Volkswagen Polo GTI

New driveline for a polished performer

DAMION SMY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THE latest Polo GTI proves that the manual gearbox ainít dead yet. Thank the Fiesta ST because Fordís dynamically brilliant, cheap-as-chips hot hatch has made Volkswagen stand up and take notice. So much so that the GTI now comes with a larger engine mated to a manual íbox.

Until now, it was dual-clutch only.

Thatís not all that makes the updated Polo GTI better. Its $27,490 kick-off is more than $2K cheaper than before, while a subtle facelift makes it clearly a blood brother of the Golf GTI. It also comes with more safety gear, including collision warning, and is the first VW in Australia to offer LED headlights (an option, of course).

Adaptive damping also joins the options list, a first for Polo buyers.

Beside the leather-clad wheel, borrowed from the Golf GTI, two things light a driverís fire: a traditional handbrake lever and a six-speed manual gearstick, the latter of which teams with an absolute peach of a 1.8-litre EA888-series turbo four. Itís 408cc larger than the twin-charged 1.4 it replaces, with just a single turbo, and delivers 9kW more for an official 141kW.

The first clutch pedal for a Polo GTI is well weighted in relation to the rest of the controls. The shift itself isnít smooth as silk, but itís light and feelsome enough to slot where you want it to, and quickly.

The overall pace and brisk response of the manual GTI is something the seven-speed DSG version canít match, even though its 0-100km/h time of 6.7sec is identical. The manual gets the guernsey because it packs an extra 70Nm of torque, for 320Nm in total. The Poloís DSG simply canít handle the load and must be limited to 250Nm. Game over.

On winding Blue Mountains roads, the manual proves that this is the Polo GTI weíve always wanted, delivering an involving, sharp drive, backed by a delicious burble from that elastic engine.

The sharp yet linear throttle, high grip levels and superb traction from the 215/40R17 tyres and clever diff are backed by solid roadholding and predictable, responsive steering.

The electric steering could be slightly more talkative, but a well-controlled body and supportive seats allow you to keep pushing hard. Youíll do so in comfort, too, with bumps and potholes dispensed quickly, even at slower shopping-trolley speeds.

VW has definitely done itself a favour by going back to the future with a larger-capacity engine and manual gearbox. The new Polo GTI is cheaper, faster and looks more polished. Itís win-win Ė even if we are applauding the company for following the crowd.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Volkswagen Polo GTI 1798cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 141kW @ 4300-6200rpm 320Nm @ 1450-4200rpm 6-speed manual 1272kg 6.7sec (claimed) 6.1L/100km $27,490 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Steering; rear camera should be standard; DSG modelís torque deficit Drives and looks grown-up; better than before in almost every aspect

Polo Ríd up

WHAT about a Polo R? The WRC-winning model was built as a limited-run lefthand- drive tease, but there is one car that seemingly spells the end of a full-time Polo R model: the Audi S1. This pocket rocket rides on the same platform and even uses the same EA888 series engine (albeit a 170kW 2.0-litre version) as the new Polo GTI.

Volkswagen says its existence justifies not making a Polo R.