In the world of motoring, evolution can be a dirty word. Especially when it comes to something like a purebred performance car. For even though the process of advancing the species brings about greater levels of refinement and maturity, it does tend to scrub off that visceral essence that made (insert vehicle of choice here) such an enticing proposition to begin with. The Golf GTI is a perfect case in point. Yes the current model it beautifully engineered and capable of clinging to the heels of most sports cars but it’s lost that raw, terrier-like tenacity that so defined the original. In fact, barring the red pin striping and that badge, I think that there’s hardly any resemblance.
Now this isn’t a problem for technology-loving futurists with deep pockets but what if you’re a less plush purist looking for something that still gives a nod, albeit a vague one, to Volkswagen’s hot-hatch icon that first rocked the establishment back in 1976? Well the answer, I recently discovered, can be found inside the all-new Polo GTI.
You see unlike its bigger brother that just seems to get larger and larger as the year’s roll by, the Polo GTI remains far closer in size and stature to that of the first Golf MK1 (it’s actually the same size as the old Mk2). Consequently it feels tighter, lighter, more intimate and, if I’m being honest here, a lot more fun a prospect to climb into. Think of it then as picking the Rebel Alliance X-Wing over Darth Vader’s Death Star. It doesn’t pack the same amount firepower on paper but this deficit just makes it more entertaining in the long run.
Indeed, kicking out 132kW from a throaty twin-charged TSI engine, you’ve got to work harder for all the carnal pleasures of going fast but this just makes the driving experience that much more enjoyable. Not only do you have to be extra mindful of your lines when threading through your favourite back roads but your gear selection also becomes more important for maximising corner entry and exit speed. Fortunately, fitted with a seven-speed DSG gearbox as standard fare (purists lament – there’s no manual option available) this is an easy thing to keep on top of thanks to its lightning fast shift characteristics.
Certainly no slouch in a straight line, the Polo GTI feels more youthful in the twisty bits too with its shorter wheelbase and ultra firm suspension setup: qualities that make it come across like a proper old-school hot-hatch. Remember how the Golfs of summers past used to cock an inside wheel when really pressing on? Well I’m pretty sure that the same thing happened while I explored the raggedy edges of this car’s potential around the tighter parts of Franschhoek pass. Sure, this overt chassis sportiness may not do the Polo GTI’s ride quality any great favours but it does make it brutally effective through the bends. Wherever you point that honeycomb grille it goes: that quick, well-weighted steering telegraphing a goodly amount of feedback.
Admittedly, veering away from those honest old-fashioned values, VW’s entry-level GTI does make on-the-limit driving somewhat easier thanks to the inclusion of the firm’s trick XDS system. Basically a form of electronic limited-slip differential, it works with the cars ESP to prevent the inside wheel from spinning in sporty driving scenarios. In reality it operates well, coming into its own especially down technical roads that you’re not all that familiar with. Unfortunately though, even with the ESP turned off, it’s not something you can fully neuter should the perverse need ever arise.
Still, despite this ever-present electro nanny to keep you in check, the Polo GTI remains a certified barrel of motoring monkeys. Fast and frisky, it’s also very well priced and should give its rivals – the Renault Clio RS and Opel Corsa OPC – a proper wake-up call when it snarls up behind them in the traffic. The best of the past mixed up with just the right amount of the present, I think its spiritual predecessor would be proud.
Volkswagen Polo GTI at a Glance:
Engine: 1390cc turbo and supercharged petrol
Power: 132kW at 6200rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 2000 – 4500rpm
0-100km/h: 6.9 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 229km/h (claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 5.9l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 139g/km (claimed)
Price: R259 000
Really fun to drive hard
Retro tartan upholstery is no longer an option
Golf-inspired alloys growing a little long in the tooth
Only available with DSG gearbox
Need to know if it comes in diesel auto & how much drive awawy
There are lot of things which have omitted as compared to the one unveiled at the Geneva motorshow. This to me has taken away some excitement from me. Firstly, the one which has been shown prior had LED lights, magrims similar to the mother GTI and an option of navigation system if my memory serves me well. This baby GTI does not have any of these. Why?