2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI Review
Dan DeGasperi’s 2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI Review with Price, Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, Ownership, Safety, Verdict and Score.
In a nutshell: The new-generation Polo GTI has grown up, and upped the price, but does a bigger interior and larger engine help make this a better-value Volkswagen hot hatch?
2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI Specifications
Price $30,990+ORC Warranty three-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder Power 147kW at 4390-6000rpm Torque 320Nm at 1450-4390rpm Transmission six-speed dual-clutch automatic Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4067mm (L) 1751mm (W) 1438mm (H) 2560mm (WB) Tare Weight 1285kg Fuel Tank 40L Spare space-saver spare Thirst 6.7/100km claimed combined, 8.2L/100km tested
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THEY are affectionately dubbed ‘pocket rockets’ – light hot hatchbacks that are tiny on the outside but pack a powerful engine under the bonnet. In the case of the new-generation Volkswagen Polo GTI, however, the term is quite literally stretched front end-to-end.
The latest Polo is one of the largest five-door hatches within its segment, and the new GTI is powered by the largest engine in the class – a big 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol.
There’s also the sort of infotainment technology and advanced active safety equipment that until recently has been the preserve of the larger, upper classes, as standard or optional.
It all sounds great, but pocket rockets have never been about ‘more is more’ – more space, more power, more features. So has the Polo GTI lost its character by packing more stuff in?
What’s The Price And What Do You Get?
Volkswagen no longer offers a six-speed manual transmission in Australia with the now six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission standard, priced from $30,990 plus on-road costs.
Usually light hot hatches start in the sub-$30K bracket, so price is another area in which Volkswagen has super-sized its pocket rocket. To be fair, standard are 17-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), rear parking sensors, an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring and rear-view camera, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, tartan-cloth trim and dual-zone climate control.
Some features that are optional, however, should be standard. Adaptive cruise control and satellite navigation are included with a $3500-cheaper Suzuki Swift Sport auto, for example.
Even so, three option packs are available, as fitted to this test car. A $3900 Luxury Package adds part-leather, heated front seats, LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, 18-inch alloys and tinted rear glass, while a $1900 Sound & Vision Package lobs in a widescreen colour driver display, sat-nav and 300-watt Beats audio. Finally, a $1400 Driver Assistance Package offers adaptive cruise, blind-spot, cross-traffic and auto reverse-park assistance.
What’s The Interior And Practicality Like?
As is always the case, the GTI interior starts life as a sub-$20K Polo, so don’t expect Golf GTI levels of quality and craftsmanship. Thankfully, though, the new-gen Volkswagen Polo otherwise offers a great starting point, with an excellent driving position addressing one of the old model’s flaws, plus an almost small car-level of rear legroom and boot space. For example, the 305-litre boot volume is only 3L short of a Mazda3 hatch from the class up…
It all means that, as with the enlarged engine capacity, you’re getting much more metal for your money than before, and unlike a Swift Sport or the latest Clio RS, four adults can be seated quite comfortably inside, with luggage room to spare. It’s the best light hot hatch for space and practicality by some margin.
Although the door trims are disappointingly made of scratchy hard plastic – one of the downsides of being based on an affordable light hatch – the Polo at least gets its entire dashboard trim made of soft-touch material. Meanwhile, the GTI-specific red dash applique and underscore of white mood lighting lifts the ambience, day or night respectively.
From the driver’s seat, the only slight disappointment is the driver’s seat itself. The optional part-leather and ‘microfibre’ fleece arguably doesn’t feel as high-quality as the standard tartan cloth, while the bucket lacks some degree of side support. It’s comfy, but a tad flat.
What Are The Controls And Infotainment Like?
What lies ahead of the driver’s eyes is by far the most appealing aspect of the new Polo GTI. Even without the optional widescreen colour driver display, the 8.0-inch touchscreen offers a high resolution, crisp graphics and a quick response rate. As mentioned, the optional nav should be standard, though it still doesn’t include live traffic despite asking extra. We found hooking up CarPlay and using Google Maps worked better, and that comes as standard.
