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Volkswagen Polo GTI 2018 review

EXPERT RATING
7.5
The new Polo is the smallest Volkswagen you can currently buy, and the angriest is the Polo GTI. So, is it too small? Does it cost too much? And is it quick enough?

The new Volkswagen Polo GTI is louder, more uncomfortable, thirstier and costs more than a regular Polo. So, what’s to like about it? A lot.

As you may or may not know the GTI badge isn’t worn by ordinary Volkswagens. The letters indicate the car has impressive dynamic ability while remaining fairly civilised.

And even though the Polo is the tiniest Volkswagen hatch you can currently buy new, that GTI badge still commands giant respect.

Tiny, but not as small as it used to be this new generation Polo GTI has grown in size. Does this mean it’s finally practical?

And does the increase in size affect performance? The previous Polo GTI was acclaimed for its agility.

As for the cost, the Polo GTI is not only more expensive than the regular Polo, but it costs more than the previous Polo GTI. Is it worth it?

I found out when I attended the launch of the new generation Polo GTI.

Volkswagen Polo 2018: GTi
Safety rating
Engine Type1.8L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.7L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$27,888

Is there anything interesting about its design?  8/10

The Polo GTI’s exterior styling is subtle... apart from all the GTI badges. Distinguishing it from the regular Polo is the red pinstripe running across the grille and through the headlights, there’s the lower grille with its black honeycomb design, the side skirts, the roof-top spoiler with its black extension, and the dual-chrome exhaust integrated into the black mesh diffuser.

Also standard are the 17-inch 'Milton Keynes' style alloy wheels. Have you been to Milton Keynes in the UK? If not, maybe don’t.

This new Polo GTI is bigger than before. End-to-end it’s 84mm longer than the previous model at almost 4.1m and 69mm wider at 1.8m across. The wheelbase has grown by 90mm and now measures 2.5m and that has led to more legroom and boot space (you can read about this below).

  • The Polo GTI’s exterior styling is subtle... apart from all the GTI badges. The Polo GTI’s exterior styling is subtle... apart from all the GTI badges.
  • This new Polo GTI is bigger than before. This new Polo GTI is bigger than before.
  • The red element that’s inlayed into the dash and matching trim is stunning. The red element that’s inlayed into the dash and matching trim is stunning.

The Polo GTI’s cabin styling is exceptional – there isn’t another little hatch at this price point with this level of coolness and quality. The red element that’s inlayed into the dash and matching trim around the console and doors and the display screen, plus the optional virtual instrument cluster is stunning.

I’m a fan of the Clark tartan upholstery because it’s a GTI tradition. The black microfleece looks like tracksuit material to me. Combine all that with great ergonomics and even more room and it looks like Volkswagen is close to nailing it with this new Polo GTI.

How practical is the space inside?  8/10

The new Polo GTI is more practical than the previous one. At 191cm tall I could not sit behind my driving position in the old car, and I mean I physically could not get my legs in the car because of the front seat. I had to sit side-saddle with my legs, splayed… okay, you get the idea.

But due to the increase in wheelbase rear legroom has grown so I can sit back there with about 20mm of space between my knees and the seatback. That’s excellent, even in a car the next size class up.

Headroom back there is also generous – even with the optional sunroof. The same goes for the front, I’m tall and pretty wide, and that extra shoulder room is welcome. My co-driver was the same height and width as me and not once did our elbows meet – which happened in the old car constantly with two up front.

The new Polo GTI is more practical than the previous one. The new Polo GTI is more practical than the previous one.

Seats fold 60/40 and with them both in place boot capacity has increased, too – by 101 litres for 305 litres of luggage space. With those seats down that increases to 1079 litres.

Storage throughout the cabin could be better. There are just two cupholders, both in the front and small, while door pockets throughout are also little. The bin under the front centre armrest is deep and narrow, but it’s good to see a hidey hole in front of the shifter for wallets and keys.

For devices you’ll find two USB ports in the storage area under the dash and a 12-volt power outlet on the centre console.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?  8/10

The Polo GTI lists for $30,990 (before on-road costs) which is about than $10,000 more than the cheapest normal Polo and $800 more than the previous Polo GTI with the automatic transmission.

That’s another thing you should know: this new Polo GTI isn’t available with a manual gearbox. That’s not just a let down for stick shift fans, it also means that without the more affordable manual on offer the entry-point into the auto-only Polo GTI is now $3300 more than the old car.

Standard features in the Polo GTI include an 8.0-inch display, reversing camera, six-speaker stereo, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, proximity key, leather GTI flat-bottomed steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels and the traditional GTI 'Clark' tartan cloth upholstery.

The GTI comes with a lot of features... at an extra cost. The GTI comes with a lot of features... at an extra cost.

What’s missing? LED headlights (the standard ones are halogen), parking sensors and sat nav. Which is disappointing considering the price. The lack of sat nav is no biggie because you have Apple CarPlay and Android auto which I’ve found work superbly.

If you do want built-in sat nav you have some options. There’s the $1900 'Sound and Vision package' which adds sat nav along with a stunning, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and 300w Beats sound system. Yup, Beats as in Dr Dre Beats. Word.

The pack which would interest me the most is the 'Driver Assistance' one for $1400 because it adds adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, parking sensors and auto parking.

Standard features in the GTI include 17-inch alloy wheels. Standard features in the GTI include 17-inch alloy wheels.

The 'Luxury pack' is a whopping $3900 and takes out the traditional Clark tartan cloth (why would you?) and replaces it with microfleece upholstery, heated seats, LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof and rear privacy glass.

