Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 79%

The Polo GTi is the spiritual successor to the Mk1 Golf GTi – it’s a similar size, identical performance and the same cheeky charm which made the Golf such a hit. It’s even got the same tartan cloth which the Golf made famous.

But can the Volkswagen Polo GTi reach the same legendary status? Read on for our full review, or click the links to skip to a section.

1. Looks 9/10

It’s like a new Golf GTi that’s been shrunk in the wash. It wears the same black honeycomb ‘goatee’ grille, side skirts with a shark fin-like end, boot spoiler badging and fog lamp surrounds as the Mk5 Golf GTi. It’s even got a set of mini Golf alloy wheels. This means the Polo is transformed from a cute runabout to an aggressive rear view mirror botherer. Our bright red test car got plenty of admiring glances, and a few double takes when the more eagle-eyed spotted the Polo boot badge. There were plenty of great touches like the VW emblem over the end of the headlamp bulbs.

2. Looks inside 7/10

Plenty more nods to its distant uncle inside, with the classic tartan seats brightening an otherwise dark interior. Its typical VW fare inside, with acres of textured grey plastic, although it’s sporty edge was revealed by a silver centre console, alloy pedals with anti-slip rubber inserts, red seat stitching and a GTi band around the bottom steering wheel spoke. The seats look fantastic, and despite a lack of adjustable lumbar support were supportive and very comfortable, even after a four-hour non-stop run.

3. Practicality 8/10

Hot hatches are all about sportscar fun, with the added bonus of space for the weekly shop. Its 270-litre boot is large enough for a long weekend away, and rises to 1,030 litres with the seats folded. Both front seats conceal a draw, which makes up for the small glovebox, which would only hold a few CDs in addition to the car’s manuals. Space in the cabin is among the best in its class, and front seat occupants can travel in comfort, without being cramped. The Polo does seem to have large blind spots, so changing lanes on busy motorways requires a further check to avoid calamity.

4. Ride and Handling 9/10

The Polo GTi might not be the fastest or the best handling supermini; but it is the most fun – and that’s what hot hatches are all about. There’s a bit more bodyroll than we’d like, but it is capable of cutting a sure-footed line around corners. There’s a touch of understeer (where the car wants to plough on straight while cornering), but it doesn’t detract from the driving experience. The low-profile tyres magnify the road noise at speed, but it only became wearing after a long journey along the length of the M6. It feels far more chuckable than the Golf GTi, and could handle all we threw at it.

5. Performance 8/10

At 150bhp, the GTi is the most powerful Polo ever made. Its 8.2 second dash is only half the story, as there’s very impressive in-gear acceleration. Fourth gear can feel like third on a blast along country lanes, and there’s plenty of poke in reserve for a sixth gear overtaking manoeuvre on the motorway. Top speed is a license-risking 134mph, thanks to its 162lb/ft of pulling power at a very low 1,950rpm – just where you can make the most of it. Our only criticism was the gearbox felt slightly notchy and was difficult to get out of reverse.

6. Running Costs 7/10

The Polo GTi’s £14,810 list price is pretty good for a Volkswagen, although start ticking the options list and the price can soar. Group 13 insurance is about average for hot hatches, so young drivers could get cover after getting a few years’ no-claims under their belt. There’s a three year/60,000 mile warranty, along with a three year paintwork and 12 year rust guarantee. The Polo doesn’t have a fixed service schedule, with sensors in the car determining when it needs inspecting depending on how you drive it. There is a traditional service scheme available as well, which is every year or 10,000 miles. After three years, the GTi should retain around 45 per cent of its original value, which is about average for a Polo.

7. Reliability 7/10

The Polo scores well in the Reliability Index for the cost and frequency of repairs so should make a good, faithful purchase. The latest Polo hasn’t been out long enough to tell if there are any common faults and Volkswagen have a reputation for building strong cars. However, we noticed a lot of wear on the driver’s seat side bolster on our 3,000-mile-old test car.

8. Safety 8/10

Volkswagen says it set out to make the Polo the safest in its class, and it has been awarded four stars in the EuroNCAP crash tests. They’ve used some clever design to make sure the footwell doesn’t collapse in a crash and the pedals fold forward – both avoiding injuries to the feet and legs. The fuel tank is strong enough to withstand a serious collision. Passive safety features include driver and passenger airbags – the passenger ‘bag can be deactivated with the £35 optional switch – and out GTi also came with curtain airbags.

9. Equipment 7/10

Almost £15,000 is a lot to pay for a supermini, but the Polo GTi comes with a fair amount of kit to support the pricing. Standard features include ABS with electronic stability control, traction control and a traction-improving electronic differential lock. There was a trip computer, heated door mirrors and a steering wheel that adjusts for height and reach. Our test car came with a frustratingly slow thinking satnav (£1,350), an upgrade from standard air-con to climate control (£310), the passenger airbag deactivation switch (an astonishing £35 for a switch) and an automatically-dimming rear view mirror and coming home light function (£140). One omission was audio controls on the steering wheel – particularly irritating given the close proximity of the audio and air-con knobs.

10. X-Factor 9/10

Fast, cool, cute and funky, there is little to detract from the fun this little GTi provides. Its one of the best driving experiences around at the time. Put up with the nuances of imperfection, find a flowing B-road and blow the cobwebs away.


Key facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Polo 1.8T GTi 3dr
On the road price: £14,810
Tested: October 2006
Road tester: Stuart Milne