Hot prop­erty

Wel­come back: Polo GTI re­turns with a stick for en­thu­si­asts

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

HOT hatch sales are boom­ing.

Car com­pa­nies love hot hatches as much as we do, be­cause buy­ers are happy to pay a healthy price pre­mium for ex­tra per­for­mance. And at the small-car end of the mar­ket, where mar­gins are wafer thin, that’s a bonus.

As our streets be­come more con­gested and park­ing spa­ces be­come harder to find, we have joined the rest of the world and em­braced smaller cars.

But quite a num­ber of us don’t want to give up the luxury equip­ment and per­for­mance of larger ve­hi­cles.

And, hey presto, you have a steady de­mand for a hot hatch, even if not ev­ery buyer is crav­ing a per­for­mance rush. Which is pos­si­bly why the Polo GTI isn’t as hard edged as some of its ri­vals. More about that later.

The ar­rival this week of the new Volk­swa­gen Polo GTI has been highly an­tic­i­pated.

The big­gest seller in the pint­sized hot-hatch class has been ab­sent for the bet­ter part of six months dur­ing the switch over to an up­dated model.

The pre­vi­ous Polo GTI that had been on sale since 2010 was phased out in the mid­dle of last year while Volk­swa­gen put the fin­ish­ing touches on this one.

So what’s new? Apart from the sub­tle styling changes (new head­lights, grille, front bumper and al­loy wheels) the big news is un­der the bon­net.

The pre­vi­ous twin-charged (tur­bocharged and su­per­charged) 1.4-litre has been re­placed by a big­ger, more pow­er­ful and more con­ven­tional sin­gle turbo 1.8‒litre four-cylin­der.

It’s the big­gest donk among a peer group that typ­i­cally runs turbo 1.6-litre en­gines.

There is one more piece of good news for en­thu­si­ast driv­ers: the man­ual trans­mis­sion is back.

When this gen­er­a­tion Polo GTI ar­rived in 2010 Volk­swa­gen made it avail­able only with a twin-clutch au­to­matic; the new model has the best of both worlds: a six‒speed man­ual and a seven‒speed DSG.

Be­fore Polo GTI fans get too ex­cited, there are just two caveats.

The seven-speed DSG (the more popular choice, de­spite the hype over the re­turn of the stick shift) has much less torque (250Nm ver­sus 320Nm) due to the lim­i­ta­tions of the gear­box.

And the price has gone up by more than $2000. Ouch. When this gen­er­a­tion Polo GTI ar­rived five years ago it started at $27,790 plus on-road costs — with DSG trans­mis­sion.

The new model starts at $27,490 plus on-roads for the six-speed man­ual — and the DSG ver­sion now comes in at $29,990.

And you can add $500 for metal­lic paint, and $1700 for front and rear sen­sors, a rear view cam­era and nav­i­ga­tion (they’re bun­dled and can’t be split).

So yes, here is an al­most $30,000 hatch­back and it doesn’t even get rear sen­sors as stan­dard even though a cam­era comes with a $14,990 Honda Jazz.

Want to add some bling? A luxury pack in­clud­ing LED head­lights, leather-look seats and a panorama sun­roof adds $3300.

ON THE ROAD

First up, the man­ual. And can we just say “wel­come back”.

As you might ex­pect, Volk­swa­gen has done this right. It shifts smoothly, the clutch ac­tion is light, the car surges for­ward with gusto. Tick.

Sur­pris­ingly, the DSG gear­box ver­sion doesn’t feel any slower. That’s be­cause there is no mo­men­tary drop in power be­tween gear changes (as the man­ual does) and it has a lower gear ra­tio to get off the line more smartly.

The per­for­mance times in the in­dus­try-stan­dard 0 to 100km/h dash for both ver­sions are iden­ti­cal at 6.7 sec­onds (ac­cord­ing to VW — we haven’t had the chance the ver­ify th­ese fig­ures yet).

What’s the rest of the car like? Well, like a shrunken Golf GTI. Just like the last one.

The in­te­rior is more up­mar­ket than most cars in this price range and although you can tell the sus­pen­sion has a sporty edge to it (it is busy over bumps rather than neck­jar­ring) it is skewed as much to­wards com­fort as a hot hatch would al­low.

The new en­gine is good, and has a very smooth power de­liv­ery, but it sounds slightly muted com­pared to oth­ers in this class, such as the Ford Fi­esta ST. And the ac­cel­er­a­tion is de­ceiv­ing. It doesn’t surge on turbo boost as other hot hatches do.

But it’s still a blast and chances are it’s quicker than it feels. It’s just a pity about the price hike and the lack of a cam­era or sen­sors as stan­dard.

VER­DICT

The new Volk­swa­gen Polo GTI is a classy, well-rounded pack­age that will ap­peal to a broad range of buy­ers, not just hot-hatch heads. But is it the sharpest drive in its class? We’ll find out when we pit it against its ri­vals.

The new model has a big­ger en­gine and a slick

shift­ing man­ual gear­box

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