VW Polo GTI review: Bigger engine and awesome sporty sound
THEY grow up so fast these days. Even hot hatches are getting bigger - and more expensive.
The new Volkswagen Polo GTI starts from $30,990 plus on-road costs and stretches beyond $40,000 drive-away when all option packs are added. That's almost Golf GTI money.
Germany's pint-sized pocket rocket is now the same size as a Golf from 10 years ago.
In a move that has hot hatch fans salivating, VW has installed the 2.0-litre turbo from a previous Golf GTI at a time when rivals are switching to smaller engines. The two most recent Polo hot rods had 1.4 and 1.8-litre power.
The Polo GTI's 2.0-litre turbo has been around for a decade but has been retuned for its new role. No one's complaining. The outputs of 147kW of power and 320Nm of torque are a lot of mumbo for a small car.
However, the claimed 0-100km/h time is the same as the previous model - 6.7 seconds - because the extra size and power come with an increase in weight.
It comes solely with a six-speed twin-clutch auto, which lovers of manual transmissions may lament. The stick shift, dropped because it accounted for only about 10 per cent of sales, may return at a later date.
The cabin has a large matt-red panel across the dash, LED mood lighting, the Golf GTI's leather flat-bottom steering wheel - and hard plastic door panels from the regular Polo.
For those who prefer a more luxurious experience, the tartan-fabric sports seats can be replaced by faux-suede and the analog instrument cluster can be upgraded to a digital wide-screen once exclusive to the Audi R8 supercar.
You'll pay for the privilege. The digital wide-screen comes with wireless phone charging and premium Beats audio for $1900 and the seats are bundled with a sunroof, 18-inch alloys and LED headlights for $3900.
City and highway autonomous emergency braking is standard but more advanced safety tech including radar cruise control, blind zone warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear sensors are $1400 extra.
ON THE ROAD
The standard measure of the 0-100km/h time doesn't tell the whole story with hot hatches because they're designed to go around corners, not win traffic light grands prix.
As with other fast front-drivers, the Polo GTI takes a while to get moving in the first 20m or so. Once the front tyres grip, you're away.
The auto is faster through the gears than a manual because there's minimal interruption to power delivery when shifting ratios. It's also handy when changing gears mid-corner.
In stop-start traffic there is still a pause between releasing the brake and forward motion, a trait of twin-clutch autos.
On the move, the exhilarating acceleration is accompanied by a rorty growl from the engine and exhaust.
You find yourself making changing gears simply to hear the exhaust blurt between shifts - and you can change the volume of the engine note with the press of a button, thanks to a rather convincing sound synthesiser.
Suspension settings can be switched from sport to normal to individual, which allows drivers to have the best of both worlds: selecting a soft suspension set-up with sharper throttle and steering.
A little extra weight hasn't hurt the Polo GTI. The previous model was a little too light on its feet and could feel like it was bobbing over the road - the new one feels glued to it. The standard 17-inch alloys are wrapped in Michelin rubber and on this arrangement the suspension is incredibly compliant.
On straight, bumpy tarmac it doesn't feel as stiff as a hot hatch, yet in corners the grip is outstanding.
On optional 18-inch wheels with low-profile Bridgestone rubber, the suspension is a touch busier - and the tyres a bit noisier - but even in sport mode it's bearable.
If you want slightly sharper responses, go for the 18s; if you're going to spend most of the time on bumpy pavement, the 17s are the better choice as they still have ample grip but provide more comfort.
VERDICT: 4 stars out of 5
The new Polo GTI is a Golf in disguise. The price is higher but you're getting more car.
PRICE Up from $27,690 plus on-roads for the previous six-speed manual to $30,990 plus on-roads with six-speed twin-clutch auto. A manual is no longer available. Like-for-like VW says the price increase from the previous Polo GTI auto is only $800. However, options can push it past $40,000 drive-away.
TECH Standard are city and highway AEB, rear camera, tyre pressure monitors, sensor key with push button start, power folding mirrors and dual zone air-conditioning. A $1400 option pack adds radar cruise control, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear sensors. A wide-screen digital dash, wireless phone charging and premium Beats audio are in a $1900 pack. A luxury pack with faux-suede trim, heated front seats, LED headlights, 18-inch wheels and a panoramic sunroof is $3900.
PERFORMANCE The 2.0-litre turbo from an earlier Golf GTI replaces the previous model's 1.8-litre turbo. Power is up by 6kW/70Nm. Claimed 0-100km/h time is 6.7 seconds; we clocked 6.8.
DRIVING Bigger footprint makes it more sure-footed. It gets selectable suspension and the trick traction control from earlier Golf GTIs rather than a mechanical limited slip differential. The throatier exhaust blurts between gear changes.
DESIGN Weight is up 51kg to 1285kg. Boot expands by 101L to 305L. Inside, VW says, it is bigger in some dimensions than a Hyundai i30 or Mazda3.
FAST FACTS: VW POLO GTI
PRICE From $30,990 plus on-road costs (expensive)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 3 years/unlimited km (below average), 12 month/15,000km intervals (average), $1447 for 3 years (expensive)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 147kW/320Nm (plenty)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, rear camera (good)
THIRST 6.1L/100km (good)
SPARE Space-saver (not ideal)
BOOT 305L/1079L (excellent)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling