What Car? says...
The Volkswagen Polo GTI has been a bit overshadowed by its bigger, thrustier Golf GTI sibling, so you might not have noticed that VW's small car has been available as a hot hatch for a couple of decades.
Perhaps in an attempt to fix that, Volkswagen has made this current Polo GTI the most overtly sporty yet. That means you get lots of bespoke decor, including a red strip across its nose, a subtle but athletic bodykit and eye-catching tartan seats.
If the car’s character can follow suit and offer VW Golf GTI performance and usability in a smaller, more affordable package, the Polo GTI will be off to a very good start indeed. So, does it? Well, that's what we'll be finding out in this review.
Looking at the raw facts and figures, it certainly appears as though the hot-hatch variant of the VW Polo is on the right track.
For example, its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine offers more power than the excellent Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai i20 N. What’s more, you also get adaptive sports suspension as standard, so it should be pretty tidy when it comes to cornering.
But how well do all the numbers and spec lists translate into the kind of entertaining driving experience the sporty looks seem to promise, and can the Volkswagen Polo GTI really stand up to the likes of the Fiesta ST?
Over the next few pages, we’re going to answer that very question, putting it through its paces against the best hot hatch rivals. We'll tell you how it stands up in terms of performance, interior quality, running costs and more, to help you decide whether or not you should buy one.
As always, if you do plan to get a Polo GTI – or any other model of car – make sure you find it for the lowest price without any haggling by searching our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. It's a good place to find lots of the best new hot hatch deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
When you turn the ignition key, the Volkswagen Polo GTI’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine bursts into life before settling into an idle that sounds fairly subdued compared with rivals with fruitier motors. Even so, it certainly bites harder than it barks, delivering a total of 204bhp to the front wheels – slightly more than the Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai i20 N.
Unlike those manual-only rivals, though, you can only have the Polo GTI with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. That tends to blunt initial acceleration when you bury your foot and the car’s electronics decide which is the best gear to be in.
Despite that slight delay from the gearbox, the GTI can officially catapult itself from 0-62mph in 6.5sec. That matches the Fiesta ST but is ever so slightly slower than the i20 N, which will do the same sprint in 6.2sec if you use launch control.
We’re not sure you’ll miss that 0.3sec, because the Polo GTI feels every bit as fast, delivering its power in a strong and progressive hit. It also suffers less from turbo lag – the brief pause between you flooring the accelerator and the delivery of power – than the i20 N.
There is some artificial engine noise piped in through the Polo’s stereo speakers, but the Fiesta ST and i20 N go one step further with their loud exhausts to add a bit more theatre.
Of course, a key characteristic of the best hot hatches is that they’re fun to drive on twisty roads. To help the Polo GTI in this area, Volkswagen has fitted it with Sport Select suspension as standard. That lowers the ride height by 15mm (compared with a regular VW Polo) and lets you firm up the adaptive dampers by pushing a button.
In Sport mode, the car retains a reasonably comfortable ride but becomes more composed through corners and hugs the road better, especially over dips and crests. It’s a fun thing to hustle down a country road, offering decent levels of grip and reassuring brakes that don’t cause the car to squirrel around like the i20 N’s do during hard braking.
An electronically-controlled limited-slip differential helps to maximise traction when exiting corners, but the GTI’s comparatively relaxed set-up means that it’s never quite as enjoyable as the more aggressive i20 N or Fiesta ST. Ultimately, there’s more body lean through corners and it feels less playful at its limit.
On top of that, while the Polo GTI’s lighter steering feels more effortless than the Fiesta ST’s, it's not as sharp or precise. That means you’ll still be able to place the GTI where you want it with relative accuracy, but it never seems quite as nimble on its toes.
So, rather than being designed for thrills alone, the Polo GTI comes across as more of a compromise, with a bias towards everyday usability. In Normal or Eco mode, that becomes even more apparent, with the adaptive dampers, throttle response and gearbox all settling into their softest modes, and making the GTI noticeably more comfortable and docile than its rivals.
In fact, on the standard 17in wheels, the ride is hardly any harsher than in the standard Polo, and there’s less road or wind noise at higher speeds compared with rivals. When it comes to the non-GTI car, we quite like those characteristics, but we'd prefer the hot hatch to lean towards thrills rather than comfort. The optional 18in wheels firm up the ride slightly and increase road noise.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The Volkswagen Polo GTI – just like the regular VW Polo – treats you to a brilliant driving position. In fact, the figure-hugging tartan sports seats make the GTI even more comfortable than the non-GTI version. There’s plenty of seat and steering-wheel adjustment, so you won’t struggle to get comfortable, but as in the standard Polo, you don't get adjustable lumbar support.
You sit lower than you do in the Ford Fiesta ST but your visibility is still excellent compared with many hot hatches. Rear visibility is bolstered by standard-fit front and rear parking sensors, and a rear-view camera is available as a paid-for option.
