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Volkswagen Polo GTI: month two
Model: Volkswagen Polo GTI
On fleet since: June 2011
Total mileage: 6,500 (arrival mileage)
Official combined mpg/CO2: 47.9 / 139
Actual mpg: 36.3
Costs: £0 so far
Engine: 1.4-litre TSI 180 PS 7spd DSG
Performance: 6.9 secs/142mph
Power/torque: 178hp 6200rpm/184lb ft @ 2,000-4,500rpm
Insurance group: 30E
List price: £19,415
Options fitted: sat-nav and MP3 multimedia system (£840)
Price as tested: £20,255
GALLERY: Volkswagen Polo GTI
Read another long-term review
Pros: Performance, soundtrack, fuel economy, practical, sophisticated
Cons: Stereo/sat-nav controls difficult to master, £20,000 is a lot of money, DSG is great but we'd still take a manual.
Where have I been?
With the help of the Polo GTI I joined the scores of holidaymakers fleeing wallet-emptying prices in the eurozone by pointing their cars at England's sunny south-west.
Salcombe on the south Devon coast might be a town more tuned in to the needs of yachtsmen than motorists but the narrow hedge-lined lanes that meander through the surrounding countryside looked the perfect testing ground for a compact but charismatic hot hatch.
There was the little matter of around 250 motorway miles to overcome first; all with more luggage than was strictly necessary for a week away clogging up the boot and most of the back seat. Could a supermini, even one costing north of £20,000, really deliver the comfort you want when cruising the outside lane or stuck in the inevitable caravan-induced tailback? There was only one way to find out.
What do I like?
The Volkswagen Polo, of which the Polo GTI is the ultimate evolution, is a supermini. That means it's pitched up against household names like the Fiesta from Ford, the Corsa from Vauxhall and the Clio from Renault. It also suggests that it's a small car. It isn't.
Like the rest of the modern supermini crop, the Polo is pretty darn big by most people's standards. It's got a 280-litre boot and space in the rear for a couple of adult passengers who won't need to get out and reestablish the blood supply to their legs every 30 miles.
If you parked the larger Volkswagen Golf hatchback alongside one of these, the difference would look far from huge. For many people the five-door Polo GTI might even prove a more practical car than a three-door Golf.
The Polo's big-car feel is enhanced by an interior that's a notch or two above the quality expectations we have for the supermini class. You wouldn't find fault with the tastefully chrome-edged controls or the sturdy plastics if they were installed in a compact executive saloon. It's that good, but it's also what we've come to expect from a modern Volkswagen.
So enough fawning over the Polo's practical qualities and its classy cabin, what's it like to drive? This is the hooligan 178bhp, 0-60mph in under seven seconds, GTI version after all. Any answer to that should rightly start with a major league grin because the Polo really is fast.
The 6.9 seconds it takes the Polo GTI to hit 60mph from a standing start is searing pace for any hot hatchback but it doesn't tell the whole story. From anything up to 50mph or so, a big throttle stomp sends the DSG gearbox down a couple of cogs and has the GTI pulling like a Jack Russell who's just spotted a giant bratwurst dangling from a cyclist's rucksack.
We have the engine's turbocharger and supercharger combination to thank for this infectious flexibility. The former boosts the top end (peak power doesn't arrive until 6,200rpm) while the latter adds low down punch (peak torque is on tap from 2,000 to 4,500rpm) and it works a treat. If there's a better 1.4-litre engine in circulation, I haven't tried it.
The Polo GTI isn't as sharp as some of its hot hatch rivals but its balance of refinement, ride comfort, grip and agility will be a good compromise for people who don't want a screaming road rocket with more judder than a Mick Jagger dance routine.
What don't I like?
The Polo's cool, classy image is a little bit at odds with the look and feel of the other hot hatchbacks that are in its performance ballpark. I love its wolf in sheep's clothing approach but because this is a car that doesn't let on to the world just how blooming rapid it is, buyers seeking something that looks like an escaped rally car might be put off.
The DSG gearbox is another bone of contention, when you're pedalling the Polo GTI down a sweeping country B-road it feels like the future. The paddle shifters send it darting through the cogs, the throttle blips perfectly on down changes, the exhaust issues a subsonic whump as you shift up.
It's the auto setting that can be less than ideal. It's just a little slow to respond in certain situations, particularly when jumping from drive to reverse for low speed manoeuvres. It's a great gearbox but in a car like the Polo GTI, if Volkswagen provided the choice, I'd still take a manual one.
The final bug is the sat-nav and multimedia system that's fitted to our car as an £840 option. Even after a week with the car, the control interface with its mix of touchscreen functionality and traditional buttons was proving tough to grasp.
The satellite navigation itself isn't great. As you zoom out, important details (like quite major roads) disappear completely from the map view so you're constantly zooming in and out to maintain a clear picture of where you're at. The more advanced system Volkswagen fits to the Golf is far better.
What's next for the Volkswagen Polo GTI?
After its south-westerly excursion it's back to into the hands of its everyday driver for the Polo GTI. Ian Dickson will be putting it through its paces on his daily jaunts in and out of London plus some other more exciting outings then reporting back next month.
Volkswagen Polo GTI: arrival
Volkswagen Polo GTI: month two (this review)
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