2019 VW Polo GTI Launch Road Test, Review
At 4,067mm, the 6th generation Polo is a full 362mm longer than that first Golf. With the extra size the MQB platform provides, there is oodles of extra space. A roomy cabin is lavished with the technology we have come to expect, but was once only found on expensive luxury cars.
VW showed Polo in a groovy 50’s-style drive in surrounding to highlight the excellent Beats sound system too.
New Polo has a crisp clean exterior devoid of bumps and bends that distract the eye.
There are only a few simple lines along the doors, and a gentle scoop along the bottom of the doors.
GTI scores 17” Milton Keynes wheels. 18” versions of these wheels are found on Golf GTI. VW added LED lighting, but the fancy LED headlights are part of an optional upgrade pack. Otherwise, you make do with Halogens to light your way.
Red highlights are synonymous with go-quick hatches, and Polo is no different.
The GTI Badge is red and is underlined by another flash of red which extends along the lower grille and into the headlights. The bonnet’s muscular folds start at the headlights and continue up towards the windscreen, and along under the side windows.
It makes a smallish car look squat and slightly angry.
The lower bumper has a hex-pattern in-fill with a set of driving lights for a sporty touch. Whether or not they ever get used is a moot point.
The is another red GTI badge ahead of the front doors, and another on the rear hatch. Around the back, there is striking LED tail lights and the patented VW badge which doubles as a door handle and reversing camera cover.
keeps dirt and water off the lense which you only really appreciate in foul weather.
The body comes with a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. Anyone with an old Golf will know how much that matters.
GTI comes in 5 colours: Flash Red and Pure White, and for an additional $500, Limestone Grey, Reef Blue and Pearl Black. A subtle
body kit adds a little interest under the doors, and under the rear bumper.
Polo has grown to 1285kg, and is 4046mm long, 1751mm wide, and 1438mm high. It has a wheelbase of 2560mm. Other polos have a slightly shorter wheelbase of 2548mm.
The doors shut “just like a Golf”.
Clarke tartan returns as the signature GTI interior highlight. You can option a slightly more luxurious velour fabric as part of a pack. The luxury pack adds a nicer feel to the seats, but the trade-off is the sports seats are lost, which is a shame.
Velour fabric, once out of fashion, has made a return in a big way. It holds better in corners too.
Surprisingly, even rear leg room is generous. Boot space is OK, at 305L with the seats up. This rolls out to 1079 with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down. There is more than enough room for a couple, their dog, and a couple of bags for a weekend away. We fitted a couple of overnight bags, some coats, and several satchels with room to spare.
Across the dash, a large matte-red “velvet red” insert looks great but was easily marked with oily fingers. Like touch screens, you’ll need to keep a cloth handy if you like a crisp, clean, look. The same insert is used in the Beats edition.
Subtle LED interior lighting includes reading, ambient, and glove box illumination. It adds brighter light, and longer life, replacing old fashioned incandescent bulbs. It gives the cabin a cosy atmosphere at night too.
GTI has a groovy flat-bottomed leather clad steering wheel with gear paddles. Auxiliary steering wheel controls work alongside those on the 8” touch screen at the top of the centre stack.
Radar cruise control (optional) has distance setting on the wheel, along with audio functions. Controls have been simplified allowing easy thumb control.
The optional 2nd generation Active Information Display places a configurable LCD screen where the speedo/tacho would normally be. The driver can personalise what information is displayed, and where it is displayed. We’ve seen the display before in Arteon in its first iteration.
You can even reduce speedo and RPM to small readouts, while having a full screen map right there in front of you. That leaves the 8” screen free for your passenger to select some tunes. The 8” screen has a smooth piano black surround which makes the entire surface feel like it is part of the screen.
Fixed buttons down either side directly select individual functions. VW’s auto-hide task bar magically reappears as your hand gets close to the screen.
A heads-up display for speed and standard satnav would have been handy too. Like all things, the cheaper the car, the more price sensitive the manufacturer is. Satnav is optional, can you believe it.
