When Volkswagen first gave the Polo a GTi badge in 2006 I was a bit skeptical about it, there is a lot that needs to be lived up to if a car is going to wear the iconic badge. As soon as they were released I made sure to find one and drive one. The car was powered by an 1800cc turbocharged engine producing 110kW and 220Nm, and in a smaller body than the Golf GTi of the same time that produced 147kW and 280Nm, it should have by rights matched the performance. It wasn't as close as expected; 0-100km/h arrived in a claimed 8.2-seconds as opposed to 6.9-seconds in the Golf. It maxed out at 216km/h on top end. The build quality was ok, but not quite on the level of the Golf. They weren't as popular as many thought they'd be, in fact more Polo TDI variants were spotted at the events I attended. I'd love to see the actual sales figures of the models to see if what I saw was a true reflection. Was the 2006 Polo GTi worthy of the GTi badge though? For me, and many other VW fans, it wasn't. Somehow we all just expected more.
The second incarnation appeared in 2010 after the Polo range was given a new body style. This time the 1800cc turbocharged motor was chucked in favour of some amazing new technology in the form of a force-fed 1.4TSI motor. What made this motor very different to what the rest of the manufacturers were offering at the time was that it was both turbocharged and supercharged. It was probably a little over complicated but it did work well. It managed to produce 132kW with 250Nm from the small capacity engine and the performance increased slightly, 0-100km/h now happened in 7.4-seconds and the top end moved up to 229km/h. The 2009 Golf GTi produced 155kW and 280Nm and could again hit 100km/h in 6.9-seconds and had a top speed of 240km/h. This time the build quality of the Polo GTi was better, and with the new looks it was actually quite a desirable little car. Was the 2010 Polo GTi worthy of the GTi badge? Back then I was on the fence about this one, but taking a look at the 2015 Polo GTi, I can safely say that it wasn't, but it was closer than the first attempt.
Now for 2015 the Polo GTi is even better. That 1.4 motor is gone and there's once again an 1800cc turbocharged motor, but this time with direct injection. This changed the power figures for the better, we're looking at a motor producing 141kW and 250Nm on the DSG version and 320Nm on the manual, which SA is yet to get. This time 0-100km/h comes in at a pretty quick 6.7-seconds and in top gear (7th on the new DSG 'box) will hit a claimed 236km/h. The current Golf GTi 7 makes 162kW and 350Nm which lets it hit the 100 in 6.5-seconds and a top speed of 244km/h. The figures are now the closest they've ever been. Inside the new Polo things are a lot more upmarket too, the styling and the finishings can match the Golf GTi now in most respects. So what we have is a small turbocharged hatchback with great handling and an excellent build quality. Is the 2015 Polo GTi worthy of the GTi badge? I'd give it a thumbs up.
When you climb inside there's no mistaking that you're in a GTi. It looks great and I know it's on par with the Golf because I tweeted a pic of the dash and asked what I was driving. A few die-hard VW fans immediately labelled it as the Golf GTi, but the cherry on top was when VWSA themselves answered me and told me to enjoy my time with the Golf 7 GTi Performance Pack. The fat, 3-spoke, flat-bottomed leather steering features red stitching, the multifunction controls for the infotainment system and most importantly, a GTi badge. The centre console houses the touch screen unit and is surrounded in a Piano Black finish. I like it, a lot. There's a GTi-badged shifter for the DSG 'box and the gaiter is black leather with more red stitching. Bums are placed on a set of sporty Alcantara and leather combination seats, they're just right, and for the current weather having a heating function makes them a real winner for me.
For a top-of-the range car, especially at this price (which you'll find at the end of the article) there were some things missing. Firstly the front seats are manually adjustable, I'd even be ok if just the driver's seat was electronically adjustable but on this one neither were. The climate control isn't climate control, it's your run-of-the-mill aircon setup as you'd find in the lower specced Polos. There is a Climatronic aircon available as an optional extra if the spec sheet is to be believed, but with SA's hot climate and the price of the car I'd expect this to be a standard feature. Those are my only gripes, which I guess in the grand scheme of things aren't too bad. Also back in the day, a hot hatch was a fast little car without the all the frills anyway.
The Polo GTI's Composition Media system is headed up with a 5.8-inch full colour touch screen. The software is good, it took a few minutes of fiddling to get things how I wanted, but anyone with basic tech knowledge could do it. There are lots of setting to play around with but once set up, there's not much need to visit a lot of the menus again unless you're showing off what the system can do. Which I did. There's a CD-player in the mix. Some of you may be unfamiliar with this kind of technology, but basically it's a plastic disc that stores music on it - your parents can tell you more. There's also a USB port, an auxiliary jack and a slot for an SD-card. I never tired these, instead I used the Bluetooth function to stream my music. The 6-speaker system, plays very well, one of the best so far. The quality is great and yeah, it could be better because of the smaller cabin, but that's yet another reason I like small hatchbacks. VW's MirrorLink™ functionality is there so that aftermarket apps can be installed, but to keep you safe, only specially configured apps are accessible on the move. I didn't try it, but Volkswagen has apps available that can access important vehicle data like RPM, speed and the fuel level.
