The facelifted Volkswagen Polo GTI may have jumped in price by nearly $6K but this ultra-capable all-rounder is still a fantastic small hot hatch
The facelifted Volkswagen Polo GTI has been ushered into Australia with a significant price hike – $5860 more expensive than the car it replaces (at $38,750 before on-road costs) – while the rest of the Polo range has jumped even further in price, but not without good reason.
With the GTI’s standard equipment list now including Matrix LED headlights, a digital driver’s display and wireless phone charging, the latest hot Polo is brimming with technology.
Next to rivals including the rambunctious Hyundai i20 N ($32,490 before on-road costs) and gigglesome Ford Fiesta ST ($33,490 before on-road costs), the Polo GTI not only stands out as more expensive, but also a more mature proposition with the option of a sunroof (that the i20 doesn’t offer) and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that makes everyday commuting effortless.
It’s almost as if that because the Mark 8 Golf GTI is now nearly $55K (and with options, above $61K), the Polo GTI has moved into a space that Volkswagen’s default everyday hot hatch used to sit –- an under $50K proposition with a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine twice the size of a cooking Polo.
Along with luxury, Volkswagen has also been busy increasing safety for the Polo range with a more comprehensive list of available adaptive safety features including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, lane-trace assist and even a centre airbag. Combined, the Polo scores a renewed five-star ANCAP rating – replacing its previous circa-2018 five-star rating.
At the Australian release of the facelifted Polo we were able to sample the little hot hatch in town, on the freeway, along some challenging (and sodden) back roads, and even score a few laps around a racetrack – the perfect test for a little hot hatch like the Polo.
The GTI packs a familiar ‘EA888’ turbo-petrol four-cylinder that’s been around for some time – making an identical 147kW of power as the 2005 Mk5 Golf GTI, though with an extra 40Nm of torque at 320Nm. The result is a 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.6 seconds and a barky exhaust note, with the engine feeling more muscular in the mid-range than its direct rivals.
Sending power to the front wheels via a limited-slip differential, the facelifted Polo GTI employs the ‘DQ250’ wet-type six-speed dual-clutch transmission, though European market Polos score a newer seven-speed transmission. The six-speed feels ultra-slick and Volkswagen’s tuning has made interacting with it almost seamless, with fast and rewarding changes under full throttle and obedience to manual requests.
Of course, the DSG-only Polo GTI has a major point of difference and that is you don’t end up with lactic acid building up in your left leg on the way to work. This is just one aspect that makes the Polo GTI a wonderful daily driver –- not only is the powertrain torquey and rorty when you’re feeling it, the GTI is plenty refined when it needs to be.
In facelifted guise, the Polo gets 18-inch alloys (that were previously part of a $3900 Luxury pack, along with a sunroof and no-longer-available heated seats), paired with two-stage electronic dampers. In the softer ‘Comfort’ setting, the GTI breathes with the road and softens over imperfections without sacrificing body control.
The sport damper mode is arguably too firm for most of Sydney’s surfaces so the inclusion of an Individual setting that allows the driver to amp throttle, sound and steering response while maintaining a more supple chassis is welcome.
Where the firm dampers do work well is on the racetrack – keeping the Polo’s body flat through corners and allowing the driver to exploit the little hot hatch’s neutral balance. Unlike the Golf GTI, the Polo GTI retains a physical button to switch ESP into a more lenient Sport mode, but this car doesn’t offer the same off-throttle antics as a Hyundai i20 N or Ford Fiesta ST.
Instead, the Polo is best enjoyed with precise inputs and deference to the limits of its 215/40R18 Continental Sport Contact 5 tyres, which offer prodigious grip in wet conditions but don’t have the stiff sidewalls or sticky compound to really stand up to regular track abuse. You can still have fun under brakes and feel the Polo’s torsion-beam rear end rotate sweetly into the mid corner, but it’s obvious this GTI doesn’t shine brightest on a racetrack.
