Spicy new pocket rocket arrives in Oz

This little fire-breathing hatchback is one of the cheapest performance cars on the market today and comes with a standard equipment bumper molding.

Volkswagen’s pocket-sized Polo GTI hatchback is one of the cheapest tickets for performance driving, with a punchy 2.0-litre turbo mated to a sharp-shifting dual-clutch car.

WHERE THE

The updated GTI costs about $6000 more than the vehicle it replaces – about $43,000 on the road. That’s a big sum of money – especially if the engine and transmission are transferred – but Volkswagen says the new car is safer and better equipped than the car it replaces.

There is some impressive new technology such as a digital driver display, wireless phone charging and wireless smartphone mirroring.

Other features trickling down from more expensive models include front and rear sensors, semi-automatic parking, adaptive high beam, LED taillights and cabin mood lighting.

Warranty is the industry standard of five years and maintenance is on the expensive side at $2200 over a five year period. The 2.0-litre turbo requires premium unleaded.

COMFORT

The Volkswagen feels surprisingly spacious for such a small car.

Average height drivers will find it easy to choose a suitable driving position and the reinforced sports seats provide good lateral and thigh support on longer journeys.

The rear seats have decent head and legroom for the class, although it can be a little cramped to fit three adults in the back. Rear passengers have their own vents and USB-C ports for device charging.

The cargo area is larger than most rivals. The GTI sits about 15mm lower than the standard Polo and has a stiffer suspension and lower profile tires so it doesn’t protect its occupants from bumps and wrinkles like the cheaper models.

It’s fine on the open road, but on pockmarked city streets it can be a bit tiring, occasionally crashing over sharp edges.

SAFETY

One of the reasons for the sharp price increase is the amount of safety equipment that has been added to the Polo with this midlife update.

There’s a new center airbag to prevent the driver and passenger’s heads from colliding in the event of a side impact, while a more advanced version of Volkswagen’s automatic emergency braking system can now detect cyclists as well as pedestrians and other cars.

Cheaper polo shirts lack some active safety aids, but the GTI gets it a lot: Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Assist, and Reversing Traffic Alert with automatic braking.

THE DRIVING

The GTI’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit is a spirited unit, pumping out 147 kW and 320 Nm. Mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the turbo delivers a wealth of torque from low to low in the rev range.

Sometimes the front wheels can lose traction if you get too excited with the accelerator, but the tiny hatch can hit 100km/h in a quick 6.7 seconds.

The acceleration in gear is particularly impressive – it makes short work of fast overtaking.

The only disappointment is a slightly muffled engine noise for a hot hatch.

It sounds livelier in sport mode, but rivals feel more engaging.

The steering is precise if it lacks a bit of feel, while there is good balance and grip through the corners.

PRONOUNCEMENT 4/5

Expensive compared to hot-hatch rivals, but a polished all-rounder with a stylish cabin.

ALTERNATIVES

Ford Fiesta ST, from $33,490 plus on the road

An updated model was due to appear in March, but has been delayed. Its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo delivers identical outputs to the VW and the Ford promises a tougher hot hatch experience.

Hyundai i20N, from $36,700 plus on the road

Significantly cheaper than the GTI, but only available with a manual gearbox. Fractionally more power but less torque. A more raw driving experience.

VOLKSWAGEN POLO GTI VITALS

PRICE Drive away about $43,000

ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 147 kW and 320 Nm

GUARANTEE 5 years/unlimited mileage, $2200 for 5 years

SAFETY 7 airbags, Automatic Emergency Braking System, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Warning and Radar Cruise

THIRST 6.5L/100km

BOOT 305 litres

SPARE Full size

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