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The idea of a fast, practical and cheap car may seem seem like three square pegs trying to fit into one round hole, but there's plenty of choice on the market right now.
However when the MkV Volkswagen Polo GTI first hit Australian roads in late 2010, it created a new budget performance benchmark.
All of a sudden you could buy a Polo that matched the performance of the Golf GTI, for around the same price as a mid-spec Corolla. Other little hot hatches of the time like the MkIII Renault Clio Sport and Mini Cooper S were fast but cost Golf GTI money, and the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ twins didn’t even exist.
Volkswagen has just treated the hot Polo to a pretty serious overhaul, but is it enough to topple the competition?
The biggest change is under the bonnet, with an upgrade to a version of the 1.8-litre petrol turbo found in several other VW Group models, which is basically a smaller version of the 2.0-litre engine from the Golf GTI.
The biggest change is under the bonnet, with an upgrade to a 1.8-litre turbo
Hot-hatch purists will also love that you can finally buy a manual version, reversing the modern trend of going auto-only, but you can still get a DSG auto. Both transmissions are now 0.2 seconds quicker to 100km/h (6.7 seconds claimed) thanks to an extra 9kW of power.
On the outside, the new GTI scores a few discrete visual upgrades, with new multi-spoke 17-inch alloys, redesigned head and taillights, a new front bumper, and subtle unpainted sideskirts and rear diffuser.
The interior has also been touched up, with revised materials and the 6.5-inch multimedia screen available on lesser Polo models since their update late last year.
Also like the rest of the Polo range, the GTI is still a five door-only affair (the three door was dropped in 2013).
Hot hatch purists will also love that you can finally buy a manual version
Those aiming for maximum practicality will be disappointed by the new GTI’s boot, with the bigger engine forcing a relocation of the battery to the cargo area. It now sits beneath the spacesaver spare wheel, raising the whole boot floor. This cuts the seats-up capacity by 74 litres to a quite tight 204 and eliminates the dual-floor height ability found in other Polos.
The new manual model drops the Polo GTI asking price by $2050 to $27,490, which is actually $300 cheaper than the price its predecessor first carried in 2010. Like all VW autos, the DSG carries a $2500 premium to sit at $29,990.
Out of the box, it comes with important luxuries like a leather steering wheel, climate control, auto headlight and wipers, along with VW GTI-characteristic tartan cloth trim.
A reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors are only available if you opt for the $1700 Driver Assistance Package, which also brings satnav and driver-fatigue detection.
A $3300 Luxury Package is also available, which adds Alcantara and leatherette seat trim, heated front seats, LED headlights, and a large electric sunroof above the front occupants.
The new 1.8-litre turbocharged engine is already used in several Audi and Skoda models, but has been boosted to a healthy 141kW in Polo GTI trim. Torque delivery is a slightly more complicated affair, with the six-speed manual version twisting 320Nm, while the seven-speed DSG dual clutch auto has been pegged at its engineering limit of 250Nm.
Either way, the new engine is a handy step up from the 132kW/250Nm 1.4-litre supercharged and turbocharged unit used previously.
Max torque is available from just above idle across much of the rev range with each transmission, from 1240-4200rpm in the manual and 1250-5300rpm in the auto.
A stop/start system and regenerative braking have helped drop combined fuel consumption for the auto model to 5.7L/100km, while the manual model is a match for the old GTI at 6.1L/100km. Like all Polo models, Premium 95RON unleaded is required.
On the road, the new GTI matches the excellent feel of its predecessor, with the main difference being a significant refinement gain from the bigger engine.
The old twin-charged unit made all sorts of satisfying whines and puffs as the supercharger and turbocharger worked hand in hand, but the best that the new model can manage is a subtle growl when it’s really working. If you’re a fan of the Fiesta ST’s melodious induction noise, the Polo is not for you.
The manual is the same slick unit found in the Golf GTI, and the engine’s torque delivery means you’ll rarely find yourself in the wrong gear. The intuitive DSG helps mask its torque deficit, and the excellent response from each tune makes it feel like a much bigger engine than 1.8 litres.
The old model was already a cracking little handler, but a new electric steering setup makes for excellent feel.
A new electric steering setup makes for feel that can only be described as excellent.
A new ESP Sport mode gives you the option of lifting the stability control threshold, which allows you to enjoy the limits of grip without turning off the electronic safety net altogether.
Both front and rear ends give way gently, making it a pretty safe hot hatch to drive on the edge. The extended electronic diff lock (XDL) also does a fantastic job of balancing power between the front wheels on full-power corner exits.
It’s generally a comfortable little machine under normal circumstances, but the tight suspension and low profile 17-inch tyres still make the ride a bit jiggly on less than perfect surfaces.
The GTI carries a five star ANCAP rating like all MkV Polos, with dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags, multi-collision braking and ISOFIX child seat mounts in the outer rear positions.
If you’ve been dreaming of a manual Polo GTI, this is your moment.
However with either transmission, it’s a better hot hatch than ever. It’s not quite as sharp as a Fiesta ST, and the more powerful engine has lost some of the character of old model, but the added refinement would make it much easier to live with day to day.
|66 TSI Trendline||1.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$11,868 – 14,999||2015 Volkswagen Polo 2015 66 TSI Trendline Pricing and Specs|
|81 TSI Comfortline||1.2L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$11,888 – 12,990||2015 Volkswagen Polo 2015 81 TSI Comfortline Pricing and Specs|
|GTi||1.8L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$18,990 – 22,980||2015 Volkswagen Polo 2015 GTi Pricing and Specs|