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

Driven - - Contents - Re­port by MABUYANE KEKANA | Im­ages © VOLK­SWA­GEN SOUTH AFRICA

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.


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.

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