REVIEW: Volkswagen Polo GTI lacks drama, but it’s otherwise a very complete car

Published Mar 21, 2024


The hot hatchback isn’t what it used to be, and soon it won’t exist at all in the form we’re accustomed to.

The original Golf GTI was designed around raw driving pleasure, not caring too much for creature comforts. The current one is a luxury car with a sporty tinge.

GTIs of the future will be fully electric. Just last week Volkswagen revealed its first electric hot hatch, the ID.3 GTX, and a battery-powered GTI successor is set to follow around 2026.

The current Golf GTI, as well as its Polo GTI sibling featured here, represent the middle ground. Fast, and dynamic enough to shoot through your favourite track or mountain pass, but also civilised enough to tackle a lengthy road trip in comfort or to take your mother-in-law to the shops without disapproving glances.

With old rivals like the Fiesta ST, Clio RS and Peugeot 206/7/8 GTI now dead and buried, the Polo GTI plays in its own space in the market.

Priced at R554,000 (in March 2024) it provides a great deal of performance and driving entertainment for your money, but if it’s a more traditional, “pocket rocket” kind of hot hatch you’re after you might want to consider the much lighter and somewhat cheaper Suzuki Swift Sport (R432,000 manual and R455,900 auto).

Like its Golf brother, the Polo GTI is very much a grown up performance hatch.

The latest Polo is bigger than a Golf 3 and the performance version is as powerful as the Golf 5 GTI, with its EA888 2.0-litre turbopetrol engine producing 147kW from 4,400 to 6,000rpm and 320Nm from 1,500 revs.

There is a pleasant raspiness to the exhaust note, but fling it into Sport mode and it becomes more consistently vocal and a little sharper in its responses. But there’s no Vrrr Phaa drama here, not even when you gear down prematurely on the flappy paddles.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a sporty car with sporty performance on offer. Mash the right pedal with launch control activate and it surges forward with enough fury to spin the front wheels as the turbo boost peaks.

Volkswagen claims a zero to 100km/h time of 6.7 seconds and this feels very achievable, even at altitude.

Considerable effort has been put into the chassis too, with 15mm-lower sports suspension being the order of the day along with an “XDS” electronic differential that mimics a limited slip diff to minimise understeer that is the bane of most front-driven performance models.

It’s not necessarily ultra-sharp, but the Polo GTI handles neatly and while the ride is notably firm I didn’t find it uncomfortable during my week with it. It also helps that Adaptive Chassis Control, with adjustable damping, is standard on this car.

Also part of the deal is a set of 17-inch Milton Keynes Alloy wheels (18” rims are optional) and IQ.Light Matrix LED headlights.

The cabin of the GTI doesn’t feel radically different to that of the regular Polo but you do get a nice set of sports seats. My only complaint was that the upper seat bolsters were a bit tight around my shoulders, but on the flip side the seats are quite supportive.

The cockpit area, as per the regular Polo models, is as digital as most people would want it to be, with digital instrumentation also included, but not at the expense of convenience.

It still has a good old volume knob, for instance, while the climate controls are separate from the main screen, albeit a bit finicky to operate since the slider controls were introduced with the 2022 facelift.

Standard features include dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, cruise control and an eight-inch Composition Media infotainment system. According to the VWSA website a warning triangle and right hand drive are also noteworthy standard features.

Unfortunately a lot of the cool stuff that you’re going to want will cost more.

For instance, even to get some of the basic stuff like a wireless charging pad and voice control requires an upgrade to the Discover Media infotainment with navigation, at R11,400 in March 2024.

For keyless operation as well as Park Distance Control and a reverse camera you’ll need to spend R16,350 on the Comfort Park Package, although the latter feature can be had separately for R5,500.

Other tempting options include the Beats sound system (R10,300), leather seat package (R11,250) and the “Travel Assist” driver assist features, including Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist (R10,800).


The Volkswagen Polo GTI is lacking a little on the drama front and there are too many basic features that you have to pay extra for but besides that it is a very complete and satisfying package that will provide your fair share of excitement while also being a comfortable companion for both city and highway driving.

There’s also a feel good factor associated with the fact that South Africa is the only country in the world that produces the Polo GTI. Soon that will apply to the Polo hatch as well.

IOL Motoring