As a model comparison the Polo GTI is up against the Ford Fiesta ST which undercuts it at $27,490. The Renault Clio RS (Cup and Sport) is a worthy rival, too, ranging from $30,990 to $32,490. Also, take a look at the Peugeot 208 GTI for $29,990.

So, while the Polo GTI costs more than most people would probably pay for a small car there are still those (like me) who’d see its decent standard features list and performance hardware as worth the extra money. And then there’s the styling and build quality, which we’re just about to get to.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?  8/10

Power output is up by 6kW to 147kW but it’s the amount of torque which is most impressive. Power output is up by 6kW to 147kW but it’s the amount of torque which is most impressive.

Yes, the new Polo GTI is larger, but it's also been given a bigger engine producing more grunt with a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four cylinder replacing the old car's 1.8-litre.

Power output is up by 6kW to 147kW but it’s the amount of torque which is most impressive - 320Nm from 1450rpm, so right down low in the rev range for great acceleration.

The previous Polo GTI produced 320Nm, too, but not from such low revs, and only when combined with the manual gearbox. The automatic transmission in the old car only produced 280Nm. This new Polo GTI is only available with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

As with the old Polo GTI, this one is front-wheel drive.

How much fuel does it consume?  7/10

Volkswagen says the Polo GTI should use 6.1L/100km over a combination of urban and open roads. I tested that using the trip computer and saw 7.7L/100km after 100km on country roads.

What's it like to drive?  8/10

The previous Polo GTI was one of the best ‘fun-and-fast-for-your-money’ cars you could buy and that remains true for this new model. Seriously, you could easily throw a lot more cash at something else sporty and prestigious in the search for the same experience and still not find it as fun and engaging as this little Polo GTI.

How is the Polo GTI mechanically different from a normal Polo? Lowered by 15mm, the GTI has sports suspension with a thicker torsion bar at the back (no multi-link rear here), and Volkswagen says there’s different axle geometry and lower roll centres, too.

Steering in the Normal setting feels too light and a bit artificial. Steering in the Normal setting feels too light and a bit artificial.

Add a turbo 2.0-litre that pulls with all 320Nm from just above idle and the Polo GTI can rip from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds – less than half a second behind its Golf GTI big brother. And there are good brakes to hose off the speed.

Also different from a regular Polo is the GTI’s six-speed dual-clutch auto, and an extended electronic differential lock, while engine response, steering and suspension can be set in 'Normal' or 'Sport' using the Polo GTI’s drive mode selector.

On curly roads through NSW’s Northern Rivers region the Polo GTI proved quick, agile, and fun. Body control is excellent and pushing the little hatch probably way too hard into some corners didn’t unsettle it, as the thing held on tight with good grip from pretty narrow, but low-profile tyres (215/45 R17 front and rear), helped no doubt by the extended diff lock.

The Polo GTI can rip from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds. The Polo GTI can rip from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds.

Steering in the Normal setting feels too light and a bit artificial, but Sport mode gives you a much better feeling of connection with a perfect weight to it. Turn-in is good, and then that torque is always under your foot to power you out of corners, even offering up a smidge of oversteer.

Seating position is spot on – I could get low and feel part of the car, while visibility is good, too.

The roads we were treated too had some great corners but the surface was patchy and potholed for the most part, so unless I was giving it a red-hot go the suspension was set in Normal. Sport was just to firm for times when it wasn’t needed.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?  7/10

The Volkswagen Polo was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2017 – that same score goes for the Polo GTI, too. Along with the extended electronic differential which is a form of traction and stability control, there’s AEB which operates at highway and city speeds. At lower speed the AEB system has pedestrian detection, too.

It would be good to see blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert with AEB made standard on the Polo GTI, but as I mentioned earlier these are available in a package along with adaptive cruise control and auto parking.

For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tethers across the back row.

Under the boot floor lives a space saver spare tyre.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?  6/10

The Polo GTI is covered by Volkswagen’s three year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Servicing is recommended every 15,000km/12 months. Volkswagen’s website has a price guide which says you can expect to pay $408 for the first service, $631 for the second, then $408, and $1374 for the four-year 60,000km service.

The Polo GTI is covered by Volkswagen’s three year/unlimited kilometre warranty. The Polo GTI is covered by Volkswagen’s three year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Pricing Guides

$21,990
Based on 550 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$15,430
Highest Price
$44,920

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
66 TSI Trendline 1.2L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $12,980 – 17,270 2018 VOLKSWAGEN POLO 2018 66 TSI Trendline Pricing and Specs
70 TSI TRENDLINE 1.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $17,880 – 22,015 2018 VOLKSWAGEN POLO 2018 70 TSI TRENDLINE Pricing and Specs
70 TSI TRENDLINE 1.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $17,880 – 22,015 2018 VOLKSWAGEN POLO 2018 70 TSI TRENDLINE Pricing and Specs
70 TSI TRENDLINE 1.0L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $16,888 – 19,515 2018 VOLKSWAGEN POLO 2018 70 TSI TRENDLINE Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.5
Engine & trans8
Driving8
Price and features8
Design8
Practicality8
Fuel consumption7
Safety7
Ownership6

“There would be some people who’d see the Polo GTI as an overly expensive, little hatchback that uses more fuel than car this size should with ride that’s too firm and an exhaust system that’s too loud. Then there are those of us who know that a hatch this talented on the road (or track), with a great interior and now even more space is worth the asking price and the fuel money. You see it’s louder, more uncomfortable, thirstier and costlier for a reason – fun.”

Is the Polo GTI the ultimate little warm hatch? Tell us what you think in the comments below.