Twelve months has now passed since Rich Gooding unexpectedly bought his 2001 Polo GTI. 10,000 miles have now passed under its wheels – how does it compare to his previous, cosseted and much-loved 1993 Polo GT?
The saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ couldn’t be more apt when it comes to the speed at which the 12 months that sum up my first year of Polo GTI ownership has gone by. Bought in a rare moment of madness (or maybe clear thinking) on 12 September 2011, I had my doubts as to whether it could drive in the tyre tracks of my 167,000-mile 1993 Polo GT coupé, which, at the time, I had owned for the previous 12 years. While not always faithful, the GT had almost become part of me, and we’d definitely had some fun adventures. But, it was getting unreliable, and the lure of stepping onto the first step of GTI ownership ladder proved too much to resist.
Surprised at how cheap fully-loaded early Polo GTIs are (prices start from around £1000 for a well-worn car), I found Y464 GHJ on eBay, and as it was up the road in Colchester, I thought I’d take a look. Not the most perfect example, but with only 67,000 original miles, an OK interior and mark-free BBS wheels, a deal was done. Incidentally, I wanted a car that had the standard red fabric interior, as opposed to the optional black leather, which, surprisingly, a lot of owners seemed to specify. The 2000-2002 Polo GTI is a bit of an anomaly – different badge, seat belt and interior door card colour combinations mean there are a surprising number of variations between the 3393 cars imported.
Unsurprisingly, the GTI is a much better car than the GT. Based on the award-winning Mk 3 Polo from 1994, the 2000-2002 Polo is a completely different beast from the rather agricultural Mk 2/2F, which can trace its roots back to the Mk 1 from 1975. That it was going to be more refined was a natural given, but it still surprises me. Y464 does my sometime 160-mile round commute to Bauer Media’s offices in Peterborough very well, soothing on the motorway, yet fun enough when the going isn’t quite so, literally, straightforward. I’ve said before, the Polo GTI has never been at the forefront of incisive hot hatch dynamics, but I reckon for 90 per cent of owners, it’s fine.
I’m surprised by the economy, too. A 125bhp 1.6-litre engine in a 1084kg body lends itself to unsurprisingly brisk performance, but an average of 40mpg (close to VW’s official figure) is regularly achievable. Of course, a lot of that defends on the types of roads encountered, but regular motorway schleps certainly help. The most recent lowest recorded figure of 36mpg shows what can be expected around town. And while a CO2 figure of 173g/km isn’t the lowest, £195.00 a year in road tax doesn’t seem too penalising. All this comes with a 0-60mph time of 8.4 seconds, a top speed of 127mph and 112lb ft of torque.
What’s gone wrong? Not a lot. I treated the car to some cosmetic goodies when it first arrived (new alloy wheel centres, red grille trim – now removed, new aerial base seal and mast, as well as a new grille badge), and my unsavoury kerbed wheel damage notwithstanding, only a water temperature sensor and driver’s door electric window regulator and motor has needed replacing. Because of their high prices, those two parts alone helped bring up recent 76,000-mile service cost to a not inconsiderable £537.03 (also included was an oil change, filters and spark plugs). But they’re maladies that will hopefully not need sorting again, and bearing in mind the sterling service the GTI is currently giving, it seems fair to hand over some readies in exchange for some TLC. Yes, the two rear tyres will need replacing before the year is out (when I’ll get the other kerbed wheel repaired), but they’re regularly worn out consumables.
You can probably guess the answer to the question I posed at the start of this post. Yes, the GTI is better than the GT. Emphatically so. Especially for the kind of driving I’m doing now. Refined, swift, practical, and comfortable to boot, it really is a jack-of-all-trades (a cliché but it’s true), traits that the GTI badge has stood for over the past 36 years. If you desire a dose of refinement with your budget hot hatch, hunt out an early example of a Polo GTI. With low-mileage examples still around £1000-£2000 cheaper than the identically powered but smaller Lupo GTI, believe me when I say it’s a lot of car for the money.