Does VW’s hot supermini prioritise quality over driving fun? Let’s find out

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Polo GTI 2018 road test review hero front

Volkswagen successfully miniaturises the performance Golf’s recipe for the first time - but does the hot supermini have a chassis to match its newly acquired engine?

James Attwood, digital editor
15 February 2019

Why we’re running it: To find out if there’s a truly engaging hot hatch hiding under the prim and proper facade of VW’s hot supermini

Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Volkswagen Polo GTI: Month 2

Nothing comes for free, so what price the GTI+ performance? - 30th January 2018

The clearest indication of Volkswagen’s desire to make this latest Polo GTI a true little brother to the Golf GTI can be found under the bonnet. As mentioned previously, for the first time in a Polo, you’ll find a version of the Volkswagen Group’s EA888 engine, and a rather good job of providing the hot hatch with plenty of power and torque it does.

Of course, packing a punch of extra performance comes at a cost and, in the case of the Polo, one place that cost shows up (quite literally) is in fuel economy. Granted, how far a car can stretch a tank of fuel is the sort of practical, fiscally minded thing you probably aren’t supposed to think about too much when buying a hot hatch. But I’d argue that if you’re buying a performance-based supermini, you’re likely to be searching for value for money.

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When our road testers put the Polo GTI through its paces, they returned a touring economy of 46.8mpg. That fell to 14.0mpg when they pushed it on our test track. Over the full gamut of road test driving, they found it averaged 36.6mpg – and, a few thousand miles in with our long-term test car, that roughly tallies with the figures we’ve been achieving.

What has been really notable so far is how much that fuel economy varies in different situations. Living within the M25 and just a few miles from Autocar Towers, I find that most of my daily driving is of the stop-start urban variety. And on that sort of route, I struggled to get the on-board computer to register an average fuel economy of 40mpg – and, doing the sums, I was getting closer to 32-33.

But after prolonged spells on motorways and A-roads, I was getting close to or just above 40mpg, and without spending the entire time in Eco mode (which uses fewer revs and changes up gears sooner). That’s hardly a disgraceful tradeoff for a 6.7sec 0-62mph time, but it might serve as a note of mild caution to those interested in a Polo GTI as an ‘everyday performance’ option.

And it is, by comparison, notably lower than I achieved with my previous long-term test car, the Suzuki Swift Sport.

Granted, that car was lighter and less powerful (and had a smaller fuel tank, so I found myself at the pumps more often) but such costs will add up over a prolonged period. I’ve yet to sample the Ford Fiesta ST that’s on our fleet – and it’s probably the key rival for the Polo GTI – but it will be interesting to know if that car’s ability to use only three cylinders on light throttle loads makes it more economical for urban use.

It’s the fact that the fuel economy struggles so badly in an urban environment that annoys, because that’s where you’re least able to extract the pleasing performance from the Polo GTI’s engine.

So I’m trying to find ways to improve the fuel economy while driving in the city. Coasting is a little hard, given the auto ’box, but by trying to read the road ahead, judicious use of the Eco mode and more gentle use of the throttle, I’m slowly increasing that average mpg. Let’s see how it goes.

Love it:

DIGITAL DRIVER INFO DISPLAY So many options, and no end of info I can squeeze onto there…

Loathe it:

DIGITAL DRIVER INFO DISPLAY ...in fact, there may be too many options. Still hunting for the perfect layout.

Mileage: 5579

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Life with a Volkswagen Polo GTI: Month 1

Welcoming the Polo GTI to the fleet - 2nd January 2019

Time for a quick recap. You might recall that my previous long-termer was a Suzuki Swift Sport.

I enjoyed it’s fizzy, fun nature enough to overlook a handful of minor niggles and annoyances. But it left me posing a question: would I swap the Swift Sport for a hot hatch which traded some of that charm for a bit more polish? Something like, say, a Volkswagen Polo GTI?

Good question, if a slightly leading one, because shortly before I waved goodbye to the Swift Sport, a Volkswagen Polo GTI duly arrived at Autocar Towers. It’s almost as if it was planned this way…

Anyway, the polish promised by the new fourth-generation Polo GTI was highlighted by our road test team. They cited the class-leading interior and all-round quality, and noted that this is the most convincing Polo GTI yet, one that feels like a proper performance car rather than just a top-spec regular Polo. That’s certainly what VW has pushed for: this GTI has appeared unusually early on in the Polo’s life, and the firm says the MQB A0 platform the car is built on was engineered with this GTI version in mind.

Sounds promising, then – although you can probably feel the ‘but’ coming. In this case our testers felt the Polo GTI traded on “cold, hard capability” instead of hot hatch sizzle. Key to that capability is the EA288 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot engine – the same one you’ll find in the Golf GTI and plenty of other Volkswagen Group performance cars. Here it’s been tuned to make 197bhp and 236lb ft, so I’ll have a fair amount of extra go under my right foot compared with the Swift Sport’s lowly 138bhp and 170lb ft.

Clearly, the Polo GTI has the performance, then, but our testers struggled to find the fun. Their verdict was that the Polo GTI is a good car but not necessarily one for Autocar readers. And, hey, I read Autocar (it’s a good magazine, you should check it out), so let’s put that to the test – because my suspicion is that the Polo’s comfort and class might start to shine through over the course of a few months.

We’ve opted for a Polo GTI+ with a few thousand miles on it already, so we know the engine is nicely loosened up. First impressions are good. The Flash Red paint is stylish without being showy, and the GTI-only styling tweaks – including 17in alloys, twin chrome exhausts, restyled bumpers and GTI badging – add a touch of class over the regular Polo. GTI+ trim adds automatic LED headlights, rear tinted glass and electric door mirrors, while extras inside include a 10.5in touchscreen (regular GTIs get an 8.0in unit).

With that big screen at the centre of the dashboard, everything looks very VW Group-slick, especially with the digital driver info display and – of course – classic tartan seats. I’m not quite as sold on the big swathe of red on the dash: while a valiant attempt to break up the black trim, it doesn’t give the intended premium polish.

The GTI+ costs £22,610, but our options include climate control (£415), the £285 winter pack and Brescia black diamond alloys (£350). Pre-crash prevention and subscriptions to VW’s infotainment and safety services push the cost of our car to a hefty £25,345.

For that money, even if we unlock a huge chunk of character, we won’t be as forgiving of flaws as we were with the £17,999 Swift Sport. Still, initial impressions are that the Polo looks and feels like the premium small performance hatch it’s priced at, although initial driving impressions aren’t quite so positive, largely due to the gearbox.

While a manual version is on the way, the Polo GTI has so far only been offered with a six-speed dual-clutch auto – and it already feels like the lack of a stick shift is going to be a sticking point. It’s got that slight auto hesitation away from a standstill but, more notably, if you press the throttle enthusiastically at low speeds, the ’box seems to struggle. On a few occasions when accelerating in second, it decided to change down to first, resulting in much noise and wheelspin and little premium-polish vibe. It’s proving to be far smoother with a bit of throttle restraint, but the Polo GTI doesn’t feel as accessible as the plug-and-play Swift Sport.

But then, a few days into my time with it, I had to make a long early-morning trip down the M4. Suddenly, the plush interior and smooth, efficient powertrain shone, and several hours of motorway was spent in contented comfort. Then, on exiting the M4, a Welsh road provided evidence of the Polo GTI’s hot hatch handling and response.

The Polo GTI is undoubtedly a very good car, and it does seem to offer a blend of performance and premium comfort. That’s the balance VW has always tried to strike with its GTI models, and something the larger Golf GTI has absolutely nailed.

Mention the Golf GTI, of course, and you’re reminded that its smaller brother has never quite scaled the same lofty heights. And given that we had a Mk7.5 Golf GTI on our fleet last year and universally loved it, you can be sure we’ll return to that comparison in a future update.

For now, the signs are that the Polo GTI might not be a pure hot hatch and isn’t as joyfully fun as the Swift Sport – but it is a more rounded proposition. Gearbox aside, that blend might find some favour with this Autocar reader.