Everything is within easy reach of the driver and even if you have arms like a T-Rex, all the controls are on the steering wheels and they're easy to use. Some cars make the stuff overly complicated (to me anyway) but not so with this Polo. All the info you'd want as a driver is displayed on the centre digital screen and scrolling through the menus I found a Lap Timer mode. That's a definite nod to the point of this car, but I'm not sure the chaps at Volkswagen would have liked it much if I had actually taken the Polo GTi on track for some testing. But daaaaaamn I'd love to! The optional features you can add to the interior are the panoramic sunroof, front and rear PDC with a Rear Assist Camera and a the Climatronic aircon I mentioned earlier. This car had all the options besides the aircon, and I must be honest, I don't think I'd leave any options off the spec list if I had to order a new Polo GTi. They all make the car a complete package.
The GTi Polo stands out nicely from the rest of the range. From the front you can immediately see the red strip running across the width of the honeycomb grille and even extending to inside the headlights. The headlights are great, this car had the optional LED setup, you can see the difference straight away. They look, as the press release says, avant-garde. They're super bright too, at night they shine white and when you put brights on you can see to Cape Town. An expensive option but again, something the car needs. The air intakes in the bumper are bigger than on the other Polos and there's fog lights too, also cornering lamps. If you catch the car from a side profile it's a few millimeters lower (15mm) than the other Polos, although it's hard to see, but you can identify the GTi by the fender badges and also the cool new 17-inch Parabolicca wheels. A few people I saw commented that they didn't like the wheels, but I think they're great. Previous models had the same wheels as the Golf GTi of the time and I think those wheels are terrible. Each to his own.
At the rear end the car looks much the same as the previous model but there is a GTI roof spoiler, a cool aerial (that is way too easy to remove, I predict many to "go missing" sadly), and a black grained diffuser. I'm pretty sure we'll see these being given a coat of piano black paint by enthusiasts though, because that's what I'd do. The taillights are now Dark Red, I'm not sure why that deserves capital letters, but the press release lists it as a feature. As you can see, the test model was in Pure White, and there are five more colours to choose from; Flash Red, Black, Reflex Silver, Deep Black and Blue Silk. If it was available in Rising Blue I'd not be at the keyboard typing but instead scouting banks that are easy to knock off.
So all the right things are in place on the Polo GTi; the right looks, the right motor, all the acronyms available in a modern car (check the specs sheet, it has it all) , brilliant safety specifications, the right interior and all the right tech and gadgets. So the most important question is the last one - does it drive like a GTi? Well, once settled in the cockpit with all the settings the way I liked, I headed out on the street. I first stayed in the normal mode on the DSG and when the car was up to temp, gave it a few squirts on the throttle. This quickly resulted in a smile. I navigated a few quiet roads I like to drive on and I gave it a little more throttle. Bigger smile. Then I held down the traction control button for a few seconds and this put the Polo GTi into it's ESC Sport mode (ASR traction control is disabled and ESC intervention is delayed allowing more leeway in being silly) . I tapped the shifter backwards and the gearbox changed to the matching mode. For this test I required more throttle input. Ok, more like all of it.
The Polo GTi lost traction in 1st and 2nd and the DSG's change to 3rd saw the engine mounts knock, the change is that fast and hard. There was a manageable bit of torque steer but that's something I like and probably comes from the electronic diff lock working it magic. The speedo quickly gets to silly speeds that would see Metro taking pretty pictures of the car quite often. In this sport mode, at idle, the revs are a little higher than in the normal drive mode, and when slowing down from speed the revs are kept high with throttle blips as the cogs swap down. This keep the motor at the ready, which would be great on track. Fade-resistant 310mm discs up front and 230mm discs in the rear give the Polo GTi more than enough stopping power. At slow speeds I had to carefully apply brakes because the normal pedal input I use on the daily drive saw me a few millimeters away from biting the steering wheel. There are paddles to change the gears manually, and while this was fun a few times, the novelty quickly wore off. Besides, the DSG 'box is just so much more efficient at changing gears than I could hope to be. It doesn't have as much of a thirst as I thought it would have either. There was a lot of, um, spirited driving (I actually out spirited a Golf 6 GTi quite nicely) and it still kept fuel figures in the 7-litres/100km range. The manufacturer claims 5.6 for this model but I suspect that's keeping the turbo out of boost. In short, this little car has definitely earned it's GTi badge.
There's an optional Sport Mode coming when the manual version is released later this year. This includes Sport Select suspension and a Sport Performance Kit. This comprises of electronically adjustable dampers to give the Polo the much stiffer characteristics of a sport suspension setup. It also changes the feedback in the power steering and improved accelerator response. The engine noise inside the cabin also changes due to the sound actuator. A bit of a cheat on the senses, but hey, that's not a bad thing.
I've mentioned pricing a few times and it's quite steep and the added options added take it higher. The thing is, yeah, it's a lot of money, especially for a Polo. But it isn't just wearing a GTi badge, it's earned it. Everything about the car is just better; the build, the ride, the power. It's a complete package and with it's small size, it's a true-to-for hot hatch. I'd like to see how much the manual changes the car, because while I really liked this DSG 'box, there's nothing like thrashing a car around and changing the gears when you want it done.
Base Model - R326 400
Panoramic Sunroof - R9 200
LED Headlights + Vision Package - R15 450
Park Distance Control - R3050
Rear Assist Camera - R3050
Price as tested: R357 150.
The new Polo GTI comes standard with a 3-year/45 000km Service Plan, 3-year/120 000km warranty and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. Service interval is 15 000km.
Check out the spec sheet below for more info or head on over to www.volkswagen.co.za