VW Polo GTI |

The Polo continues to improve on its fantastic formula with each iteration, making it ever more challenging to find it worthy competitors in the local market.

The Polo GTI has been around for years, serving as the budget alternative to the venerable Golf GTI, offering similar performance stats as its more expensive sibling. Having been treated to a mild facelift, the new Polo GTI again prepares to dominate a market segment devoid of any real competition. We took to the streets with the new Polo GTI for a couple of days to probe the hype. Here is our verdict.


The new Polo GTI comes with enough visual changes to be noticeable. The front end features new LED matrix headlights connected by a full width LED light strip that accentuates the car’s width. A fresh honeycomb-style grille adds to the allure, accentuated by a red highlight strip connecting the headlights. The vehicle also comes with aggressive-looking bumpers, further reinforced by the twin exhaust pipes. Sticking to its GTI heritage, the Polo rides 15 mm lower, which, when complemented with 18” alloys, gives the little hatch a sporty stance. GTI badging on the tailgate and red callipers add to the GTI aesthetic.

Peek Inside

While the interior of the Polo has improved over the years from one generation to the next, the 6th generation Polo represents a step change. With generous use of soft-touch materials, stylishly contrasted with metal accents, the cabin presents an upmarket feel that elevates the Polo above what you would expect from cars in this category. You can tell that the designers aimed the vehicle at the younger generations because it is a digital tech fest with various screens dotted around the cabin.

The driver faces a configurable virtual cockpit, while centre-stage on the dash is the pre-facelift 8” infotainment system, which, shocking to say, is a welcome proposition over the lagging unit in the new Golf. It remains intuitive and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Further enhancing the multimedia experience in our tester was the optional Beats speaker system that handled my bass-heavy playlist in a fashion that would make Dr Dre proud.

Below the infotainment system lies a touch-sensitive panel that replaces the physical controls of the new model’s predecessor. This new climate control unit and the new haptic controls for the steering wheel may seem like unnecessary tech advancements for older generations, but they hit the spot with their target market, even if some functions are more challenging to operate while driving.

The rest of the cabin sports red accents, bolstered tartan-clad seats and aluminium pedals to remind you that you are driving a GTI derivative.

Driving Impressions

A 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine churns out 147 kW and 320 Nm. This punchy engine is married to a six-speed DCT transmission which drives the front wheels.

I spent seven days using the Polo GTI as my daily vehicle, with a mix of sedated and spirited driving, with a strong bias towards the latter. As an everyday drive, the Polo GTI is a near-perfect hatchback. The car’s small dimensions make it easy to pilot in city traffic, especially when slotting into tight parking spots. Even with the lowered suspension, there is no compromise in the ride quality, as the dynamic chassis control allows you to adjust the ride quality to your preferred level of comfort. Thanks to the reworked suspension, this pocket rocket has great confidence and agility through corners, sure to please even the most ardent right-foot biased drivers.

Clearly aimed at drivers who take driver enjoyment seriously, the four driving modes enable you to sharpen the throttle response and gearshift intensity, transforming the once sedate Polo into the GTI you paid for. The powerful engine is good for a zero to 100 km/h sprint in just 6.7 seconds before topping off at 238 km/h. These sprint figures are just a fraction slower than the more prestigious (and expensive) Golf GTI. The dual-clutch transmission (DCT) handles its work smoothly and quickly, with pops and crackles escaping from the twin exhaust pipes. Thanks to its more than adequate torque, this hatch gets the hurry up instantly and effortlessly, so much so that you may find yourself short-shifting it like you would a diesel, which, as it turns out, helps attain impressive fuel mileage figures.

Last Word

The Polo GTI is an exceptionally well-engineered hatch, offering excellent performance and handling, but it’s a pity that it does not offer a trusty manual transmission as an option. Sure, the DCT does the job better than most manual shifters could ever do, but it also takes away from the driver’s involvement. Still, it’s a great car to drive on a daily basis, knowing that rocket-like performance is just a tap of the accelerator away.

Report by BRYAN KAYAVHU | Images © Volkswagen South Africa




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