2016 Volkswagen Polo GTI review
Isaac Bober’s 2016 Volkswagen Polo GTI review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The new Volkswagen Polo GTI is more Golf GTI than the Golf GTI… there’s room for four and the performance tweaks make this more than just a tarted up Polo.
2016 Volkswagen Polo GTI
Pricing $29,990+ORC (for the DSG); $27,490+ORC (for the manual) Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety five star ANCAP Engine 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol Power/Torque 141kW/250Nm (320Nm manual) Transmission seven-speed DSG (six-speed manual) Body 3983mm (L); 1682mm (W); 1443mm (H) Weight 1242kg (1234kg manual) Fuel Tank 45 litres Thirst 5.7L/100km combined
THE VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI was revealed to the world at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show, and while it wasn’t the first ‘hot hatch’ (that was the Alpine 5) it became an instant classic. Stay with me. But over the years it got bigger and bigger, indeed put a current Golf GTI side-by-side with the original and they’d hardly recognise each other.
So, I would argue that for hot hatch purists the Golf GTI is no longer the poster child for VW. Rather, I’d suggest you turn your gaze towards the Volkswagen Polo GTI. Arriving back in Australia in the middle of last year, the wheelbase of the Polo GTI is almost the exact same size as that of the original Golf GTI (2472mm and 2400mm, respectively). Sure, the body of the Polo GTI is bigger, 3705mm and 3983mm, respectively) but you see where I’m going.
And, if you don’t, I’m saying that the Golf GTI is no longer the spiritual successor to the Golf GTI, rather it’s the Polo GTI. And that’s a very good thing indeed, because, and spoiler alert: it’s a ripper.
What is it?
Well, like the original Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Polo GTI is born of the idea to take a garden-variety runabout and whack a ruddy great big engine into it (relatively, speaking). For instance, the Polo GTI gets a big 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (which also sees service in the Golf R), while its lesser siblings make do with a 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. Also, the Polo GTI gets sports suspension, new electric-assist power steering and bigger brakes.
It is, to all intents and purposes, the actual successor to the original Golf GTI. And it’s so much more than just a tarted up garden-variety Polo.
What’s it like?
In a word: Awesome. I mean, who doesn’t like a big engine in a well-sorted small package… if you don’t, check your pulse, because you might be dead. Moving on.
As mentioned, the Polo GTI gets a bigger 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 141kW between 4300-6200rpm (in manual form) and 5400-6200rpm in DSG form, which is what we’re testing here. There’s 250Nm of torque between 1250-5300rpm, while the manual offers more grunt with 320Nm between 1450-4200rpm. Fuel consumption is 6.1L/100km for the manual and 5.7L/100km for the DSG and the 0-100km/h times are identical.
While we haven’t driven the manual Polo GTI the output differences alone make the argument for the manual. But the world is changing, fast, and not everyone likes to change gears for themselves. Although, the Polo GTI has steering mounted paddle shifters should you like to get involved in the action.
In addition to fitting the Polo GTI with a bigger, more potent engine, the engineers also tweaked the suspension dropping the ride height by 10mm at the front and 15mm at the rear, and stiffening the anti-roll bars. The new Polo GTI also runs wider alloys than its lifeless predecessor, up to 7.5inches wide from 7.0-inches. And the Polo GTI now runs electric-assist power steering.
All up, this is a drastically different vehicle from its predecessor which really was nothing more than a tarted up Polo. This new one feels immediately like its own vehicle.
And that’s evident from the moment you lay eyes on the thing, looking for all the world like a shrunken Golf GTI. The squared off snout and the body kit give it a hunkered down look, while new alloys and GTI badging give it the styling to park next to, say a Ford Fiesta ST, and look, one, more premium, and two, just as aggressive.
Climb inside and the ‘Clark’ tartan seats will look oddly out of place to those unaware of the heritage, but to those who know, it’ll just go further towards cementing this thing as being the spiritual successor to the original Golf GTI. The instrument cluster behind the steering wheel will be familiar to anyone who’s ever sat in either a Volkswagen or a Skoda, although in Polo GTI trim they’re given a more ‘tubular’ look with the speedo on one side, the tachometer on the other side and a small TFT screen in the middle.
