VOLKSWAGEN POLO GTI
The latest pocket-rocket to join Volkswagen’s performance stable is the new Polo. It wears the revered GTI badge and right off the bat, we can tell you it shifts the perceptual goalposts of B-segment performance hatchery into a segment of its own. MABUYAN
Shifting perceptions in a segment
It was a nippy Wednesday morning in Cape Town where a group of us motoring media types gathered around the new Polo GTI. And, well, this got me wondering; why are South Africans so fascinated by anything GTI?
In my own opinion, ours is a country full of petrol heads — or diesel heads if you are so inclined. We are enthusiasts who appreciate a good engine, and if that engine can perform, well that’s a bonus. And it is for this reason, this ability to check all the right boxes, that the VW GTI nameplate is such a success on our shores.
On the outside, the new Polo GTI presents a completely restyled radiator grille that features the now hallmark red stripe that hugs the grille and headlights. The front bumper neatly incorporates the fog lights that are integrated into a shapely styling detail.
There’s also a pronounced lip-spoiler that not only adds to the visual sportiness of the GTI, but undoubtedly also plays its hand in the aerodynamic department.
To round of an overall attractive package wrapped around the body of the newest Polo is GTI-specific door sill trims that just serve as
an extra reminder that you are about to step into a ill-tempered hatchback.
The compact performance car also features a driving profile selection that allows the driver to select from Eco, Normal, Sport or an Individual mode that can be set-up based on personal preferences.
BRAVING THE FRANSCHHOEK PASS
After a quick glance at the launch route schedule, I learnt that we were going to stretch the Polo’s legs through the snaking Franschhoek Pass. In recent years, this has become somewhat of a tradition on local launches, especially if it involves a performance car. See, when it comes to the hair-raising bends through this well-known pass, the boys are quickly separated from the men — figuratively speaking of course.
And off we go. Besides styling, the Polo GTI also features a host of dramatic mechanical change-ups compared to the outgoing model. At its heart, the 1.8-litre turbo breather has been replaced with a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit that now sends 147 kW and 320 Nm to the front wheels. That is an increase of 6 kW and 70 Nm over the previous model that also featured the clever dual-clutch DSG gearbox.
This caused me to egg it on wherever the opportunity presented itself. There’s no hiding its eagerness to thrill. I gooi it into the corners, it’s agile into the bends and there’s also a distinctive eagerness with which it clings to the tarmac. It’s almost fool-proof, this ‘baby’ GTI. This is, to a large extent, thanks to Volkswagen employing the service of an XDS differential that sorts out the wheel rotation during hard steering, resulting in what is ultimately very little drama.
While the Polo GTI is a charmer of note, it faces stiff competition in the form of the Renault Clio RS220 and the imminent arrival of the new Ford Fiesta ST. It measures up favourably with the ST on the power front, with both producing 147 kW and similar zero to 100 km/h times, but it’s the Clio that takes the kilowatt cake with 162 power units produced from the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine.
It is, however, likely that the GTI’s price tag of R375,900 will ultimately draw customers into the Volkswagen dealerships, compared to the R438,900 of the Clio. And in case you were wondering, this difference in price is thanks to Volkswagen opting for the local assembly route at its Uitenhage plant, allowing the GTI to be stocked to the brim with standard kit, while keeping the price to a minimum.
Members of the Polo GTI tribe will undoubtedly be pleased with Volkswagen and especially the new Polo GTI. It has taken a modest hatchback, upped its performance capabilities and in the process blurred the lines of B-segment limitations. As for me, I still prefer the original GTI. The one that has Golf written in front of it.