Powerful matrix LED headlights come as standard, so you can keep the full beam on at all times without blinding other road users. That gives you great visibility when driving at night. It’s worth noting that they’re also standard on the Fiesta ST but are not available with the Hyundai i20 N.
The logical dashboard layout makes it easy to find all the controls that you’ll often use – it’s just a shame that most of them are touch-sensitive buttons and sliders instead of physical controls. The Fiesta has more rotary controls and buttons, making it less distracting to adjust the air-con and so on as you drive. The flat haptic buttons on the Polo’s steering wheel are also awkward to use, usually resulting in the driver pressing on the wrong function.
The Polo GTI's general interior quality is a step above what you’ll find in both the Fiesta ST and i20N. It's also far more appealing than the interior of the (admittedly cheaper) Suzuki Swift Sport.
The GTI's dashboard is built mostly from appealingly squidgy plastics, with less desirable scratchy plastics kept quite well hidden. You get a bright red slab of plastic across the middle of the dashboard – some will find that attractive, while others might find it a bit garish.
You get an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system as standard, with DAB radio, Bluetooth, built-in sat nav, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. The system has high-quality graphics and responds quickly enough to your prods, so we wouldn’t bother paying to upgrade to the expensive 9.2in Discover Pro system.
Our only slight demerit would be that, despite having a few touch-sensitive shortcut buttons around the screen, the system is mainly operated using the touchscreen. That makes it more distracting to use while you’re driving – but that’s a problem you’ll also encounter in the Fiesta ST and i20 N. We prefer the physical rotary controller you’ll find in the Mini.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Volkswagen line-up includes bigger hot hatches than the Polo GTI (the VW Golf GTI) and smaller ones (the VW Up GTI). However, compared with the Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai i20 N the Polo GTI has impressive front passenger space. Even if you're six feet tall, you won’t struggle for head or leg room.
It’s a similar story for those sitting in the back, with the Polo GTI offering similar knee room to the Fiesta, but more head room. It also has a wider rear bench, which will be useful if you plan to carry up to three tall teenagers or adults in the rear.
At first glance, it’s easy to assume that the Polo GTI’s 282 litres of boot space isn’t all that great – the Fiesta ST offers 292 litres and the i20 N has 352. In the real world, we managed to fit four carry-on suitcases in the GTI. That matches the i20 N (which has a boot shape that limits usefulness a little), and is one less than the Fiesta ST.
The Polo GTI misses out on the adjustable boot floor that you’ll find in the standard VW Polo but gets 60/40 split-folding rear seats as standard. Even so, with the seats folded down, you get a generous extended loading space with no awkward step up on the seatbacks.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
As a cash purchase, the Volkswagen Polo GTI costs slightly more than the Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai i20 N but is expected to depreciate more slowly than those rival hot hatches. That means it should be worth more after three years of ownership, and that in turn means the monthly payments on a PCP finance deal should be similar to the Fiesta ST and i20 N.
However you plan to buy a car, make sure you check the latests prices on our free New Car Deals pages.
You get plenty of standard equipment with the Polo GTI, including 17in alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electronically folding and heated side mirrors, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, two-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, a 10.25in digital driver display, parking sensors and the 8.0in infotainment system. You’ll need to pay extra for heated seats and keyless entry.
In Euro NCAP safety tests, the Polo GTI was awarded five stars. That matches the Fiesta's rating, but because the Polo was tested in 2022 and the Fiesta 2017, it’s impossible to compare the two (the tests get tougher each year). Even so, the Polo should, in theory, be safer.
Safety equipment includes lane-keeping assist, road-sign recognition and a driver alert system that can detect signs that you're getting tired. You also get automatic emergency braking (AEB) – a key piece of safety kit that you don’t get as standard on the Fiesta ST.
When it comes to reliability, Volkswagen didn’t fare that well in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, claiming 22nd place out of the 32 brands featured. That's way below Hyundai but still above Ford.
VW’s three-year/60,000-mile warranty should give you some peace of mind and you have the option of extending it if you don’t mind paying a little more. Compared with the rest of the class, that warranty is fairly standard and can’t match the five-year one you’ll get with the i20 N.
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The Polo GTI will get from 0-62mph in 6.5sec, and the top speed is 149mph. Read more here
Yes – the Polo GTI uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine to produce 204bhp. Read more here
No. The Polo GTI sends all its power to the front wheels, with the help of an electronic limited-slip differential to maximise traction. Read more here
No. The Polo GTI is still on sale in the UK. Read more here
The Polo GTI is the smaller stablemate of the Golf GTI. Both are five-door hot hatchbacks powered by 2.0-litre turbocharged engines. Read all our Volkswagen reviews here
|RRP price range
|£30,180 - £30,180
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|43.5 - 43.5
|Available doors options
|3 years / 60000 miles
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£1,159 / £2,167
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£2,318 / £4,334