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Tim Robson road tests and reviews the VW Polo GTI with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
It can be tough being a little brother sometimes – especially when your big bro is captain of the football team, dux of his class and a bit of a hit at the nightclub.
So it goes for Volkswagen's Polo GTI, born in the shadow of its older and more experienced sibling, the Golf GTI. Don't feel too bad for it, though, because like most young 'uns, the Polo GTI has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Add a bodykit and a nice set of rims, and that'd very amply describe the differences between the standard issue Polos and the subtly modified GTI version.
The front and rear bars were updated in early 2015, along with the 17-inch Parabolica rims and optional new LED headlights and daytime lamps. The taillight lenses are also tinted.
The overall shape is not dissimilar to the sharper and more angular lines of all modern VWs, including the Golf and the Passat.
Inside, the distinctive Clark patterned sports seats are standard, as is a leather-wrapped, flat-bottom tilt-and-reach-adjustable steering wheel. Black headlining and chrome trim also separate the GTI from its more humble brethren.
The five-door has 60/40 split-fold rear seats that fold (almost) flat. With the seats up, there's 204 litres of luggage space behind the rear pews, pushing out to 882 litres with the seats down.
We were able to cram in a week's worth of groceries in the diminutive space with little fuss. A space-saver tyre hides under the boot floor.
The new engine is vocal and willing, with plenty to give all the way through the rev range.
Rear-seat room is surprisingly generous, even for my 187cm frame, thanks to scalloped front seat backs, a squared-off roofline and decent toe room.
The manual-adjust front seats are narrow but still supportive, and have storage drawers hidden underneath.
The Polo lacks storage in the rear doors, but will take 1.25-litre bottles in the front doors, along with a pair of small cups under the centre stack.
The Polo GTI is available in two variants; the six-speed manual starts at $27,490, while the seven-speed DSG equipped version is $29,990.
Equipment levels are healthy enough for a circa-$30k compact hatch, though a few key items have been moved onto options lists.
Auto lights and wipers, an Apple/Android compatible Bluetooth-equipped multimedia system, auto dimming rear view mirror, rear view camera and an alarm system are standard, but you'll need to opt for the $1700 Driver Assistance Package to get satellite navigation and front/rear parking sensors.
A $3300 Luxury Package, meanwhile, provides leather/Alcantara seats, a sunroof and LED headlights.
Metallic paint is a $500 option if red or white is not your preferred colour choice.
The Polo GTI'S 1.8-litre four-cyinder turbo engine is based on the EA888 2.0-unit in the front of the Golf GTI (amongst many others), and brings a host of refinements that will eventually make their way into other VW powerplants.
Known internally as a 'toolkit' engine, the 1.8 is nearly six kilograms lighter than the 1.4-litre twin-charged unit it replaced. The piston bores aren't sleeved to reduce capacity, either; it's a proper re-casting job.
A smaller turbocharger than the one in the Golf GTI brings the power back down to 141kW, while a number of new fuel-saving tricks – including a combination of direct and indirect fuel injection (via two valves per cylinder), a direct-mount water-cooled manifold and more – drop both emissions and consumption.
The 1272kg GTI can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.7 seconds.
Interestingly, while the power output for both versions of the car is listed at 141kW, the seven-speed DSG variant is rated at 250Nm of torque across a band of 1250-5300rpm, while the six-speed manual delivers a far healthier 320Nm, albeit across a slightly narrower band of 1450-4200rpm.
Volkswagen lists fuel consumption at 5.7L/100km combined for a DSG-equipped version, but our week-long test in the double-clutcher produced figures that were closer to 8.5L/100km.
A manual – which was not available on the previous version of the Polo GTI – can return 6.1L/100km combined.
Its fuel tank holds 45 litres of premium, by the way.
The Polo GTI's chassis has also come in for a makeover. Up front, stiffer steering arm linkages and a stiffer anti-roll bar have augmented the MacPherson strut arrangement.
The rear torsion beam has been tweaked as well, with redesigned mounting bushings providing up to three times more stiffness in side-to-side (lateral) loading, without affecting the vertical compliance (ride comfort, in other words).
It's eminently more entertaining to take the back way home.
The GTI rides 10mm lower up front and 15mm lower out back when measured against its stablemates.
The key chassis tweak, though, is the introduction of two-stage adaptive dampers. Made by renowned damper builders Bilstein, the hydrostatic shocks are linked to up to four other adjustable driving parameters, including steering feel, throttle map, DSG shift mode and an (urgh) internal noise augmenter.
Press the Sport button on the dash, and things get firmer, more responsive and louder. Keep the Sport button depressed for three seconds, and the GTI will raise the limits of the stability control gatekeeper, as well as switching off the traction control system entirely.
Cross-country jaunts are dispatched with surprising ease in the GTI, but it's eminently more entertaining to take the back way home.
The Polo GTI scores not only the electronic limited-slip front diff from the Golf GTI, but also its torque-vectoring mode, where the front inside wheel can be braked a wee bit without interruption to the engine to help the Polo turn like a week-old burrito.
The new engine is vocal and willing, with plenty to give all the way through the rev range, though the artificial noise piped into the cabin can get droney quite quickly.
Overall, the GTI feels peppy, lively and up for a rumble. It's definitely not as settled as a Golf GTI, but that's part of its appeal; it feels more raw and alive under your fingertips and backside, like a true hot hatch should.
We're pleased that a rear view camera has moved from the options list to being standard fitment, but the Polo still misses out on almost every new-generation safety feature on sale today, like city emergency braking – and none of them are even optional.
Six airbags – including front and rear curtain bags - and post-collision braking, along with the rear-view camera, still nets the Polo a five-star ANCAP rating.
Volkswagen offers a fixed price service structure for the Polo for six years, with the most expensive service costing $722 at the four-year mark.
Brake fluid and pollen filters aren't included in the price, though.
All Polos also come with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI is a smaller, more nimble and more involving version of the Golf GTI, and harks back to the early days of hot hatch entertainment.
It's not quite as composed and unflappable as the larger car, nor is it quite the firecracker that the formidable Ford Fiesta ST has proven to be.
With five doors and a dual-clutch option, though, the GTI makes for a more practical compact hatch, and one that belies its low-key looks with a positively naughty streak.
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