The centre screen settings include Drive Mode personalisation, and vehicle settings.
Standard features such as drive mode selection, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and dual zone climate control make Polo feel far more premium than previous models. Cruise control comes with a speed limiter.
I was surprised to see Satnav as an option.
While it’s true that CarPlay allows you to display directions from phone maps, you can find it limiting when switching between different functions. You can use Siri for full hands-free handling of calls, messages, and music whether or not you phone is connected by cable.
Rear view cameras are clear, but only come with static guide lines, so lining yourself up in a parking spot still comes down to skill. You can do fine adjustments so running in to low-placed bollards should be a thing of the past. It won’t replace good driving though.
Emergency braking has 3 modes: high speed (up to 210kph), city speeds (including pedestrian detection), and parking speeds. Our GTI jammed on the anchors when it thought we were getting too close to a shrubbery. It came as a shock because I was still quite some way from having a Gardenia as a bonnet ornament.
2 USB ports directly below the climate controls are easily accessible. Both front passengers can charge their phones at the same time, but wireless charging comes as an option. Both USBs connect to Apple CarPlay. We didn’t try it, but one wonders how you select which phone CarPlay uses.
The centre console has 2 cup holders, with a decent sized bottle holder in each front door. The cup holders are well places and don’t interfere with using the (manual) hand brake.
GTI gets a space saver spare wheel while other Polos have a full-size wheel.
Whilst a space saver is not ideal, it remains preferable to the puncture repair kits which never seem to work. You’ll be limited to 80kph which will annoy you on the highway, but at least you’ll always be able to get out of trouble. I wouldn’t let anyone I love, go on a long trip without a physical spare, no matter how much roadside assistance is valued.
The packs are good value but our test car had all three packs. This boosted the price by $8,500. That’s almost 1/3 of the price of the GTI. When you can add such a huge percentage of the base price by adding options, the price of the options is too high.
The argument is that it gives a buyer personalisation choices, but it sounds more like a way to increase profit to me.
There 3 option packs are:
Luxury Pack $3,900
- Alloy wheels (Brescia) 18×7.5” with 215/40 R18 tyres
- Art Velours microfleece seat upholstery with comfort sport front seats
- (The GTI sport seats are replaced by comfort sports seats with this upholstery option)
- Dark tinted rear side window and rear window glass, 65% light absorbing
- LED headlights for high and low beam with integrated LED daytime driving lights
- Heated front seats
- Panoramic glass sunroof, electrically slide and tilt adjustable with integrated wind deflector and sunblind
Driver Assistance $1,400
- Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Stop and Go function for DSG
- Automatic kerb function when reversing, passenger’s side exterior mirror
- Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert
- Electrically foldable exterior mirrors (standard GTI)
- Manoeuvre Braking, front and rear
- Optical Parking System (OPS) in infotainment system display
- Park Assist, parking bay and parallel parking assistance
- Parking distance sensors, front and rear with acoustic warning and audio volume level reduction when sensor warning is activated
- Proactive occupant protection system
Sound and Vision $1,900
- Active Info Display, high resolution 10.25″ digital instrument colour display screen with customisable displays
- Discover Media audio and satellite navigation system
- 0” colour capacitive touch screen display with smartphone style HMI and proximity sensor, AM/FM radio, CD player and 2 x SD card slots for music and navigation data, 2D and 3D (bird’s eye) map views, compatible with MP3, WMA and AAC music files, jpeg image viewer, car menu with convenience and service settings, security coded
- beats 300W premium audio system with 8-channel digital amplifier and subwoofer
- Inductive wireless phone charging
- Media Control
Drive and Engine
Polo GTI has been given a power boost with a turbo-2.0 petrol 4-cylinder output rising to 147kw/320Nm.
0-100 of 6.7 seconds is brisk for a small entry level city car, and a relaxed driving style should give you around 6.1 L/100k. As always, this figure climbs substantially in sports mode, and even further if you plant your foot often.
We’ve seen drive modes in Golf GTI which work extremely well.
