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Drive Life : February 4th 2011
1HERSA1 F014 DriveLIFE road test 14 Friday, February 4, 2011 The Sydney Morning Herald This classy pocket-sized hot hatch doesn't spare the horses, writes Jez Spinks. VOLKSWAGEN POLO GTI It's 13 years since Volkswagen first attempted to sprinkle the magic of its GTI badge over a model other than the Golf. It was applied to the smaller Polo, though the baby GTI -- known previously as the G40 -- didn't go on sale in Australia until 2005, when the Mark 4 edition became more widely available across the globe than its predecessors. That model was a pale shadow of the then Mark 5 Golf GTI but the latest incarnation holds more promise, as it caps off a range that includes the 2010 Drive Car of the Year- winning Polo 77TSI. WHAT DO YOU GET? For starters, the most powerful Polo -- until the arrival of a rumoured flagship R model -- again mimics its upsized sibling with signature GTI touches. There's the black honeycomb grille with red horizontal strips, red brake callipers and even identical 17-inch alloy wheels. And, equally, it has a conservative exterior design by hot-hatch standards. The three-door kicks off at $27,790, though this time around you can add two rear doors for an extra $1200. Even if you opt for the $28,990 five-door, the value looks outstanding when you consider the Polo GTI's natural rivals: RenaultSport Clio, $36,490; Mini Cooper S, $40,500; Alfa Romeo MiTo QV, $34,990. That frees up some money for optional features that are either useful (rear parking sensors, Bluetooth, iPod/USB connectivity) or desirable (metallic paint, bi- xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights), though buyers are hardly short-changed with the inclusion of foglights, cruise control, multi-function trip computer, six airbags, electronic stability control and hill-start assist that prevents rollbacks. WHAT'S INSIDE? Soft-touch plastics on areas such as the doors would have helped give the GTI an even greater edge in materials over the base $16,690 Polo but the fact is, no rival pocket rocket can match this cabin for quality. The ambience also gets a lift from the GTI touches of red- stitching for both the cloth upholstery and the leather of the flat-bottomed steering wheel, handbrake lever and gear lever. And, of course, there's the trademark tartan design for the comfortable and supportive seats. In terms of practicality -- still important in hot hatches -- the GTI, as with all Polos, offers good rear- seat legroom for its class size. However, a repositioned battery -- to improve weight distribution -- reduces boot space from 280 litres to 204 litres. UNDER THE BONNET Keen drivers may be disappointed the Polo GTI comes with only brake and accelerator pedals -- the only transmission being a DSG dual-clutch auto. Yet while omitting a manual gearbox is a curious decision, considering this is the budget end of the performance motoring spectrum, there's compensation in the fact the DSG is a great gearbox. It's still less effective at low- speed manoeuvres than a torque converter auto but its ability to pick the right gear for the right moment is extrasensory. And a saving grace for purists may well be the paddleshift levers that give drivers finger-flicking, throttle- blipping control of the seven rapid-fire ratios. The ''Twincharger'' engine, borrowed from the Golf 118TSI, is closer to perfection. Employing both a supercharger -- for low- speed response -- and a turbocharger -- for shove at medium to high engine speeds -- makes the Polo GTI both fast and frugal. The new 1.4-litre produces 20 per cent more power than the old model's 1.8-litre turbo (132kW versus 110kW) and reduces fuel use by a quarter -- to 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres. That's just as well when 98 Premium is the recommended fuel, though for owners more concerned about performance than running costs they'll be chuffed the baby GTI can match the 6.9 seconds it takes for its bigger brother to reach 100km/h from standstill. Peak torque of 250Nm delivered between 2000rpm and 4500rpm ensures in-gear acceleration is just as impressive. And although there's no replication of the Golf GTI's entertaining exhaust pops, there's a suitable hot-hatch engine soundtrack -- grumbling at low speeds before developing into a rortier note as revs rise. ON THE ROAD A stiffened and lowered suspension ensures this is the sportiest of all Polos, though the firm ride is less supple and more restless than the Golf GTI's and may not appeal as broadly. Niche enthusiasts may not be entirely convinced, either, as the Polo GTI falls short of the intoxicating thrills provided by key rivals such as the playfully adjustable Sport Clio or wonderfully direct Cooper S. Yet although GTI ''Junior'' doesn't bond with the driver as much as hoped, there's still a decent level of fun to be savoured. There's agile balance, enthusiastic corner turn-in and tenacious tyre grip when exiting tighter bends. The steering is rather mute when it comes to communicating the road surface to the driver's fingertips but is otherwise likeable for unerring accuracy, smoothness and resistance to torque steer. VERDICT Volkswagen's smallest GTI doesn't quite match the all-round brilliance of its more famous elder, though it just about justifies wearing the iconic hot-hatch badge. Its advanced, distinctive four-cylinder is a beauty whether you're measuring refinement, economy or performance and the handling is still entertaining even if not capable of attaining the dynamic standards of the RenaultSport Clio or Mini. In terms of bang for buck, however, the Polo GTI is a comprehensive winner. THE COMPETITORS RENAULTSPORT CLIO 200 CUP Price $36,490 Engine 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 148kW/215Nm, 6-sp manual, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 8.2L/100km and 195g/km Pros Brilliant handling. Cons Harsh ride; poor storage. Our score I MINI COOPER S Price From $40,500 Engine 1.6-litre turbo 4-cyl, 135kW/ 240Nm, 6-sp manual, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 6.3L/100km and 146g/km Pros Fun factor; strong, flexible engine. Cons Expensive; terse ride; tight rear seat. Our score JII ALFA ROMEO MiTo QV Price $34,990 Engine 1.4-litre turbo 4-cyl, 125kW/ 250Nm, 6-sp manual; FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 6.0L/100km and 139g/km Pros Punchy, thrifty engine; cheaper than rivals; Italian flair. Cons Gimmicky ''DNA'' system; bumpy. Our score II THE DETAILS Price $27,790 --- 3dr; $28,990 --- 5dr (plus on-road costs) Origin Germany Engine 1.4-litre supercharged and turbocharged 4-cyl Power 132kW at 6200rpm Torque 250Nm at 2000-4500rpm Transmission 7-sp dual-clutch auto, FWD Weight 1189kg Consumption and emissions 6.1L/100km and 142g/km Safety Front, side and curtain airbags, stability control Pros Cracking engine; interior quality; value; good handling; paddleshift levers. Cons Firm ride; falls short of dynamic benchmark; no manual; runs on pricey 98 fuel; optional Bluetooth MP3. IN THE REAL WORLD PAINT No flamboyant colours to overcome the Polo GTI's conservative looks --- just white, red, silver, blue or black. ACCESS If three-door is chosen, front seats flip forward with a flick of a lever for easier access to the back seat. SPARE There's room under the boot floor for a full-size spare but VW instead fitted a space-saver --- or rather, weight- saving --- temporary wheel.
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