Second Opinion

I share James’s view that the Polo GTI would be more enthusing with a manual ’box. The auto is unpredictable in town and removes a layer of interaction so crucial in a small hot hatch. Also slightly disappointing is the road noise kicked up by those large-ish wheels at high speeds

Lawrence Allan

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Volkswagen Polo GTI+ specification

Specs: Price New £22,160 Price as tested £25,345 Options Discover Navigation 3-yr subscription £650, Vodafone Tracker 1-yr subscription £485, Climate control £415, Brescia alloys £350, Winter pack £285, PreCrash protection £140

Test Data: Engine 4 cylinder, 1984cc, turbocharged petrol Power 197bhp at 4400-6000rpm Torque 236lb ft at 1500-4400rpm Kerb weight 1355kg Top speed 147mph 0-62mph 6.7sec Fuel economy 34.9mpg CO2 134g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Join the debate

Comments
33

19 January 2019

just because its expensive, it doesnt make it premium, its interior is full of hrd nasty cheap plastic, because it was designed to make a profit, in a £12k Skoda Fabia.. 

19 January 2019

 Great Blog really, I like this blog so much  WhatsApp++   Pokemon Go++  Instagram++ 

19 January 2019

VW really knows how to do interiors. What a beautifully and sensibly laid-out dashborad. Everything (almost) in the right place and there is no need for a tablet to stick out. It would be perfect if the heater/vent controls could be moved up to eye level.

19 January 2019

It's awful from every angle, inside and out. Great job VW.

19 January 2019

Great Job on improving what was once the boring GTI... Improvements dynamically, and looks wise (with even more space) makes for a quality package!

Daz

19 January 2019
I get the impression reading that article that they are struggling to find much enthusiasm for it, other than it being a good cruiser along the motorway - not really the point at all of this car, thinking back to early Golf GTI’s that we’re raw, noisy and involving this is the polo (polar) opposite of that, and at £25k so expensive for what it is.

FM8

19 January 2019
Jimbbobw1977 wrote:

I get the impression reading that article that they are struggling to find much enthusiasm for it, other than it being a good cruiser along the motorway - not really the point at all of this car, thinking back to early Golf GTI’s that we’re raw, noisy and involving this is the polo (polar) opposite of that, and at £25k so expensive for what it is.

Sadly the days of the raw hot hatch are over. Although, having recently had a weekend in an Up GTi, it's not quite gone. That car is a riot drive to drive quickly, although you're not actually going that quick. The previous gen Fiesta ST was about as good as it got. Sadly the new one has gone a similar way to this Polo.

19 January 2019
FM8 wrote:
Jimbbobw1977 wrote:

I get the impression reading that article that they are struggling to find much enthusiasm for it, other than it being a good cruiser along the motorway - not really the point at all of this car, thinking back to early Golf GTI’s that we’re raw, noisy and involving this is the polo (polar) opposite of that, and at £25k so expensive for what it is.

Sadly the days of the raw hot hatch are over. Although, having recently had a weekend in an Up GTi, it's not quite gone. That car is a riot drive to drive quickly, although you're not actually going that quick. The previous gen Fiesta ST was about as good as it got. Sadly the new one has gone a similar way to this Polo.

Have to agree... although not so much increases in bhp in the super mini market as in larger cars, it just doesn’t compensate!! 

I have driven over the years hundreds of cars some very powerful others not so much but if I could pin point the most fun I’ve had was taking a 69bhp Ford KA MK1 for a blast down the A458 as you could really push it to the limits working through the engine and gearbox and chassis without risking your driving licences through speeding. 

I the impression that this Polo is a bit like playing Gran Turismo all a bit one dimensional - fast in a straight line with a few fart pops in between to impress friends, and strong grip but no feel as to what’s happening - perhaps I should go and drive one to find out.. 

19 January 2019

...use the flappy paddles*I use them daily, even bimbling around town in auto mode -stops hunting at roundabouts a treat.Tend to use sport mode in town a lot as well - stops the early upshifts to 6th at 30...*Assuming you have them.

19 January 2019

Reading the  review of the latest golf gti tcr? Is it? There was a statement that went something like, 

past three model generations at least and arguably for even longer, precisely where real-world performance, driver reward, usability and value have met in the hot hatchback segment.

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