REVIEW: Volkswagen Polo GTI is a grown-up that can still entertain

Published Jul 11, 2024


Like sedans, the small hot hatchback is slowly becoming extinct and heading towards the red list as consumers turn their attention more towards SUVs and crossovers.

Gone are the Fiesta ST, Clio RS and Peugeot GTIs but, for now, fortunately we still have Volkswagen with their GTI which has over the years morphed into a not-so-small sophisticated Golf and in this case the Polo GTI.

It’s a bit of a Golf GTI light without the hefty price tag and it’s built exclusively at the VW plant in Kariega for local consumption and global export.

It doesn’t have the brutish handling of days gone by but rather a more sophisticated way of getting around with occasional glimpses of what was when you start to have fun with it.

The exterior styling package is subtle but purposeful nonetheless. Picture: Supplied.

Fitted with the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine as its bigger sibling, although tuned down, it produces a decent 147kW and 320Nm of torque driving the front wheels via a super smooth six-speed automatic transmission.

The one we had on test starts with an old fashioned key although at a price you can opt for the Comfort Park Package that gives you keyless operation, Park Distance Control and a reverse camera.

At first glance there’s not much that separates it from the garden variety Polo but strategically placed GTI decals, 17-inch Milton Keynes Alloys, lower suspension and IQ.Light Matrix LED headlights set it apart.

The interior gets leather sports seats with good lumbar support that hugs you tightly when you go through the twisties, a digital display in red, it’s a GTI afterall, an eight-inch infotainment screen that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible and a six-speaker Beats sound system to listen to… well, beats.

Thankfully the volume can still be set with a knob and the climate control, although separate from the main screen, can be a bit of a pain to maneuver with the slider controls.

The Polo has a classy cabin. Picture: Supplied.

Turn the key and there’s a raspy exhaust note that dials down slightly once the car has warmed up.

As you would expect from a GTI the suspension is slightly on the firm side but not jarring in any way aided in a large measure by Adaptive Chassis Control with adjustable damping when you begin to push the limits.

In Sport Mode with launch control activated there’s a fair amount of wheel spin before lunging forward with a pleasant exhaust growl and picking up speed quickly should get you to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds.

Unfortunately when you’re using the shift paddles the car decides when to upshift on your behalf.

It’s a minor gripe in an otherwise fun car to drive and the sweet spot seems to be around 4500rpm.

There’s a tendency to understeer when pushed hard into and out of corners as the “XDS” electronic differential that mimics a limited slip diff, engages to keep you out of harm's way.

Steering is pleasantly direct albeit not super-sharp but you quickly learn to get the most out of it as the car grows on you and I’d say it’s a more engaging car to drive than the GTI I had on test a few months ago.

The Volkswagen Polo GTI is more in line with a hot hatch that the envelope-pushing engineers envisaged all those years ago and while lacking the sometimes raw driving pleasure of days gone by, still puts a smile on your face even for someone that’s far out of its age demographic.

The Volkswagen Polo GTI is priced at R559,200 (July 2024) and comes with a three-year or 45,000km service plan.