THE Volkswagen Polo GTi was a car that excited some but never really reached my emotional control centre. Capable as it was, it never seemed to live up to the GTi title that has been carried proudly by big brother Golf. However, at a launch of the new generation in the Western Cape last week my perception changed.
There is no mistaking that this is not your average Polo. Styling touches and detailing such as the honeycomb grille and air intakes at the sharp end, the red strips on the radiator grille, fender flares, a colour-coded rear spoiler, red painted brake calipers, the diffuser-styled rear apron, dual tailpipes and a set of 18 inch alloys ensure the Polo GTi stands out from its lesser family members.
The interior sports a black and brushed chrome finish; the roof lining, pillars, sun visors and grab handles are black, as are other panels in the car. The brushed chrome finish is used to accent air vents and all rotary switchgear and on the door handles, the DSG shift gate and the spokes of the steering wheel. Sports-style seats are finished in black Alcantara/Vienna leather with the leather gearshift boot, handbrake grip and steering wheel receiving the red-stitching treatment.
The GTi has a high specification level for a car in this genre. It has climatic air conditioning with glove-compartment cooling, a multifunction computer, cruise control, a new generation of CD/radio audio system, auxiliary input, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, heated front seats, power windows all round and electrically operated and heated door mirrors. A panoramic sunroof and rear park-distance control are available as options.
Safety is a high priority, with both driver- and front-passenger airbags and head and thorax side airbags, while curtain airbags are available as an optional extra. Add to this ESP, ABS, hill-hold, ASR, engine drag torque control, electronic differential locks and a tyre pressure monitoring system, and you realise this is not a stripped- out car just for performance.
The chassis uses a McPherson front end with semi-independent rear suspension, stiffer damping and specially modified springs that lower the car by 15mm, all of which contributes to a lower centre of gravity and consequently improved handling. The rubber on the road is 215/40 R17 87V,. which adds the necessary grip. With a mass of just 1269kg, the GTi becomes a very agile set of wheels.
The heart of this Polo is the 1390cc TSI direct petrol-injection engine, which is both turbo and supercharged. This 16-valve unit delivers 132kW at 6200r/min and 250Nm of torque between 2000 and 4500r/min. Performance is claimed at a top speed of 229km/h, 0-100km/h acceleration in 6.9 seconds. It is probably the most efficient GTi so far, with the combined consumption claimed at 5.9l /100km and a CO² emission level of 139g/km.
Drive to the front wheels is through a 7-speed DSG gearbox with XDS electronic transverse differential lock which reduces understeer and improves the handling during fast driving through those long bends. Gear-shifting can be fully automatic or manual utilising the gear lever or via the paddles on the steering wheel.
So how well does it stack up to the previous generation and its big brother the Golf GTi? On the road the Polo GTi is an absolute joy to drive. The engine is responsive and the TSI technology ensures that the power is on tap whenever you need it. You can forget about fitting a K&N air filter, this one produces the right amount of induction roar to satisfy the aural needs of a go-faster generation
The DSG gearbox has been refined over the years and provides rapid changes up or down when used with the paddles and in town — and when using the full auto mode it becomes an excellent urban cruiser.
Comfort levels are good, although the suspension is hard, not jarring the skeletal frame but very firm — but then if you want to experience a chassis that allows the adrenaline to flow freely then that is what you would expect.
I was with a colleague driving through a mountain pass and he was heavily committed to a specific corner when a driver of dubious ability, probably with a licence to match, approached with his vehicle more than halfway into our lane. This meant a very rapid change of line for us and the Polo GTi responded with aplomb — a quick flick of the steering wheel and the car changed direction to a new line without any loss of balance. Impressive!
The verdict is that the new Polo GTi cannot be compared with its predecessor. It is light years ahead, making it a car that deserves the GTi nomenclature. Sure, the price is R14000 more than before but take a look at the specification — you are getting R40000 worth of extra kit within that price.
As regards its senior sibling the Golf GTi, that is a difficult one, but perhaps I can best sum it up by saying that as an avid fan of the Golf version for many years the nimbleness and agility of the Polo GTi makes it the pony I would prefer in my stable.
Pricing: Volkswagen Polo GTi R259000 including a 3-year/120 000km warranty and a 12-year anticorrosion warranty. A five- year/60000km maintenance plan and a five- year/60000km service are available as options.
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