Volkswagen Polo GTI hatchback
Price £19,125 - £21,000
- Quick & powerful
- Everyday usability
- Comfortable and refined
- Pricey next to its rivals
- Lacks the fun factor of some rivals
- Too grown up for some
At a glance
“The Volkswagen Polo GTI is very much at the sensible end of the hot hatchback class. It’s quick and decent to drive, but rivals are much more fun.”
The Volkswagen Polo GTI is a smaller version of the iconic Golf GTI, and often sits in its big brother's shadow. This is probably because the Golf GTI is such a strong player in the hot hatchback game, but also because the Polo GTI's rivals – the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi and Vauxhall Corsa VXR - are so impressive.
Compared to its rivals, and other small hot hatches like the MINI Cooper S and Renault Clio RS, the Polo GTI takes a much more restrained approach to the hot hatch class, with grown-up looks and a smaller amount of sporty add-ons. On the outside, it still has a sporty bodykit and larger alloy wheels, as well as plenty of red detailing across the radiator grille and GTI badges, but it's much less in-your-face than the Fiesta ST and Corsa VXR.
It's a similar story inside, with the Polo having tartan GTI sports seats, the recognisable golf ball gearlever, red stitching and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. Otherwise, it's familiar Polo territory with an upmarket feel and logically laid out controls.
Under the bonnet of the Polo GTI is a 1.8-litre turbocharged TSI petrol engine, producing 189bhp. It’ll go from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds – that's 0.2 seconds faster than the Fiesta – and it feels properly quick when you put your foot down. It's smooth and strong, too, but the Polo never feels quite as fun as some of its rivals when you get to a twisty road. It's predictable and stable, but it's lacking in excitement – and that's what this type of car is all about.
Where the Polo GTI will appeal is in its range of bodystyles and gearboxes. You can have it in either three or five-door hatchbacks styles, with a choice of six-speed manual or DSG automatic gearboxes. For comparison, the Fiesta ST is manual-only and only comes in three doors, while the Clio is five-door only and only comes with an automatic gearbox. We’d recommend the manual – the DSG is quite a bit more expensive, plus it's more fun to change gears yourself in a car like this.
The Polo GTI won’t cost the earth to run, either, and it beats most of its rivals when it comes to running costs. It emits 129g/km of CO2, which means an annual road tax bill of just £110, while it should return up to 50.4mpg if you drive sensibly.
As with the rest of the Polo range, the GTI commands a premium price to go with its desirable badge. The cheapest Polo GTI costs the same as a top-spec Ford Fiesta ST-3, and they both come with a similar level of equipment. For this you’ll get a touchscreen infotainment system, DAB radio, Bluetooth and cruise control, but you’ll still need to pay more for luxuries like sat-nav and climate control.
What buyers will be looking for, though, is the most involving driving experience. For that, you’ll probably need to look elsewhere, because the Polo GTI just isn’t quite as fun to drive as its rivals. It feels very fast and it's a very relaxed cruiser, but it's also lacking a bit of excitement that you’ll want from a car like this.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI is reasonably cheap to run, but expensive to buy
The Volkswagen Polo GTI provides plenty of power and grip, but rivals are more fun to drive
The high-quality interior is a stand-out feature of the Volkswagen Polo GTI, if a little conservative
Despite the performance on offer, the Volkswagen Polo GTI is practical for small families
The Volkswagen Polo GTI has a so-so reliability rating, but this is offset by good safety credentials