VW Polo GTI 2018 review – finally worthy of those three letters?

Jordan Katsianis
20 Apr 2018

VW's Polo GTI is a polished and capable, but lack intensity compared to rivals and playfulness of the bigger Golf GTI

Evo Rating: 
Impressive mid-range grunt, competent daily driver
Handling is one-dimensional, adept, but not exciting

The Polo GTI has always found itself in somewhat of a predicament. Designed as a grown up, mature supermini in standard form, the Polo GTI has never really found favour with enthusiasts thanks to this underlying conservatism. Repeatedly unable to capture the larger Golf GTI’s effervescence, the new Polo GTI has been redesigned from the ground up to achieve this goal, and is closer than ever to its talented bigger brother. But can it capture the Golf GTI’s magic, or will it fall into the same ‘must try harder’ category as previous versions?

Visually, the Polo is not off to a great start. The now five-door-only bodywork, shared with the standard car, is over-complex and looks more like a demonstration of VW’s latest metal stamping techniques than an actual production car. Combined with mundane front and rear fascias, even the GTI’s trademark design cues like the honeycomb grille and red highlights struggle to lift the Polo GTI above indistinct. Compared to its wide-stanced PSA rivals, and the aggressive new Fiesta ST, the Polo’s lack of visual pizzazz is not surprising, but not any less underwhelming.

> Click here for our review of the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport

Under the skin, however, the new Polo GTI has made a much better fist of aping its big brother. Now based on a similar, albeit simplified chassis, sharing the same excellent EA888 turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and the standard Golf GTI’s XDS electronic front diff, have these new ingredients finally given the Polo GTI the tools to offer a Golf GTI experience at a lower price point? Well, yes, and no.

Performance and 0-60 time > competitive on-paper figures and flat power and torque curves correlate to a muscular feeling on the road

Engine and gearbox > the trade-off being a hesitation to rev. Gearbox is typically polished, manual cars aren’t due till Q4 of 2018

Ride and handling > Entertaining enough at road speeds, but it’s a little one-dimensional as the pace rises

MPG and running costs > near 50mpg on paper doesn’t correlate to real-world usage, as with all performance cars, admittedly

Interior and tech > solid, ergonomically sound and functional, GTI elements brighten up the practical, but still dull standard interior

Design > the exterior GTI addenda is less successful at portraying what’s under the skin. Looks more like a high-spec Polo than proper GTI

Prices, specs and rivals

The new sixth generation Polo GTI is currently available in two models – basic GTI and GTI Plus. If you were hoping that the Plus would bring with it similar goodies to the Golf GTI Performance, though, you’ll be disappointed, as there are no technical upgrades, just added levels of equipment. As standard, all the usual GTI goodies apply, including tartan sports seats, 17-inch wheels, twin chromed exhaust pipes and a subtle, but still obvious, rear wing.

Plus models add adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, Volkswagen’s digital dial pack and heated and folding mirrors. Both models are available with options like larger 18-inch wheels, sunroof and an upgraded infotainment system with embedded satnav if you wish to further bolster the Polo’s standard equipment. Prices for the basic car start at just over £21,000, with the Plus model representing a £1500 jump.

> Click here for our review of the Toyota Yaris GRMN

The supermini hot hatch class is in a state of transition at the moment, and is likely to change in the very near future, with Volkswagen’s arch nemesis, the Ford Fiesta ST, moments away from its release in the UK. Judging by the new standard Fiesta, we’re expecting it to be quite the entertainer, too, not leaving the Polo GTI any room to rest on its laurels. Peugeot’s 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport has also been a firm evo favourite for the last couple of years, offering a far more dynamic driving experience than most rivals, dominated by its rev-happy 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and scalpel-like front end. But the Peugeot is not much longer for this world, with an all-new 208 range due to be revealed at the Paris motor show later this year.

The typically polished Mini Cooper S is also a constant threat, offering a similar combination of a 2-litre turbocharged engine and dual-clutch gearbox in its recently facelifted guise. The Mini is a slightly more expensive car, though, and to match the equipment levels of the Polo, especially in Plus form, the cost discrepancy increases as its tempting options list is raided. Toyota’s Yaris GRMN is also a more expensive and decidedly aggressive offering... if you can get your hands on one, which you can’t.

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