SMALL cars are getting bigger, and the 2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI is no exception. In this case however, that increase in size brings with it more space, more power and more attitude.
For many years the Polo GTI has been arguably one of the best compact hot hatches on the market, but with serious challengers like the Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio RS and Suzuki Swift Sport all throwing down the gauntlet, Volkswagen had to up their game.
And with the new model Polo GTI they haven’t disappointed. Like we mentioned earlier the new Polo is bigger than its predecessor, and it shows. Many people mistook the Polo for its bigger sibling the Golf, due to its extra bulk.
However, with that extra size comes an array of advantages which Volkswagen have capitalised on, including the new 2.0-litre 147kW turbo power plant which has been lifted from the MK7 Golf GTI and de-tuned to produce 320Nm of torque.
Volkswagen raided the parts bin further and lifted the 6-speed DSG auto transmission from the same Golf, providing a perfect match for the new engine. Although it claims the same 0-100km/h dash in 6.7 seconds, it feels more urgent than the previous model.
The combination is seamless, with the blurt from the exhaust on up-shifts the only cue that the DSG has changed gears. We did however struggle with traction, especially running on standard 17-inch Milton Keynes alloy wheels with 215/45 tyres.
We can’t help but wonder if this would have been overcome with the fitment of a slightly wider tyre. Combined fuel consumption is good though; advertised at 6.1-litres/100km, although we could only manage an 8.9, with a fair bit of spirited driving.
Some four driving profile options are on offer too, including Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual, which can change the character of the car dramatically.
Eco does just what it says on the tin, maximises fuel economy by shifting gears early, reducing power output, and disconnecting the gearbox, or shifting down when coasting to save fuel. Normal offers the best all round setting for the Polo.
With Sport mode engaged, the Sport Select suspension stiffens up through its dampers for a firmer ride, while the engine note in the cabin and the exhaust note changes to one that pops and burbles on overrun.
The steering weight also increases, inspiring more confidence from the driver’s seat to push this incredible chassis through the turns. The Polo is now based on the Volkswagen Audi Group’s (VAG) MQB chassis, and as such the sixth generation version rides and handles unlike any Polo before it.
Tip it into a corner and it reacts like a go-kart with a roof, such is the level of grip and response which doesn’t seem to let up. But it’s not perfect, the suspension is too stiff and uncomfortable on the road.
Our advice would be to tune the Individual option to match the Sport mode settings, but leave the suspension to its standard setting.
Now all that aside; as adept as the Polo GTI is at attacking a twisting back road or flowing country road, it is just as accomplished on the daily commute or highway trek, as the extra size and engineering in this car make it a comfortable cruiser.
Daily drive duties in Normal mode feels no different than a garden variety Polo; quiet, composed and compliant. Freeway driving is much the same, although it suffers a little at the hands of a strong cross wind, but a lot less than the previous model.
The 2018 Polo GTI is packed with technology too. The 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, Bluetooth connectivity, SD card slot and 2 USB ports is crystal clear and intuitive to use, although not fingerprint friendly.
Key-less entry and push button start are also standard, along with an extended electronic diff lock. The dual zone climate control works a treat too and has no problem cooling down the sporty cabin.
What will divide opinion inside the Polo is the velvet red decorative inserts around the centre console and across the full width of the dash. With the Flash Red exterior paint our test car came with, it works.
But, and it’s a fairly reasonable but, we’re not so sure if it’s too out there for the other colours on offer, which happen to include Deep Black Pearl Effect, Pure White, Reef Blue Metallic and Limestone Grey Metallic.
Safety is well covered too with city emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, a rear view camera, driver fatigue detection, multi-collision braking and a low tyre pressure indicator as standard.
Opt for the Driver Assistance package and you’ll also get adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, park assist and the proactive occupant protection system, all of which adds $1,400 to the $34,864 drive away purchase price.
Two additional option pack are available, the Luxury package and the Sound & Vision package. The first of these includes 18-inch Brescia alloy wheels, comfort sport front seats, tinted rear and rear side windows, heated front seats, LED headlights with LED daytime driving lights and a panoramic sunroof, all for $3,900.
The latter adds Volkswagen’s active info display, which trades the traditional analogue gauges for a very smart and beautiful digital dash arrangement, a 300w premium sound system, discover media audio, SatNav, and wireless phone charging for $1,900.
It comes with a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty and three-years free roadside assist, but even at the base price the Polo GTI isn’t exactly cheap when stacked up against its rivals.
Tick all the option packs and the Polo GTI quickly and easily blows by the $40,000 mark, which is very expensive for a hot hatch of this size, and almost into Golf GTI territory. It is however a lot of very refined car for the money and would also make a great second car.
Our test vehicle was provided by Volkswagen Australia. To find out more about the 2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI, contact your local Volkswagen dealer.