres 7J 17" alloys shod with 215/40 tyres
Front Suspension Struts, , wishbone, anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension Struts, torsion beam, trailing arm axle
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan Option, five years or 60 000km
Warranty 3 years or 120 000km
Price R259 000
Rivals Alfa Mito 1.4 T 3dr, Opel Corsa 1.6 OPC 3dr, Renault Clio 2.0 RS 3dr

Les Stephenson

While the world dithers on and on about global warming the alleged villain of the piece – the auto industry – goes right on trying to clean up its act. VW’s new Polo GTI, one hot little hussy of a hatch, is a shining example of tech beating talk.

Frankly, after a couple of hundred kays through the Western Cape’s mountains in the new car, the obvious question arose: why, oh why, spend an extra eighty grand on a bloated Golf GTI when the lightweight Polo has 132kW and the exact same 6.9sec 0-100 time as its bigger brother?

Oh yeah, and its a four-door so loading the kids for school will not be a morning mission. And the car shares the Golf GTI’s big rims with their five U-shaped cutouts.

The price might seems a trifle daunting (R259 000) but then it’s not as costly as two of its obvious three immediate competitors (each of them a two-door hatch): Opel’s Corsa 1.6 OPC is R259 790 and Renault’s Clio 2.0 RS R259 900.

Less expensive is Alfa’s MiTo 1.4T Distinctive at R248 022 but then it’s not a GTI…


Only the Clio is more powerful (147kW) with its two-litre engine but it still can’t beat the Polo’s 6.9sec 0-100 (their times are identical). The Polo bests all three on torque (250Nm), acceleration, top speed (229km/h), fuel consumption (5.9 litres/100km) and CO2 emissions (139g/km, which makes it the cleanest GTI yet).

Those with a good memory might recall that the previous Polo had a 1.8-litre engine and was about R14 000 cheaper than this its successor. It was also 30Nm down on torque, 22kW down on power, 1.3sec slower to 100, 13km/h down on top speed and nearly two litres/100 thirstier.

As I said in the intro, the auto industry is doing something about global warming… but wait, there’s more, according to VW…


The extra power that comes with the addition of a supercharger AND a turbo to the diminutive 1.4-litre, four-cylinder engine, the seven-speed auto/manual sequential gearbox, full (heatable) leather, multi-function steering wheel, parking radar, transverse differential (see image in gallery) and tyre pressure monitoring are, VW says, worth R40 000.

At the risk of the usual coarse comments about “how much were you paid to write that?”, is that a bargain, or what for a hot version of the car that won the World Car of the Year, the European Car of the Year and half of the upscrewed South African Car of the Year titles?

THE GOLF GTI'S BIG LITTLE BROTHER: Big wheels fill its wheel arches but can the Polo GTI fill the same boots as the Golf GTI? In most ways, yes it can - while saving you R80 000.

It’s so well-specced that the only options are a sliding sunroof, curtain/head crash bags and rear parking radar. And anybody who wants a sunroof in the SA climate, well… And here's a thought for the autoboffins: whacking the paddles through seven cogs is hard to keep track of and the electronic shift position number displayed on most such cars' instrument panels is too small for checking at a glance so why not have a satnav-type voice announce the changes as they are made?

VW SA says a two-door version might be possible but there is no alternative to the DSG box – which is a pity, because a six-speed manual would be a dream in this fully-imported, lightweight rocket that proves you can still have fun in a performance car without writing off Mother Earth.

And anyway, what’s the point of getting your automotive moral knickers in a knot what the Chinese are pumping out 10-million cars a day and drowning in their own smog?

But back to the Polo GTI: Big it isn’t but it WILL seat four if the front occupants don’t mind bending their knees a bit. It’s 3676mm long, 1682mm wide and 1452mm high (15mm less than the standard car) – which is why I described the Golf as bloated. It’s nearly 54cm longer 10cm wider but only 1.7cm higher.

It also has only a six-speed manual or DSG ‘box; my feeling is that the Polo’s seven-speed is to reduce stress on the 1.4 engine; the Golf is a two-litre turbo.

The Polo GTI has an extensive list of standard equipment, including aluminium-look pedals, power windows and external mirrors, auto aircon, fog lights, front and side crash bags and IsoFix anchors for kiddie seats.

DOESN'T DO BLOATED: The Polo GTI is more than half a metre shorter than the Golf but it has a much bigger heart...

There’s also cruise control, a comprehensive audio system with MP3 functionality and six speakers, power headlight adjustment, height and reach adjustment on the leather-wrapped steering wheel with its audio and other controls.

As a package, the fast Polo is brilliant, its mountain pass-taming ability enhanced by VW’s electronic differential lock (as on the Golf) that tames understeer. Build quality is immaculate and nothing’s been spared on matching the Golf GTI’s red-stitching, black highlights identity.

It’s fast and nimble but, frankly, not recommended for Johnny or Jane’s first car. VW is aiming to sell just short of 600 Polo GTI’s during the balance of 2011 – handing the cars out to inexperienced drivers could well increase that number, courtesy of the insurance companies.

And that despite “generously dimensioned” brakes and traction control, anti-lock brakes, wheelspin control, the electronic diff lock and tyre pressure monitors.

You have been warned.

Three colours are available – red, silver and blue - as well as white, black and deep black though why anybody would want a GTI in anything but red escapes me.


The VW Polo GTI is sold with a three-year or 120 000km warranty and a 12-year anti-rust through warranty. Optional are a five-year or 60 000km maintenance plan and a five-year or 60 000km service plan.

Service intervals 15 000km.

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