For a company so intrinsically linked with the birth of the hot hatch, it's a wonder that Volkswagen has never really made a success of the Polo GTI. Somewhere in the multiverse there is a world where the model is no less admired than the mighty Golf. But we don't live there. The Polo has gone through six generations to get to 2021, and while there have been some interesting footnotes - not least the supercharged G40 that kicked off the trend - the GTI has typically proven more staid than stimulating.
Not that Volkswagen isn't trying. Previous shortcomings, and the long shadow cast by punchier rivals, have ensured that the latest Polo is still equipped with the comparatively large 2.0-litre TSI four-cylinder. As expected, it delivers 207hp and 236lb of torque to the front wheels, which is certainly healthy enough by the standards of the class - although you'll need to make your peace with the standard seven-speed DSG. The Polo abandoned a manual 'box last time around.
This translates into 6.5 seconds to 62mph, which is also competitive with the usual suspects. Of course, it's traditionally been the appearance of corners which has seen the competition - chiefly the Ford Fiesta ST - romp away with everyone's adulation. Given this is a facelift rather than a ground-up reconstruction, it would be wrong to expect wholesale change from a chassis still extolling the uncomplicated virtues of VW's XDS electronic diff lock - but there is the promise of additional dynamism from what the manufacturer calls 'Sport Select' running gear.
Not only does the cost option deliver two-stage switchable dampers, you also get a fatter anti-roll bar on the front axle alongside stiffer coupling rods, and mounts for the back axle which are said to be more rigid than standard. The result is still only 15mm lower than the standard Polo - as the GTI is on passive suspension - but plainly the offering is intended to gently embellish the car's safety-first handling.
Either way, the rest of the update is about making the flagship fit to sit atop a recently revised line-up. Thus you get revised GTI-specific bumpers, LED matrix headlights and, curiously, an illuminated radiator grille crossbar intended to mimic the look of VW's battery-electric ID models. Quite why you'd want to draw a 'style connection' to EVs in your combustion-engined hot hatch isn't clear - although, to be fair, some Golf and Arteon models have also started adopting the same Blackpool-seafront-at-night look.
Inside, thanks to the modular nature of wider MQB updates, the GTI benefits from the latest version of the firm's infotainment system, and comes as standard with the 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro system alongside the Ready2Discover 8-inch touchscreen (the 9.2-inch alternative is an optional extra). The same technology upgrade delivers a host of new driver-assist safety features, although it's possibly more interesting to note that the GTI is being launched in five colours, three of which can be combined with a contrasting black roof. Snazzy. Whether or not this adds up to anything more than a slightly sharper suited Polo GTI, we wait to see.
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