And that’s okay, because the Polo is safer than ever before on the road, featuring front AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-trace assist as well as front and rear parking sensors. All facelifted Polos come fitted with front centre airbags, too, which earned it five ANCAP stars in 2022 with an excellent 94 percent score for adult occupant protection.
Headlined by an optional 9.2-inch touchscreen, 300-watt six-speaker Beats sound system, wireless smartphone charging and 10.25-inch digital driver’s display capable of showing detailed maps and navigation directions, the new Polo offers a technology package that feels more mature than its compact size.
There’s one slight clanger in the tech department: the touch-capacitive steering wheel buttons that get unnervingly warm in use and are easy to bump. In time, you grow more accustomed to them, but after jumping back into the base Polo Style that has physical buttons, the new tech feels like change for change’s sake.
Apart from that small stumble, the Polo’s technology package is almost identical in its operation to a far more expensive Arteon R-Line sedan ($68,740) and feels very familiar to its premium relation, the Audi A4 45TFSI ($73,500). And that’s the beauty of this little GTI. As part of the Style and Vision pack ($1500), the Polo GTI also scores seamless wireless smartphone mirroring.
The Polo’s cabin materials are generally classy, with a soft-mould dash top and smooth leather upholstery on the steering wheel and gearshift. The door tops are hard and scratchy, which is par for the course in this segment, though Volkswagen has flocked the Polo’s centre storage cubby to stop items rattling about.
As a nice heritage touch, the Polo GTI’s seats are upholstered in tartan cloth centres and suedecloth bolsters. The sports pews do a great job holding the driver in and offer plenty of manual adjustment, including lumbar and infinite backrest adjustment.
Unfortunately, the previously available heated seats are no longer an option on the Polo GTI which does tarnish its luxury intentions somewhat, though the ability to get a sunroof ($1500) keeps the hot Polo feeling sophisticated.
In the back seat, the Polo can’t escape its compact dimensions, and at six-foot-two, knee room was tight behind my driving position. That said, those who are shorter will probably have no issue with the Polo’s rear seat (save for the lack of a fold-down armrest) as it offers good headroom and pretty stellar forward visibility.
The Polo is also less practical than the related T-Cross in not offering a sliding rear bench that allows flexibility to maximise occupant or cargo space, depending on the day. The Polo’s 351-litre boot is competitive, though, at only 30 litres shy of the significantly larger Golf.
As it doesn’t have a smaller turbocharged engine, you may expect the Polo GTI’s fuel consumption to be quite high, however its rated 6.5L/100km is still fairly efficient. In real-world driving, we saw this creep up to 6.8L/100km.
Servicing is due every 12 months or 15,000kms, and if you purchase a five-year/75,000km service pack for the GTI, it will cost $2750, more than rivals such as the Hyundai i20 N ($1545 for five years/50,000km) and the Fiesta ST ($1196 for four years/60,000km).
Volkswagen’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty has become the industry standard, however with Kia pushing the Rio’s warranty to seven years and Hyundai specifically covering its i20 N for on-track use, Volkswagen’s five-year guarantee is still good, but not outstanding.
The Polo GTI may not be the last word in on-track fun or 10-tenths backroad enjoyment, but its breadth of ability and approachable character mean that, in the real world, this hot hatch is nearly perfect.
Volkswagen’s success in taking its familiar hot hatch recipe and sprinkling even more standard luxury features such as Matrix LEDs and wireless phone mirroring over the top means the hot Polo may be compact outside, but is far more grown up in its ownership experience.
The addition of a centre airbag and tweaks to the active safety suite mean this updated Polo truly is one of the safest and most technology-packed vehicles in the light car segment.
Where the hike in entry price for the base Polo model will surely sting previous Trendline owners, this GTI does truly offer more than before, where its punchy engine, suave interior and all-round excellence make it our pick of the 2022 Polo range.
Variant tested GTi
Key specs (as tested)
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