25 April 2015 ~ 0 Comments

A hotter shot: 2015 Volkswagen
Polo GTI first drive

After appearances at last year’s Paris motor show and a track-based launch to the press, the fourth-generation Polo GTI has finally landed in the UK. We managed to nab the keys for a first drive at a recent Volkswagen UK range review day around the leafy lanes of Buckinghamshire. The most potent version yet, has Volkswagen finally added some dynamic sparkle?

189bhp power output is an increase of 12bhp over the old 1.4 TSI model

Three generations of the Polo GTI have come and gone since 2000, and now, there’s a new version. Based on the updated and revised fifth-generation model launched last year, the small VW GTI newcomer has more power, a better gearbox, and, with the addition of the optional Sport Performance Kit, a welcome spot of adjustability.

More power
First, as it’s a GTI, the issue of more power. Now the most powerful production (possibly the most powerful) Polo to date, the 6C GTI gets its motive power courtesy of a version of the Volkswagen 1.8-litre ‘EA888’ turbocharged engine. From the same series of engines fitted to the Golf GTI, with 189bhp and 236lb ft (320Nm), the new Polo GTI comfortably beats the figures of the outgoing 1.4-litre twin-charged car, with an increase of 12bhp and 52lb ft (70Nm).

On the road, it feels more powerful, too. The 0-62mph dash now takes just 6.7 seconds (just 0.2 seconds faster than its predecessor) but, more importantly for a GTI, the car feels quick. Volkswagen quotes top speed as 146mph, an increase of 4mph over the old car. The new engine really suits the new hot Polo much better than the old one did. There’s now the classic big-engine-in-a-small-car impression, something which was lacking in the 6R GTI.

Manual gearbox
There are other changes, too. At last, the manual gearbox is back. Bucking the current – and increasingly alarming – trend for automatic drivetrains, the Polo GTI brazenly welcomes the stick shifter back with open arms. A six-speed unit, the action is very positive and snicks home through the gate very nicely.

Its return is a good move by Volkswagen – it brings a very welcome level of interactivity which was previously just not there. The DSG hasn’t died yet, though: the seven-speed semi-auto is available for a £1245 supplement. We’d take the manual every time.

But, the decision may not be that clear cut. There’s an important difference between the two gear selecting options to consider. Choose the semi-auto gearbox and torque will be limited to 184lb ft (250Nm) between 1250-5300rpm compared to the manual’s 236lb ft (320Nm) between 1450-4200rpm. Volkswagen states ‘technical differences in the design parameters of the gearboxes’ as the reason why. It’s a toss up between simply more torque or less torque available over a larger rev range.

Sport Performance Kit
Another new feature is the – optional but compulsory – Sport Performance Kit. For only £245, a ‘Sport’ button on the dashboard firms up the dampers, gives the new electro-mechnical steering system a sportier feel, sharpens the accelerator response and increases the engine noise in the car by way of a sound actuator.

And we’re pleased to report it works. The whole car feels more alert, alive and ‘GTI’, and therefore more ready to attack B-roads with added gusto. The new hot Polo flows along sweeping roads quite nicely, with positive steering feel ensuring easy placing. In addition to the manual gearbox, make sure that Sport Performance Kit option box is ticked, too.

As well as lowered suspension (10mm front, 15mm rear), the new Polo GTI has a range of electronic systems to keep things tidy. An ‘ESC Sport’ stability control system can be adapted for track use – traction control can be turned off which activates ESC Sport, enabling the ESC threshold to delay intervention. However, the ESC system never totally gets decactivated. In addition, the Golf GTI’s XDS+ system is fitted, which helps tame understeer.

The new Polo’s comprehensive standard safety systems are also part of the GTI’s make-up, befitting of its stature at the top of the Polo tree.

Traditional Polo strengths
Elsewhere, the GTI shares traditional Polo strengths. It’s still beautifully-built. It still rides well (but obviously more firmly than a regular Polo). And of course, it’s still quite economical, Volkswagen quoting a combined fuel consumption figure of 47.1mpg. It’s also in true VW GTI-style, discreet in outward appearance. The 17-inch ‘Parabolica’ black/polished alloys – wrapped in 215/40 R17 rubber – are quite daring but elsewhere the go-faster flourishes are suitably, if predictably, restrained.

The now traditional honeycomb-filled, red-edged grille is a bit of a giveaway, but now, rather cleverly, the coloured strip bleeds into the (standard) LED headlights. Prominent front lower grilles, fog lights and a lip spoiler add more menace, while new ‘GTI’ arrow insignias make their mark on the front wings. At the rear, ‘Dark Red’ tail lights, a reprofiled bumper, twin exhausts, a grained diffuser and a gloss back roof spoiler complete the look.

Moving inside, a three-spoke leather sports steering wheel with ‘GTI’ logo and red stitching obviously marks out the latest hot Polo, while matching gear and handbrake lever and red-edged floor mats reinforce the intent of the fastest Volkswagen supermini. Of course, you can’t mention Volkswagen GTI interiors and not refer to chequered fabric sport seats, and, pleasingly, they’re here, too – the ‘Jacara’ tartan cloth recalling the first Golf GTI of 1976.

Sports hatch all-rounder
It may be a Volkswagen GTI, but it’s still a Polo underneath. Which used to be a none-too encouraging thing if you were an enthusiastic driver. Now, just like the Golf GTI, the Polo GTI feels properly grown-up and the consummate sports hatch all-rounder. That may be a horrible cliché, but it’s one that fits here.

The one-choice-fits-all DSG-only approach of the old car may have limited its appeal, so the re-introduction of the manual gearbox has two-fold benefits – it makes the car a lot more fun, and will hopefully bring in more of an audience.

UK order books opened in December, and Volkswagen states that ‘it’s doing well’ in terms of sales numbers, acknowledging that overall market share will be similar to the old three per cent of Polo sales the old car achieved. So while the Polo GTI will continue to be a rare sight on UK roads, at least now – at last – it finally has the almost all the weaponry to take the fight to the class leaders.

Best Polo GTI ever
Be in no doubt, the 6C is unequivocally the best Polo GTI there has even been. And that’s something to be excited about. Against the revered Ford Fiesta ST, the new Polo GTI is much less brash, better built, and enjoys a more classy image. With a more comfortable interior and comprehensive ‘do-it-all’ attitude, it feels it would lend itself better to the rigours of daily life, too. And in our book, that counts for a lot.

2015 VOLKSWAGEN POLO GTI: QUICK STATS
Price: £18,850 – £20,725
Engine: 1798cc, turbocharged four-cylinder
Power output: 189bhp/192PS @ 4200-6200 (5400-6200*)
Maximum torque: 236lb ft/320Nm @ 1450-4200rpm (184lb ft/250Nm @1250-5300rpm*)
Gearbox: Six-speed manual/seven-speed DSG auto
Top speed: 146mph
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
Weight: 1272kg
CO2 emissions: 139g/km (129g/km*)
Fuel consumption: 47.1mpg (50.4mpg*)
Dimensions (l/w/h, mm): 3983/1901/1443

*DSG-equipped car

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