This little fire-breathing hatchback is one of the cheapest performance cars on sale today and it comes with a bumper list of standard equipment.
Volkswagen’s pocket-sized Polo GTI hatchback is one of the cheapest tickets to performance driving, with a punchy 2.0-litre turbo matched to a sharp shifting dual-clutch auto.
The updated GTI costs roughly $6000 more than the vehicle it replaces – about $43,000 on the road. That’s a big chunk of money – especially when the engine and transmission are carried over – but Volkswagen says the new car is safer and better equipped than the car it replaces.
There’s some impressive new tech such as a digital driver display, wireless phone charging and wireless smartphone mirroring.
Other features to trickle down from more expensive models include front and rear sensors, semiautomatic parking, adaptive high-beam, LED tail lights and ambient lighting in the cabin.
Warranty is the industry-standard five years and servicing is on the expensive side at $2200 over five years. The 2.0-litre turbo requires premium unleaded.
The Volkswagen feels surprisingly spacious for such a small car.
Average height drivers will find it easy to select a suitable driving position and the bolstered sports seats provide good side and thigh support on longer drives.
The back seats have decent headroom and legroom for the class, although fitting three adults across the back could be a little tight. Rear passengers have their own air vents and USB-C ports for charging devices.
The load area is bigger than most rivals. The GTI sits about 15mm lower than the standard Polo and has stiffer suspension and lower profile tyres, so it doesn’t cushion its occupants from bumps and road ripples as well as the cheaper models.
It’s fine on the open road but on pockmarked city streets it can be a little tiresome, occasionally crashing over sharper edges.
One of the reasons for the steep price rise is the amount of safety gear added to the Polo at this midlife update.
There’s a new centre airbag to prevent the driver and passenger’s heads clashing in a side impact, while a more sophisticated version of Volkswagen’s auto emergency braking can now detect cyclists as well as pedestrians and other cars.
Cheaper Polos miss out on some active safety aids, but the GTI gets the lot: lane-keep and blind-spot assist and rear-cross traffic alert with automatic braking.
The GTI’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is a feisty unit, pumping out 147kW and 320Nm. Matched to a slick-shifting six-speed dual clutch auto, the turbo delivers a wealth of torque from low down in the rev range.
Sometimes the front wheels can scrabble for traction off the mark if you’re too enthusiastic with the throttle, but the little hatch can reach 100km/h in a quick-ish 6.7 seconds.
In-gear acceleration is particularly impressive – it makes short work of overtaking at speed.
The only disappointment is a slightly muted engine sound for a hot hatch.
It sounds livelier in sport mode, but rivals feel more engaging.
The steering is accurate if lacking a little feel, while there’s good balance and grip through the corners.
Expensive compared with hot-hatch rivals but a polished all-rounder with a classy cabin.
Ford Fiesta ST, from $33,490 plus on-roads
An updated model was due in March but has been delayed. Its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo will put out identical outputs to the VW and the Ford promises a harder-edged hot-hatch experience.
Hyundai i20N, from $36,700 plus on-roads
Considerably cheaper than the GTI but only available with a manual transmission. Fractionally more power but less torque. A more raw driving experience.
VOLKSWAGEN POLO GTI VITALS
PRICE About $43,000 drive-away
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 147kW and 320Nm
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km, $2200 for 5 years
SAFETY 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and radar cruise
BOOT 305 litres
SPARE Full size
Originally published as 2022 Volkswagen Polo GTI review
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