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Volkswagen Polo Blue GT review (2012 onwards)
What: Volkswagen Polo Blue GT
Where: The Netherlands
Date: July 2012
Price: from £17,500 (estimated)
Available: September 2012
Key rivals:Alfa Romeo MiTo, Audi A1, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, MINI hatch, SEAT Ibiza, Skoda Fabia
Summary: Can a 140hp petrol engine really return over 60mpg? Volkswagen's new Polo Blue GT says it can. Say hello to the world's most determined eco hot hatch.
We like: awesome engine technology that should really save fuel, fun and friendly to drive, good looking, comfortable
We don't like: handling not as sharp as some rivals (but then nothing else petrol-powered is this economical), inevitably expensive
Volkswagen is famous for many things, but amongst its most outstanding contributions to modern motoring are the GTI and BlueMotion. With GTI it created and continues to inspire a whole category of attainable performance cars, while BlueMotion began the trend for specifically eco-conscious vehicles.
As technologies have advanced and environmental concerns continue to become more and more important to ordinary drivers - not least because they actually save you money, in terms of fuel and taxation costs - it is perhaps inevitable that these two apparently divergent VW strengths would combine.
This car is the result: the Volkswagen Polo Blue GT.
The clue is in the name - as this quite literally takes parts from the Polo GTI and combines them with parts from the Polo BlueMotion. So you get GTI styling front and rear but BlueMotion side skirts and windscreen rain channels - all aerodynamically efficient parts.
What you don't get is the engine from either - this is not, for example, yet another attempt to revamp the diesel hot hatch. Instead the Polo Blue GT debuts a brand new 140hp 1.4-litre TSI petrol, the world's first four-cylinder engine to feature fuel-saving "active cylinder deactivation", something VW calls ACT.
Cylinder deactivation is not new. It's already featured on some big V8 and V12 engines in a desperate attempt to make them more socially responsible - the latest Mercedes SLK55 AMG uses the concept, and it can also be found in Formula 1. The new part is its application to an already downsized four-cylinder supermini.
The same engine will also be appearing in the Audi A1 at some point, but in the UK VW gets it first. The idea in every instance is to save fuel, and it works by shutting off the supply of the precious stuff to half the engine. In the Polo Blue GT's instance this means cylinders two and three - the middle ones.
Happens the instant you tickle the pedal
They still pump up and down as usual, but clever manipulation of the camshafts closes the valves, fuel injection is halted and there's no combustion. And suddenly the Polo is doing its best impression of Fiat's two-cylinder TwinAir.
Switching back to four cylinders takes 13 to 36 milliseconds, which is no time at all, and happens the instant you tickle the accelerator. The engine is equally keen to return to two again as soon as you back off, making the absolute maximum of the system to reduce fuel consumption.
While we can't say the change is imperceptible - listen and you'll hear it in the engine note - it only ever ACTs between 1,400 and 4,000rpm, when you're just cruising along. Having the tech definitely doesn't interfere with your enthusiasm. With all four chambers firing this is very much a little turbo that could.
The 140hp is one thing - but what really makes this Polo a properly perky plaything is the torque. 184lb ft of the stuff from just 1,500rpm all the way to 3,500rpm means the Blue GT picks up its BlueMotion side skirts and goes, as soon as you put your foot down.
Choose the optional seven-speed DSG paddleshift auto and you won't even need to worry about shifting down the gears. Just point and poke. 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds is a second slower than the GTI - but then that's a 180hp Polo turbo with a supercharger as well. The Blue GT, meanwhile claims over 60mpg...
Ride and handling
With specific suspension mods taking it 15mm closer to the ground and a tasty set of 17-inch alloy wheels, the front-wheel drive Blue GT finds itself neatly positioned between the regular range and the overtly sporting GTI. A sensible decision for a model that's clearly intended to have reasonably broad appeal.
Finessing Dutch speedhumps with dignity
It's certainly not uncomfortable - soaking up motorway miles, shrugging off the infrequent areas of rougher Dutch road surfacing, and finessing the far more frequent Dutch speedhumps with dignity. This suppleness suggests it should suit UK driving conditions very well.
If the compliance also means the front end is a little soft when turning into corners then this is a compromise many are probably willing to live with. Especially since you can feel the standard XDS electronics dig in to make the most of all the available grip as soon as you begin to push the car harder.
The steering is light but accurate enough without being overwhelming, resulting in a car that's flattering but still fun to drive fast. Personal preference - and perhaps budget - will determine whether the DSG auto or the standard six-speed manual is the better choice. The manual is more involving, but less immediate.
On the inside the Polo Blue GT gets the same gauge pack as the GTI, plus an extra function in the trip computer screen to tell you when the engine is running on two cylinders. Despite the minor change to the engine note, realistically if you're just pottering along with the stereo on this is the only way you will know.
It's very unlikely your passengers will notice. They'll be too busy admiring the Blue GT's bespoke blue and grey sports seats and door trimmings, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel with its blue (as in the colour) GT logo. The rest of the interior is Polo as usual - no bad thing - with UK kit levels yet to be confirmed.
Economy and safety
According to VW the Blue GT emits 107g/km CO2 when equipped with the manual gearbox, falling to 105g/km with the optional DSG. Combined fuel economy is a claimed 61.4mpg and 62.7mpg, respectively. Gobsmacking for a 140hp petrol engine.
Although VW smugly points out that the Polo GTI also offers greater on paper efficiency than most of the Blue GT's rivals, what's significant about the technology under the bonnet here is that it may actually make a real world difference.
This allows the use of a smaller turbo
With the cruise control set to around 70mph, for instance, the Blue GT will happily travel along on just the two cylinders - and if it's able to save fuel at this speed just think about what it can do at 50mph. Or 30. Further reductions come courtesy of existing gizmos such as stop-start and brake energy regeneration.
Other new technical developments for this engine (the first of a new family that will be key to the next generation of VWs) includes having the exhaust manifold inside the cylinder head, which helps the car warm up faster and allows the use of a smaller turbo. Both of which also improve efficiency.
Safety-wise the current Polo has five Euro NCAP stars, is packed with the usual six airbags and comes with standard stability control. The XDS uses the same sensors to improve grip in tricky conditions and during faster driving.
The MSN Cars verdict
The Volkswagen Polo Blue GT feels like the future. As in the immediate future, rather than some indefinable ideal. Its cylinder deactivation technology looks set to give the petrol engine a new lease of life - without resorting to expensive (and heavy) alternative solutions such as hybrid technology.
VW's decision to introduce it in a performance variant - relatively mild though that performance might be - is a small stroke of genius. No longer will you necessarily have to pay a high economy penalty during those everyday moments when you can't drive the car fast to have fun. It proves the concept brilliantly.
The only thing that stops us from wholeheartedly recommending the Blue GT is the projected cost. Priced from around £17,500 it will be nearly £2,000 cheaper than the Polo GTI, but more expensive than the 180hp Skoda Fabia vRS. And the amount of MINI you can get for similar money would probably be more fun.
Still, progress never has come cheap, and this car is set to influence motoring for many years to come.
Need to know
Engines petrol: 1.4 TSI turbo with ACT cylinder deactivation
Engines diesel: n/a
Power hp: 140
Torque lb ft: 184
0-62mph secs: 7.9
Top speed mph: 130
Mpg combined: 61.4 (manual) - 62.7 (DSG)
CO2g/km / Tax %: 107 (manual) - 105 (DSG) / 12
Specific model reviewed: Volkswagen Polo Blue GT DSG five-door
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