Polo GTI: Something like a phenomenon

I should probably admit my unerring fondness for the current VW Polo. When it launched at the beginning of 2010, I unashamedly pronounced on the spot that it would win Car of the Year. It did. Locally built units went one step further and won over the notoriously quality-obsessed European Car of the Year jury. Only the most inane motoring pundit could’ve climbed behind the wheel and not foreseen it was destined for amazing success.

The Polo is an utterly conventional interpretation of the Euro small-car norm. A sensibly, ruggedly engineered hatchback, wrapped in the crisply stylised penmanship of today. And now, as the original MK1 Golf did in 1976, it is destined to be remembered for even more than those admirably virtuous and simple traits.

The enduring automotive trend of the hot hatchback has this year achieved a brand new mark: the new Polo GTI. This Polo GTI is yet another landmark car VW can credit itself with. It’s a phenomenon.

For once for a VW, I can let the technical data explain the length and breadth of this car’s splendour: 132kW and 250Nm from a turbo/supercharged 1,4-litre engine; 0-100km/h in 6,9 seconds and a top speed of 229km/h. That’s 0,1 seconds less to 100km/h than the current Golf GTI and 1,3 seconds less than the old 1,8-litre Polo GTI. It uses 5,9 litres per 100km and produces only 139g of CO2 per kilometre. That’s thanks to its highly efficient seven-speed DSG gearbox. And all this costs R259 000.

‘It’s an absolute ripper’
Now we get to the dynamics and feel of the thing. To quote Aussie cricket commentators from the Shane Warne era, “it’s an absolute ripper” out on the black stuff. It’s 15mm lower than a standard Polo, with 17-inch GTI wheels and VW’s XDS electronic front differential to clasp those front wheels to the ground as you bury the throttle. The ride is on the bouncy side — as you would expect from a small, stiff, hot hatch — but the benefits of that are eye-swivelling dynamics.

I’m not kidding. You may be 0,1 of a second behind a Golf GTI off the line, but come to a corner and you’ll be laughing. Less weight, smaller dimensions and the same front differential — so tell me who’s exiting the corner first? Not only that, but you’ll be having bucket loads more fun than the guy in the Golf as you do it.

The Polo GTI is such a laugh to drive (almost bordering on a bit of wild ride, if I’m honest) that you’re left with a smile stretching from Bavistown to Budapest. I suggested to VW that the car come with a high-performance driving course to keep the lucky young ones gifted this thing out of the country’s crash barriers.

The praise continues in VW’s infinite wisdom of only offering the Polo GTI with a DSG gearbox. That might sound dictatorial in the most Germanic sense, but it’s in fact the show of democratic benevolence I mentioned up top. The double clutch automatic makes everyday driving faultless, something none of its competitors can truly claim. Then, when the mood strikes and you feel like blowing a feckless manual transmission car into the undergrowth, it drops from seventh instantly into third of fourth and the shape in your rear-view mirror shrinks without hesitation.

My only criticism of the Polo GTI — and it’s minute against the landslide of praise duly afforded it — is that from the outside it looks a bit tame compared to other hot hatch rivals like the Renault Clio RS and Alfa Romeo Mito cloverleaf. Then again, that red stripe and the mesh grille “GTI subtlety” is what’s made hot VWs such an enduring success over the decades, so I’ll duly retract that last criticism.

As for this hot VW Polo GTI, it’s the best small car you can buy — bar none — and it will continue to be so for as long as VW keeps making it.

Fast Facts:
Price: R259 000
Engine: 1,4-litre TSI (twin charged) four cylinder
Power: 132kW and 250Nm
Performance: 6,9 seconds (0-100km/h) and 229kph top speed
Consumption: 5,9-litres per 100km and 139g CO2 per km

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Ray Leathern
Guest Author

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