As Good As Volkswagens Golf GTI Is, Theres No Getting Away From The Fact The Its Priced Out Of The Reach Of Many Buyers. Andy Enright Takes A Look At A More Affordable GTI From Volkswagen
Its hard not to develop a deep and lasting admiration of the current Golf GTI. Its a fantastic car but theres no getting away from the fact that it has moved significantly upmarket. Taking inflation into account, a Golf GTI bought for £5,700 in 1981 would equate to a £13,000 car today, some way removed from the current Golfs near £20,000 price tag. Therefore a truer successor to the spirit of the original GTI comes from elsewhere in Volkswagens range.
The Polo is that car and in its latest GTI form looks to replicate the Golfs success at a more accessible price.
Fast Polo variants have never really established much of a reputation for themselves. Yes, the old G40 supercharged model achieved a small cult following, but in latter years faster Polos found themselves uncomfortably squeezed between Volkswagens positioning of the Lupo and Golf GTI models. Much of that has changed now. The pricey Lupo GTI is dead and theres a little more headroom above the Polo now that the Golf GTI has become a properly premium hot hatch.
With some more air to breathe and the designers getting a freer hand, the current Polo GTI looks to be the best yet. Unveiled at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, the Polo is powered by a 150bhp turbocharged engine, in this case a 1.8-litre 20v four cylinder that has seen sterling service elsewhere in Volkswagens range. Aftermarket tuners know the potential of this engine, it being largely the same unit that powers the 240bhp Audi TT quattro Sport, albeit shorn of some of the high performance refinements.
The Polo G40 became popular because it could be tweaked so easily with the addition of a modified chip and pulley. I wouldnt be surprised if this version of the Polo GTI achieved similar status. You wont need to take this car to a tuner to extract a whole bunch of fun from it, however, as the standard package will be more than enough for many. Itll notch off the sprint to 60mph in just over eight seconds and keep going until it reaches 135mph, making it a good deal quicker than the old 125bhp Polo GTI.
"The Polo GTI offers big car pace and quality in a manageably sized package"
The turbocharged engine develops quite a fair degree of torque and the 220Nm peak figure (at a lowly 1,950rpm) is identical to that of a supercharged Mini Cooper S. This mid-range power will see the car accelerate from 50 to 75mph in a mere 7.5 seconds. This is exactly the sort of useable power you need when dispatching dawdling traffic and the Polo scores well in this regard.
Drive the car with a modicum of restraint and you should see a figure not too far removed from Volkswagens published 36.4 combined economy claim. Thats the engine covered but modern hot hatch buyers dont just want a shopping trolley with a bottle rocket underneath it. They want a premium look and feel and Volkswagen are past masters at endowing their GTI models with some serious presence.
The Polo GTI features the same radiator grille design as the Golf GTI, with black upper air grilles with a honeycomb grating. The headlights and fog lamps are also edged in black, giving the Polo a rather more malevolent frontal aspect than its benign-looking siblings. Move round to the rear and youll spot a roof edge spoiler with an integrated brake light and a chromed twin-tipped exhaust pipe. Red brake discs are easily visible through the five apertures of the 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 205/45 R16 rubber.
The ride height is 15mm lower than a standard Polo, ensuring that the wheels really fill the arches convincingly. Theres nothing worse than acres of fresh air on show above the tyres of your GTI. The visual effect of the car sitting low to the road is helped by black lateral sill boards. The interior is also bedecked with a whole bunch of sporting fitments.
Theres even a nod to classic GTI history with the fitment of chequered Interlagos upholstery. A leather-trimmed steering wheel, gear stick and gaiter and handbrake lever are only to be expected in a car of this ilk, but Volkswagen have also added extra metallic touches to lift the visual appeal of the fascia. Small details such as the red stitching work on the steering wheel and the red borders on the seat belts are nice, setting off the red badging and brake callipers. A metal top plate on the gear lever and an aluminium pedal set are also standard features.
Aside from the GTI-specific refinements, the interior remains what weve come to expect from Volkswagen, that is to say class leading. The cabin is probably more impressive than the low-key changes to the exterior. With 270 litres of boot space, the Polo can now realistically function as family transport, with rear legroom particularly generous. Fold the rear seats down and theres a cavernous 1.
030 litres at your disposal. Park yourself behind the steering wheel and youll witness a level of fit and finish normally unseen on supermini class cars. It takes enormous corporate confidence to build something this tasteful and without resort to gimmickry to pull the punters in, but Volkswagen have pulled it off with aplomb. The power steering plus a tiltable and telescopic steering column, pretty much guarantee comfort behind the wheel and taller drivers will like the GTIs adjustable height drivers seat.
Front and side airbags are fitted as standard and the passenger airbag can be deactivated if youve got a child seat fitted. Available in both three and five-door guises priced at £15,165 and £15,765 respectively, the Polo GTI isnt the cheap peoples hot hatch that many of us would have liked but itll still be a car that deserves to do very well. Lets just say this is a Polo with potential.
Facts At A Glance
CAR: Volkswagen Polo 1.8 GTI
PRICES: £15,165-£15,765 - on the road
INSURANCE GROUP: 13
CO2 EMISSIONS: 190g/km
PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 8.2s / Max Speed 135mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 36.4mpg
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front and side airbags, ABS with brake assist, ESP
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: length/width/heightmm 3197/1658/1420mm
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