Lit­tle brother closes the gap

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

When the GTi badge first ap­peared in 1976, it started a dy­nasty of mod­els and not just for Volk­swa­gen. Over the years it has also adorned some iconic Peu­geots but it is most fa­mous for be­ing the three let­ters that sig­nify a per­for­mance Golf.

For decades, VW was re­luc­tant to put the fa­mous badge on its high-sell­ing Polo, even very qui­etly putting the name on a third gen­er­a­tion Polo that was only avail­able in Ger­many around the turn of the cen­tury and which fea­tured a rel­a­tively pal­try 88kW mo­tor.

Then in 2006 the com­pany went all in, fi­nally re­leas­ing a gen­uine and global ver­sion of the Polo wear­ing the fa­mous GTi badge. It had 110kW and a 0100km/h time of 8.2 sec­onds but it was clearly sec­ond fid­dle to its big­ger brother in the power and per­for­mance stakes.

Then in 2015 a 141kW ver­sion was re­leased which com­bined power with fan­tas­tic han­dling, par­tic­u­larly in the rare man­ual mod­els which were proper lit­tle go-karts with se­ri­ous con­trol­lable power that pro­vided more than enough of the es­sen­tial fun fac­tor. The Polo GTi had ar­rived.

Fast for­ward to 2018 and the lat­est gen­er­a­tion Polo is cer­tain to con­tinue the suc­cess of those that went be­fore it. The same is true of the new GTi which we drove in the Western Cape and which has evolved into a per­for­mance hot hatch all of its own.

On pa­per it is much closer to its big brother than be­fore, which is not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing it now gets the same EA888 en­gine. In the Polo it pumps out 147kW and 320Nm, enough to punch it to 100km/h in 6.7 sec­onds and on to a top speed of 237km/h. With the Golf de­liv­er­ing 169kW and 350Nm and hit­ting 100km/h just three­tenths quicker at 6.4 sec­onds and top­ping out at 248km/h, the lit­tle guy is def­i­nitely nip­ping at the heels of its big brother.

Here’s the real crunch though, be­cause the Polo GTi costs R375,900 com­pared to the R548,600 of the Golf GTi. That’s R172,700 to get to 100km/h three-tenths quicker. Ob­vi­ously there is much more to it than that — the Golf has more space, more tech­nol­ogy and more sta­tus by virtue of be­ing a Golf GTi but the Polo is not the quiet sib­ling it once was.

The Polo GTi is now also built in SA, which the com­pany says has trans­lated into the new model be­ing more than 10 grand cheaper than the pre­vi­ous im­ported ver­sion. Spec for spec we are not to­tally con­vinced but it looks good on pa­per.

It also looks good in the me­tal, with a proper GTi fa­cade that in­cludes Polo spe­cific LED day­time run­ning lights. There are also unique wheels in 17 and 18 inches. The 18s did make the ride a lit­tle firm but it’s much cooler to say you have 18-inch Bres­cia wheels than 17-inch rims named af­ter the UK con­crete jun­gle of Mil­ton Keynes.

We know that lots of F1 teams are based close to the town but se­ri­ously, say­ing you have Mil­ton Keynes wheels is about as cool as say­ing you have a Nis­san Ti­ida.

I di­gress, so back to the GTi. The in­te­rior can be spec­i­fied with proper GTi cloth in­serts. Leather will be an op­tion from Au­gust, al­though only in SA be­cause no-one in the rest of the world wants leather in the model. You can also have red trim al­though not with the red ex­te­rior body colour be­cause that would just be too much. You can also have the op­tional Ac­tive Info Dis­play which we rec­om­mend, par­tic­u­larly for re­sale value.

An­other op­tion is the Sports Select sus­pen­sion and Driv­ing Pro­file Selec­tion, which al­lows you to switch be­tween Eco, Nor­mal, Sport and In­di­vid­ual. No com­fort mode though.

Sports sus­pen­sion is stan­dard on the model as is the big news item that the GTi now fea­tures an XDS trans­verse dif­fer­en­tial lock for the front wheels. It’s an elec­tronic af­fair that brakes one of the wheels to keep you head­ing in the right di­rec­tion in a corner and which al­lows the six-speed DSG box (man­ual only over­seas) to put the power to the road with less fuss. That does not mean a to­tal lack of torque-steer, but what it does mean is more con­trol, par­tic­u­larly if you like a bit of cheeky lift-off over­steer — in a front-wheel drive car.

Power de­liv­ery is ex­cel­lent al­though the bur­ble and bark noises be­tween gear changes have all but dis­ap­peared. Play with the revs and you can get a bit of sound, but this area was rather dis­ap­point­ing. The steer­ing is great too and the lit­tle GTi goes ex­actly where you want it to with al­most no fuss.

Is it bet­ter than the Golf GTi? Tough call. The Golf has cer­tain qual­i­ties that the Polo does not, in­clud­ing that in­te­rior space and more so­lid­ity. For now the Polo GTi has its big brother pinned in a sib­ling scrap but the new Golf is wait­ing in the wings and with it a new GTi that will un­doubt­edly turn the fight around.

The new Polo GTi gets its own face but with a dis­tinct GTi look.

The in­te­rior, left, has a sporty feel and there are nice op­tions in­clud­ing the Ac­tive Info Dis­play. Be­low: The rear looks the part but the sound is lack­ing.

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