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Volkswagen Polo 1.8 GTI Car Review | June 17, 2006

Driven June 2006

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This is one of those cars that people don't take too seriously. The general assumption tends to go a bit like this: it's a supermini, therefore, girly, so it can't be that good. However, the revelation that was the MkV Golf GTI paved the way for VW to reinvent its sporting self, so the performance Polo definitely deserves a decent shout.

The first thing anyone's going to look for is that all-important kerb appeal and, here, the Polo is right on the money. VW has borrowed vital styling cues from the Golf and they do the job exactly as intended.

The front bumper treatment is where most of it happens. The black gloss surround, honeycomb grille and that little red strip beneath the badge are all straight off the Golf. There's also a smaller, 16in version of the Monza alloy wheels that come as standard on the Polo's bigger brother, and a mini version of the black sideskirts that beef up the profile. At the back, the Polo also gets a subtle roof spoiler, a larger rear bumper and twin exhausts.

So the initial impression is that some of the DNA that made the new Golf GTI so much better might have carried over to the Polo. Inside, there's more of the same. Sports seats, upholstered in that consciously retro tartan cloth, are deep and body hugging. A three-spoke steering wheel, embossed with the GTI moniker, is trimmed in red-stitched leather, and this reappears on both the handbrake and the gaiter for the stubby gearknob.

Even so, it's still definitely a Polo, with a quality shortfall over the Golf and a slight sense that this is a basic supermini with attitude as an afterthought. That sentiment carries over to the drive too. Power is fairly modest for a turbocharged 1.8-litre engine at 148bhp. This makes for a casual 8.2-second sprint to 60mph, and a claimed top speed of 134mph.

An identically powerful Fiesta ST has a far greater sense of vigour and agility; something the more dumpy, and £2k more expensive, Polo offsets with superior badge clout and refinement. But there's a vagueness to the gearchange that is at odds with the whole GTI thing, and the steering lacks the immediacy you'd hope for from a little hot hatch. The brakes are also pretty spongy, and that can only hammer your confidence in driving any car hard.

What really undermines the Polo GTI, however, is the imminent arrival of an all-new version of the much-vaunted Renaultsport Clio. It'll be similarly priced, quality will be more impressive and there'll be a full 197bhp to play with - exactly the same as the Golf GTI. Now that's a car worth taking seriously.

Matt Master

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