The optional wireless smartphone charging pad was also a bit intermittent. Even with a rubber case wrapped around an iPhone X, it would only take a speed hump or two for the device to shimmy off the pad and fail to charge. It ultimately needs more of an indent for the phone, but then with so many varying sizes of phone, that would be hard to provide…
What absolutely outguns the integrated nav and wireless charging, plus the loud but slightly average Beats audio, is absolutely that driver’s screen, dubbed as Gen-2 Active Info Display.
Nothing within cooee of this pricetag can match how beautifully integrated and harmoniously ergonomic this system is, right down to having the map in front of you, displayed at large, and able to zoom in or out of it via the steering wheel up/down controls. It’s brilliant, and it offsets the slightly cheap plastics to ensure that this cabin feels high-end.
What’s The Performance Like?
Only five years ago a Golf GTI sported a 2.0-litre turbo engine with 147kW of power and 280Nm of torque. And now, this Polo GTI boasts the same-sized engine, but with 320Nm made at 1450rpm until 4390rpm, plus identical kiloWattage from that point until 6000rpm.
Oh, and that Golf used to have 17-inch alloys standard, where our tested Polo has the optional 18s with surprisingly fine Bridgestone Turanza tyres (and we say surprising because the last GTI had Bridgestone ‘Potenza’ sports rubber, where ‘Turanza’ stands for touring).
This smallest Volkswagen hot hatch rockets off the line, and it just keeps piling on speed. There’s also perhaps less firewall sound deadening than in the Golf GTI, plus a fruitier exhaust, the combination of which makes this five-door even sound a bit louder, angrier but sweeter. Volkswagen claims a 6.7-second 0-100km/h, which if anything seems conservative.
Where the Golf GTI has moved to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, though, this six-speed still hooks up off the line well, ensuring the Polo GTI feels damned near as fast. The auto Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) can be lax in Drive, and too frenetic in Sport, which are ongoing issues because Volkswagen hot hatches share their auto tuning with standard models rather than offering the sort of intuition that can detect then adapt to cruising or hard driving. That wouldn’t be an issue if a manual was available, but even so, predict a traffic situation ahead and switch between D and S, or use the paddleshifters, and this GTI is a real hoot to steer.
So are there any downsides?
Beyond the slightly average DSG – although you work around its foibles and the towering performance trumps all – there’s the interior plastics that are some degree behind small cars in this $30K-plus price bracket.
Let’s not forget that fully optioned, as our test car is, the Polo GTI is a $38,190+ORC proposition. Right up here, for that price, it feels a bit strained. Conversely, had Volkswagen chucked a few options on the standard kit list, a circa-$35K tag would feel about right here.
What’s It Like On The Road?
As with the Golf GTI, the Polo GTI is a masterful all-rounder. It won’t rattle your teeth, or deafen your occupants. Yet also as with big-brother GTI, little GTI is not the boring jack-of-all-trades option like some lazily (and incorrectly) pigeon-hole it as.
Volkswagen has also given big and little siblings their own personality. Both have steering that is not the last word in feel and feedback, and could be a touch sharper, but is otherwise enjoyably linear and consistent. Both chassis’ have a beautifully balanced feel front-to-rear.
However, the Polo feels tighter, with a more reactive ride even in the standard adaptive suspension’s Normal mode, while the alternative Sport is hard indeed. It feels nimble, standing on its nose in corners and sweeping its rear-end into playful action around long-radius round-a-bouts for example – though not in an anti-social way, mind.
There are only two areas in which this Volkswagen could feel sportier. Firstly, with a tare weight of 1285kg, it never feels as instantly darty as the admittedly noisier, smaller and cheaper-feeling sub-1000kg Swift Sport. Yet unlike a Golf GTI, which has just picked up a front limited-slip differential (LSD) as standard, the ‘open diff’ of this Polo GTI means that it can allow its inside wheel to spin on corner exit. It prefers a fast-in, faster-out style…
Does It Have A Spare?
Yes, but only an 80km/h-limited temporary space-saver spare.
Can You Tow With It?
What about ownership?
Volkswagen’s capped-price servicing includes annual or 15,000km check-ups, for a three-years or 45,000km total cost of $1498. However, while only a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is offered, if you purchase before December 31 the Polo GTI will score five-year, unlimited kilometre cover.
What about safety features?
Six airbags, electronic stability control (ESC) with ABS, plus the aforementioned AEB, rear-view camera and rear parking sensors are standard – while a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, front parking sensors and adaptive cruise are optional.