Left in eco mode on a longer trip, you can expect 5.1L/100k of the 95ron fuel. Make no bones about it, Polo GTI is perfectly able to do long trips in comfort. Remember, it is a much bigger car than previous generations.
Our drive covered the obligatory twists and bends, as well as some city and highway stints. Parts of the road were choppy making the rear end quite lively if bumps were encountered mid-corner.
Directional changes were executed instantly with good feel to the steering. Electric power steering can be a bit hit and miss, because the computer is turning the wheels. Calibration depends entirely on how assiduous men in white coats have been in their calculations.
Suspension up front is MacPherson struts with coil springs, but it is the torsion beam/trailing-arm/coil spring set up at the back that can make Polo feel a bit less planted in spirited corners. Most people won’t notice though.
Drive modes allow a sportier feel to the steering too. It makes a huge difference as you turn in to a sharp high-speed bend. Left in normal mode, it tends towards over-steer. Switching to sports mode sorts all that out. Of course, if it did oversteer, the nannies would bring it to heel.
Sports mode also sets the 6-Speed DSG to sports mode which holds gears longer. It also makes it kick down sooner and uses car placement to predict changes. The throttle is more responsive because that turbo is kept in the sweet spot. The DSG can be switched to sports mode regardless of drive mode by simply pulling back on the stick after being put in drive.
Sports mode also brings a pleasing (if fake) engine rasp. The twin exhaust burps as the engine blips between changes. It is entertaining for a while, but would get a bit tiresome around town.
The DSG wasn’t as responsive as I would normally expect. Even when using the manual paddles or floor gear selector, changes seemed fairly leisurely, and by no means instant. I’ve driven a lot of DSG cars and don’t remember them being this casual about their shift patterns.
5 star ANCAP rating (2017)
- Adult Occupant Protection 96%
- Child Occupant Protection 85%
- Pedestrian Protection 76%
- Safety Assist 59%
- Year tested 2017
3-mode AEB which operates from parking speeds to highway speeds up to 210kph.
Should a crash be detected, seat belts tighten, and windows close, leaving a small air gap. Closed windows give more support to curtain airbags. High speed mode will reduce engine power to prevent crashes, and apply braking if needed.
At parking speeds, AEB will try to prevent GTI from hitting anything while manoeuvring in tight spaces.
The rigid safety cell has front and rear crumple zones. Doors include anti-intrusion bars. Hill start assist uses the ABS to hold the car on slopes after the foot brake is released.
There is also the ubiquitous traction control, anti-slip, and a suite of other electronic nannies to stabilise the car should you get in to strife.
Driver fatigue is a time-based thing and bongs you if it thinks you’ve not taken a break. Most people will probably ignore it.
- Cute exterior
- Silk engine with heaps of pull
- Decent ride for a sports car
Not So Good Bits
- Red dash insert showed finger marks
- DSG felt slightly slow
- Too many add-ons that should be standard
The drive is rather good.
The look and feel are excellent, and the quality of fixtures and fittings is premium. Soft surfaces work well with the slightly Teutonic German interior. It feels less low-rent than previous Polos. VW has tried to position itself as a premium maker. It has gotten it right, most of the time.
If there is one pack you must get, it is the driver pack with the LCD instrument panel. It completely transforms the driving experience, and expands what a driver can do with normally fixed dials.
Beats audio is brilliant if you can find the extra shekels needed to add it. It has to be said that the normal system is also pretty good. Beats bass is a thing to behold. Make sure you remember to turn the volume down when granny gets in if you don’t want her ears bleeding.
Beats audio can be had in the non- GTI Polos.
New Polo is pleasing to look at, and great to drive. Only bumps during extreme cornering` seem to overly upset GTI. Even then, Polo remains controllable and calm.
It feels like a muscular roller-skate.
Facts and Figures: 2018 VW Polo GTI
- Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder turbo petrol producing 147kW/320Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed DSG Transmission
- Warranty: 3/ unlimited km
- Safety: Five stars
- Origin: South Africa
- Price: from $30,900
Author: Alan Zurvas