Welcome back: Polo GTI returns with a stick for enthusiasts
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The previous twin-charged (turbocharged and supercharged) 1.4-litre has been replaced by a bigger, more powerful and more conventional single turbo 1.8‒litre four-cylinder.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.
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