- Polo GTI comes with 147kW and 320Nm and sprints from 0 to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds.
- No manual box available, but the DSG works so well that you won't miss the third pedal.
- Lots of tech, but it remains a driver's car, with feel, feedback and huge engagement.
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Volkswagen is in hot pursuit of electrification as it seeks to become an all-electric car company. The transition has already begun, as a new wave of ID all-electric cars and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles take over.
When it comes to performance cars, the company's been pushing its R brand more and more, as these days, more people aspire to own R cars than GTIs. We spent a week with the new 2022 Polo GTI, and we had to ask ourselves, have we reached the end of the line for the GTI?
I mean, you don't see Polo GTI-lines for sale or Tiguan GTI-lines or Touareg GTI-lines, for that matter. It's all about the R badge regarding petrol power performance aspirations.
The time has, perhaps, come for VW to cull the GTI badge as it pursues a new age of mobility where cars drive themselves and require recharging overnight. GTX, a badge that VW showed on the all-electric ID.4 last year, will likely replace the GTI as a performance halo product below the R badge. Think of it like BMW with its M3 and M4, but they also offer the M340i and M440i.
VW might reserve the GTI badge for special Clubsport or TCR models (for the Golf), but this is all speculation, so let's dive into the new Polo GTI and get back to the last roll of the dice for GTI.
Back to basics with an excellent driving feel
When the Golf GTI returned to form in its fifth generation in the early 2000s, it came with a punchy 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that made 147kW. This Polo makes that amount of power, and it's blessed with 320Nm of torque that comes on song from as low as 1500rpm. It's a punchy power unit, and thanks to a relatively low kerb weight of 1 355kg, you get spritely performance.
Motivation is sent through the front wheels, and you might think this could be a handful, but you can rest assured that torque steer is kept to a minimum. It still tugs you left when you perform full bore standing starts on anything other than a level surface, but it's nice that you can lean into the throttle without a whack of torque throwing you off course.
You get this feisty power delivery and exhaust cracks when you manually shift through the DSG automatic gearbox with the car's sportiest drive mode setting. It's a wonderfully engaging drive, and there's just enough damping in the suspension to give you comfort with exceptional handling.
GTIs usually strike a delicate balance between comfort and agility, and that's bang on point with the new Polo GTI as it rotates and changes direction in a sports car-like manner. It reminded me of my Seat Cupra's sportiness, with a more refined and grown-up edge to it. A manual might be nice, but this DSG proved fast and accurate when it self-shifted, and it was ideal during low speed commuting with very little hunting.
Volkswagen claims a zero to 100km/h sprint time of 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 238km/h. We didn't test these numbers against the clock, but we did take on a new Civic Type R in a traffic lights grand prix, and we walked away the victor after a concise blast through first and second by left-footing the brake.
The Civic struggled while the driver seemed to forget the path from one to two, and by this time, the slick-shifting Polo had already selected its next gear while accelerating through first. Don't get us wrong, we love sporty manual vehicles, but we can't fault this DSG and turbo engine package. Some readers say GTIs with DSG transmissions are a nightmare to own in terms of running costs and repairs out of warranty, but as far as our experience with the new vehicle, we had zero issues or warning lights.
Comfortable and built for tech-savvy drivers
Some readers also commented on our test car on social media, saying it looked like a laptop on wheels. That can be argued as accurate because the inside looks more like an iStore with tablet screens everywhere than a compact car interior. We liked the use of technology in the Polo GTI, as the digital instrument cluster gave us exactly what information we required after a few quick custom settings in the onboard computer.
The vehicle's systems are easy to use, and pairing devices takes seconds. You will have to carry a USB C to USB A convertor as the new Polo comes with USB C ports only. However, we used the wireless charging pad in the centre console to keep ear pods and phone batteries topped up.
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One of the most excellent (shout out to Bill and Ted fans) additions to our test car was the Beats audio package upgrade that included additional speakers and an amplifier with a subwoofer. We could enjoy our favourite Apple Music playlists and even stream Netflix and Amazon Prime audio in high fidelity. It's nice that you won't have to send your car to an aftermarket fitment centre to have it hacked apart to fit decent audio drivers, just tick the box at the dealer and enjoy it as a boom box on wheels from the day you pick it up.
It's worth the money even though it's pricey
As we mentioned, Volkswagen is making its R brand the halo product for performance motoring with internal combustion technology. This Polo will probably be your last chance to own a five-door hot hatch with this legendary GTI badge on its rump. The next generation of Golf GTI might not even come to South Africa if the ID.4 tests that VW is currently undertaking work out. The current Golf 8 GTI is great, but that car is closer to R800 000 in the spec you want to call your own.
For R494 600 as standard, you're getting a bargain performance car here with enough room to work as a small family car. We had no issues fitting the child's seat to the ISOFIX anchor points. It proved economical enough daily, and it becomes frugal when you respect the throttle on the highway. We averaged 8.5 litres per 100km at the end of the test drive cycle, which is excellent considering the rising fuel price. It's a great option that allows you to enjoy driving, and it won't get you into too much trouble from a handling perspective.
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The Polo GTI fights alone in this hot hatch segment that was once packed with options such as the Fiesta ST, Corsa OPC, Clio RS, 208GTI and more. Now, you have the Abarth range to consider if you want a sporty hatch, and those cars are smaller and harder to live with if you have kids to consider.
As this might be the last roll of the dice for the GTI brand in South Africa, we think it's a fitting swansong to a legendary nameplate and well worth your hard-earned bucks if you can afford it. We can live with GTX or GTE in future, but we'll never forget the spirit of GTI. It's been a great innings since that original Golf 1 to the manic turbo models from Gen 4 and 5 onwards and the supercharged and turbocharged Polos of yesteryear.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI comes with a three-year or 120 000km mechanical warranty and a three-year or 45 000km Service Plan.
Do you have a vintage, unique or custom Golf GTI or Polo GTI? Please share your ride and a few pictures of it with us here so that we can get in touch with you for a possible feature on Wheels24.
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