The comment was fourth on our Polo GTI drive, only just after the one about the Golf R (because what's a VW thread without mentioning a Golf R?). PHer 'Martin_Hx' asked, very simply and very directly, "The new Polo GTI is a Golf GTI then?" Of course the tongue was in cheek ever so slightly, but the logic impeccable: same platform architecture, same engine, similar kerbweights...
Therefore it was the test that made the most sense with Polo GTIs now in the UK. Actually, scratch that; the test that made the most sense was with a Renault Sport Clio (being five-door and automatic as well, plus facing a lot of stick from people who haven't driven it), but Renault didn't have one. And what else do you choose? The Fiesta ST isn't here yet, the 208 GTI is about to go off sale and the Yaris GRMN is much more raw. A Mini Cooper S perhaps? Potentially, though we know they tend to get very expensive. So yes, the question to answer is simple, and very similar to Martin's original query: is the Polo GTI actually just a Golf GTI on the cheap?
The smaller GTI enters this comparison off a favourable first drive towards the end of 2017, the car apparently delivering - at last - a decent fast Polo that many have waited so long for. Moreover, the real world - i.e. the one away from carefully selected launch routes and private tracks - is typically where fast VWs do so well. Because, let's be honest here, the benefits of a ruthlessly focused chassis set up are less crucial on the A22 than a responsive powertrain and stylish interior.
On first impressions then, the Polo does an unerringly good job of Golf emulation. Perhaps even better than, in fact, thanks to its newer interior. It's as refined, plush and agreeable as you would hope for in a small VW, and surely as good as this segment gets for ambience (Mini included).
Is it fun? Well it is, and it isn't. In isolation (say, on a test drive) the Polo GTI is impressive, swift, composed and positive. There's good grip, some finesse in the optional 'Sport Select' dampers (adjustable but not adaptive, being passive with a valve the driver controls for different settings) and a typically very good VW driving position. Trouble is, since that drive in December there's been the opportunity to spend extended periods of time in our Mini Works 210 and 208 GTI long-termers, plus a Fiesta ST first drive. They all reveal weaknesses in the Polo, chiefly regarding entertainment: the VW lacks the Mini's agility, the Peugeot's focus or the Fiesta's engaging powertrain. Don't forget these cars are all more grown up than they've ever been, too, for those suggesting the Polo offers maturity you can't find elsewhere.
That's not what we're here to find out though; rather it's whether the Polo offers a cut-price VW GTI experience, and there seems little reason to doubt that before the larger Polo arrives. Sorry, Golf. The EA888 2.0-litre turbo delivers its spread of torque as easily and effortlessly as ever, the speed sensitive power steering is well geared and accurate, the whole car set up to allow the driver to cover ground quickly and effectively. Even more spookily, it works best up to a point at about eight tenths, just like the other GTI, after which traction issues become a bit ugly and the previously flawless dynamic facade becomes a little perturbed.
It's a thoroughly decent little hot hatch, the Polo GTI, as accomplished and desirable as the majority of likely buyers will need it to be, but it's crying out for just a bit of edge. The manual should help that, this DSG car changing up in all modes before the red paint even starts. VW's VAQ system should help quell those traction issues, and a more responsive front axle for the start of the corner wouldn't go amiss either, and benefit the sense of eagerness.
To that Golf then, here in all its five-door, £33,135 glory. That's without the Performance Pack either, which would add another £995. Immediately the Polo is at an advantage then, retailing in this specification at £24,250. Regardless of how you pay for your car, that's a big chunk of cash.
Yet from the very start, the Golf does a very good job of convincing you it might be worth the additional outlay. To these eyes it's still a smarter looking GTI (even with those optional wheels) than the Polo, more assertive in its design without discarding the trademark subtlety. The Polo's visual update is fine, and brings some welcome zest to a rather dowdy shape, it's just that the Golf seems to do it that bit better.
Same goes for the drive, in fact. What's familiar from the Polo is also there in the Golf, most prominently that overarching sense of dynamic completeness, but done to a slightly more enjoyable degree. Having a manual gearbox means the full reach of the engine can be used (even then it doesn't feel any faster than the Polo) and every dynamic interaction is just a tad sweeter. The turn in is crisper, the brakes less grabby, the traction improved and the damping more accomplished.
Don't forget, either, that there's not some huge weight difference to make the Polo feel like the lighter, leaner alternative. In this spec the Polo is a 1,355kg car (with a 75kg driver), the Golf 1,417kg as a five-door manual by the same measure. Make the Golf a three-door and - unfair though a five-door DSG against three-door manual comparison is - the Golf GTI weighs just 32kg more than a Polo. They really are that similar now.
So just get the Polo, right? It's damn near as quick, costs less, boasts all of the benefits of the MQB architecture and banishes a lot of the bad fast Polo stigma. Er, not exactly... VW isn't all of a sudden going to offer everything that defines its eponymous GTI in a cheaper package, and there's a distinct sense of that when you drive them back to back. Of course the changes are small, but they are noticeable, and add up to a more desirable and capable end product. Those who baulk at the price should note as well that the Golf comes with a £995 sunroof, £650 of Lane Assist and those naff wheels, which are £500. At the £5k that separates them at list price, the Golf does just about enough to warrant the premium - which means there's no giant killing today, even if there might have been a better story as a result. To get the best GTI, you need to spend money; blindingly obvious though that may sound. Whether that will remain true if the Polo gets the Performance Pack it so patently deserves remains to be seen, though on this evidence the Golf remains the superior hot hatch.
SPECIFICATION - VOLKSWAGEN POLO GTI
Engine: 1,984cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@4,400-6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236@1,500-4,400rpm
Top speed: 147mph
Weight: 1,355kg (EU with 75kg driver)
Price: £23,020 (price as tested £25,950, comprised of panoramic sunroof for £900, PreCrash preventive occupant protection for £140, climate control for £415, Winter Pack (heated front seats, headlights washers, heated windscreen washer jets, low washer fluid warning light), Discover Navigation infotainment system for £650, Pure White paint for £340 and dealer-fit Tracker for £485
SPECIFICATION - VW GOLF GTI
Engine: 1,984cc 4-cyl, turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 230@4,700-6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@1,500-4,600rpm
0-62mph: 6.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,417kg (to EU, with 75kg driver)
Price: £29,120 (price as tested £33,135, comprised of Tornado Red paint for £285, keyless entry for £375, rear view camera for £265, rear tinted glass for £95, panoramic sunroof for £995, 'Seville Dark Graphite' wheels with red pinstripe for £500, Dynamic Chassis Control dampers for £850, Lane Assist with Dynamic Light Assist and Traffic Sign Recognition for £650)
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