Volkswagen’s latest GTI addition falls short of its promise
On one level at least, driving the new Volkswagen Polo GTI was a rather reassuring process. Not because it was safe, predictable and stable – although it was all three and more – but because I was comforted by the fact that while cars like this exist, people like me will always have something to say and therefore, employment to be gained. Something like what? Like a car that is nothing like as good as you’d have every right to expect it to be.
Were you to give this car to a data analyst, he or she would pour all kinds of interesting information into the computer, like the fact it’s a Polo with an only slightly detuned Golf GTI engine under its bonnet and is good for almost 150mph. They’d probably notice the substantially modified suspension and even the adaptive damping that can be specified with it. And if they were any good at their job, they’d look at other similar cars made by the same brand, and were they to do so they’d find that the Golf GTI leads the class above just as the Up! GTI does the one below. Then they’d hit enter and watch in silent satisfaction as an entirely logical but wholly undeserved five-star verdict was returned.
Truth is, this is a car that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The Up! and Golf do not have these problems. The Polo’s little sister is a plaything pure and simple, and is brilliantly chuckable as a result. Its big brother is the reverse, a breathtakingly capable family hatchback, at least as quiet and comfortable as it is fast and fun. The Polo could perhaps have tried to combine the best of both these worlds, and maybe that was the brief, but in any event, it falls seriously short.
Its biggest problem is that it’s just not that much fun to drive, a problem that’s only going to get bigger as next month’s review of the rival, far cheaper, far funnier Ford Fiesta ST will make clear.
The Polo is of course as quick and capable as its specification suggests, but the steering lacks involvement, the brakes are overservoed and the chassis is far more reluctant to take instruction from your foot than hand.
This would be disappointing in this class but perhaps excusable if it brought something else – a new level of sophistication perhaps? – to the table. But it doesn’t: the interior is flawlessly arranged and of typical VW quality, but the ride quality on the beam axle rear suspension that all cars in this class carry means it still feels like the cheap hatchback it’s based upon. Except it’s stiffer so the ride is worse and, at over £23,000 for the ‘Plus’ model tested here with a digital dash, there is nothing cheap about it.
All of which rather leaves me hoping that the next hot VW I drive will be a complete nonsense on paper and therefore unexpectedly brilliant on the road.
Holding your breath? Me neither.