First Drive: Is VW's New Polo GTI The Baby-Golf GTI We’ve Been Waiting For?

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The new 189HP Polo GTI has received a lot of hardware changes over the previous model and on paper, all the right boxes are ticked.

Moar Power

VW ditched the turbocharged and supercharged 178hp 1.4 TSI engine in favor of a turbocharged-only 189hp 1.8 TSI, giving the Polo GTI a useful boost of 11hp and more importantly 52lb-ft more torque, if you stick with the standard manual gearbox. That’s right people, the Polo GTI is now available again with a stick and three pedals and yes, if you opt for the seven-speed DSG transmission you’ll have less torque (184lb-ft/250Nm) than the manual, due to safeguarding reasons.

So another point for the manual –in case you needed one. 0-62mph (100km/h) comes in an estimated 6.7sec and the top speed is 146mph (235km/h), whichever gearbox you go for. However, if you choose the seven-speed DSG, fuel economy will be better, at 50.4mpg UK against 47.1 of the manual’s and also have lower CO2 emissions (129g/km against 139g/km for the manual).

Better Control

Other changes from the previous generation include a fatter front anti-roll bar, the XDS+ electronic limited diff we know from the Golf GTI and an optional Performance kit which gives you for the first time electronically adjustable dampers with two settings, Normal and Sport. Priced sensibly at £245 though, it really is a no-brainer. The chassis sits lower by 10mm at the front and 15mm at the back.

The manual gearbox really brings a much-needed layer of interaction to the Polo GTI. You simply cannot replicate the entertaining procedure of changing a gear using a lever and a third pedal, no matter how faster the DSG swaps the cogs. Combine this with an engine that likes to be revved instead of being forced to, and the Polo GTI looks more convincing as a hot hatch than ever.

The engine, closely related to the 2.0-litre mill used among others by the Golf GTI, is one of the main attractions, giving you its maximum 236lb-ft (320Nm) from just 1,450rpm, followed by a punchy mid-range but the good news is that it likes to be revved, rewarding the driver for keeping it above 4,000rpm. Performance is strong but then, this wasn't one of the previous Polo GTI’s issues.

Does it Drive Like its Bigger Brother Though?

With a powertrain inviting you to work it hard, the Polo GTI tackles the bends with refined manners and a great sense of stability. Press the ‘Sport’ button on the center console which tightens the dampers, sharpens the throttle response and makes the steering a bit heavier and the whole car becomes more urgent in your inputs, allowing you to better explore where its limits are. Unlike its predecessor, the new Polo GTI feels more natural to drive fast and less dictated by its electronic aids.

On tighter strips of asphalt, you can sense the XDS+ working to keep the nose in line, braking the inner wheel and hunting for traction with the Polo GTI demonstrating how good it is on putting its power down on the road. You can lean harder than ever on that front end now, thanks to this electronic wizardry and of course the stronger anti-roll bar. With the rear end showing though absolutely no signs of playfulness, the chassis proves to offer little more and the whole experience leaves you with a one-dimensional taste in your mouth. It’s really easy to drive it really fast and give that engine a thorough work-out but when it comes to just having a good laugh with it, the Polo GTI remains serious and not willing to allow you play with its chassis balance.

Bottom Line

The new Polo GTI is a much more rewarding car that the car that replaces, period. It has a more characterful and brawnier engine for starters, a manual gearbox and even shares some of the nice electronic toys from its big brother. It may not be as fun to drive as let's say, a Fiesta ST but it’s easier to live with on a daily basis, thanks to its better ride and remains a fully accomplished and entertaining hot hatch to drive. Prices start at £18,850 for the UK market and if you go for it, make sure you tick the Performance kit option for the complete experience.

Photos: Michael Karkafiris / Carscoops.com & VW

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