The dashboard itself is clean and easy to use with the air-con and heating controls easy to use on the fly. The centre-mounted seven-inch touchscreen offers Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity as well as Bluetooth and audio streaming. Connect your Apple iPhone and the native environment for the apps, including navigation is excellent and the touch sensitivity is just right; you can also do two-finger zooming on maps as you would on your smartphone.
The front seats are comfortable, although bigger boned drivers might find them a little snug, and getting out can be a little tricky for the less flexible thanks to the high thigh support. There’s plenty of adjustment on the seat and steering wheel and so it’s easy to get that just-right driving position. Due to the boxy nature of the vehicle vision all around is good, although with the back seat filled with child seats, I did rely a lot on the cost-optional reversing camera.
Speaking of the back seats, there’s okay room for transporting adults on shorter journeys, but for kids its fine. The door openings aren’t huge, though, and with a booster seat in the back, my eldest did bump his head once or twice exiting from the vehicle. Over in the boot there’s 204 litres with the back seats in place and this grows to 882 litres with the back seats folded down, giving you a decent sized space indeed. The boot itself measures 936mm long (1341mm long with the seats folded) and 942mm wide at the narrowest point. One neat feature that other car makers should pay attention to (although it should be mentioned this feature is universal on Polo) is the clever little boot floor stays that allow the boot floor to be held up and giving easy access to the space saver spare wheel.
So, we’ve already determined that, even without driving it, and based on the numbers alone the manual Polo GTI would likely be the pick. But the DSG-equipped Polo GTI isn’t to be sneezed at. The seven-speed DSG might offer less grunt than the six-speed manual-equipped model, but I’d suggest that it would be just as quick point to point, due to the efficiency in the way the DSG shifts (by pre-selecting the next gear for a near instantaneous shift). But I get the argument about a manual offering more connection between driver and car and that is, after all, what a hot hatch should be about.
The steering is good, offering the right blend of weight through the wheel with precision and it feels meaty in the hands although the flat bottom is a bit silly. The brakes too are nice and solid, although the pedal takes some getting used to such is the on-off nature of the pedal.
The steering and the transmission work very well with the engine which rather than exploding off the line in, say, the way the Fiesta ST does, accumulates speed which reels in the horizon with every upshift. And the noise, the brrraaappp under hard acceleration as it shifts gears sounds fantastic as does the general growly exhaust note. Although so well insulated is the cabin that it’s only when the thing is really charging hard that you can properly hear it from the inside.
Turf it into a corner and while it’s not as lively as, say the Fiesta ST, it’s still a whole lot of fun. The Polo GTI feels more sure-footed more of the time than its competitors in the segment with a seemingly never ending supply of grip (you can’t turn traction control off, but don’t worry you’ll likely never even feel it intervene – there’s that much grip), and the more grunt on offer means this is a car with proper depth, and one that you’ll never tire of driving.
Despite the lower ride height and the stiffer suspension, the Polo GTI won’t rattle your fillings loose and manages to soften the worst of the roads imperfections. There’s no wobble through the wheel even when you hit mid-corner whoopsies, there’s no torque steer and nor will it tram line. Impressive indeed.
As far as safety is concerned, beyond the strong brakes, the Polo GTI gets a five star ANCAP rating and there are six airbags, an alarm with interior monitoring, ISOFIX mounts on the two outboard rear seats, with top tether anchors mounted at the back of the back seats. Unfortunately you only get front and rear parking sensors and reversing camera when you opt for the $1700 Driver Assistance package. The Luxury Package, for $3300, adds LED headlights for main and high beam, a panoramic glass sunroof, and Alcantara seat trim.
Volkswagen offers capped price servicing for the Polo GTI: $420.00 at 15,000km or 12 months; $420.00 at 30,000km or 24 months; $480.00 at 45,000km or 36 months; $420.00 at 75,000km or 60 months; and $480.00 at 90,000km or 72 months. Not included is $64.00 every two years for a pollen filter and $138.00 every two years for brake fluid.