VW might finally have got the Polo GTI right. Why this is VW’s real hot hatch. Input from the chassis man behind the Golf Clubsport S means this should be the most exciting Polo GTI to date… by Will Beaumont.
You wouldn’t want to launch a new small hot hatch, not right now. The next Fiesta ST is just around the corner, while Audi’s S1, Mini’s John Cooper Works and Peugeot’s 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport provide stiff competition that you can buy today. The upcoming Polo GTI will have its work cut out, then, and given that previous versions have been rather lacklustre, you might not hold out too much hope for it. But this time it seems there’s plenty to be optimistic about.
Firstly, the car’s chassis has been signed off by VW’s head of chassis tuning, Karsten Schebsdat – the ex-Porsche engineer responsible for the spectacular Golf GTI Clubsport S. We’ve also been reliably informed that he’ll be interrupting his succession of Golf R company cars so he can run a Polo GTI.
So what have Schebsdat and his colleagues done to make VW’s (for now) entry-level hot hatch a more tempting prospect than the company’s flagship performance model? Although the GTI uses the same layout as the basic Polo, including a torsion-beam rear axle, it sits 15mm lower on springs that are 38 per cent stiffer at the front and 39 per cent stiffer at the rear. New fixed-rate passive dampers are standard, while there’s the option of a Sport Select arrangment that offers two modes: Normal and Sport.
The car’s suspension also has a better structure to work off than before, the new GTI’s shell being 28 per cent stiffer than the old five-door version’s. Even more promising is the news that prototype Polo GTIs were tested in the UK on our rough, potholed roads – and against a Fiesta ST.
In 2018, for the first time, VW’s GTI family will comprise three models, the Polo being bookended by the Golf and an Up. The Polo has clearly been engineered to not step on the toes of the top model, as is exemplified by its power output – 197bhp against 227bhp for the Golf GTI that shares its 2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. That’s on the money in power terms for the sort of car the Polo is, but fairly mild for a forcedinduction motor of its capacity. A claimed 0-62mph time of 6.7sec puts the Polo two and four tenths of a second behind the Peugeot and Mini respectively.
The Polo’s position in the GTI hierarchy does have its benefits, because where the Golf has to be fast and sophisticated, the Polo can be more frivolous and fun, as Ralf Kölling, VW’s director of small car operations, explains: ‘The Polo is lighter, it’s shorter, it’s better. If you’d like more performance on the road, that’s a little bit more the Golf. For agility, you need less weight, you need a shorter wheelbase.’
Kölling is also a fan of the Polo GTI with a manual gearbox, so although the car will be launched with a DSG transmission, a six-speed manual will follow. However, despite Kölling’s enthusiasm for the manual ’box, he’s less optimistic about how it will sell: ‘There are some people like me, a little bit more hardcore, who prefer the manual one. But the market is asking for DSG: we don’t build the car for me.’ A manual gearbox is a vital part of the appeal of the 208 GTi and the recent Fiesta ST, and its absence the downfall of the current Clio 200, so you can draw your own conclusions as to which will be best on the VW.
It may have a relatively short wheelbase, but the Polo still looks big, a perception not helped by the lack of a three-door option. Yet it is good-looking. The traditional GTI red stripe makes an appearance, stretching across the grille and into the lights. There’s what appears to be a nod to the tuner scene at the front, too: the body-coloured section above the grille looks like a tasteful version of the ‘eyebrows’ and ‘badboy bonnets’ that adorn so many modified VWs. Inside, a very red dashboard is home to digital instruments and a central touchscreen, while that old VW GTI staple of tartan seats makes an appearance.
The new Polo GTI isn’t revolutionary, but if it can capture the spirit of other recent hot VWs in a smaller package, it could be a real contender. It goes on sale in spring 2018, with a price yet to be confirmed. Later we can expect to see a ‘Performance’ version, and maybe something special to celebrate 20 years of the Polo GTI in 2018.
“Where the Golf has to be fast and sophisticated, the Polo has been made to be more frivolous and fun”