Volkswagen updated the Polo GTI, its second-smallest hot hatch, with exterior styling tweaks and better in-car technology. Some of the new and improved bits have trickled down from the latest Golf GTI introduced in 2020.
Don’t be alarmed if the Polo nameplate doesn’t ring a bell. Well into its sixth generation, it’s a city-friendly hatchback that has been positioned directly below the Golf in many global markets since 1975. It started life as an Audi, but that’s a different story for a different time. Back to 2021: the current Polo stretches about 160 inches long, 69 inches wide and 57 inches tall, dimensions that make it roughly three inches shorter, less than an inch wider, and about an inch taller than a fourth-generation Golf. And yet, it outguns even the VR6-powered fourth-generation GTI.
Power comes from a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which sends 204 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Tough luck if you want to shift your own gears; a manual gearbox is not available. For context, the fourth-generation GTI landed in America for the 1999 model year with a 2.8-liter, 174-horsepower VR6 as its top engine. Their weight figures aren’t that far off, either; the Polo checks in at about 2,840 pounds, while the GTI GLX tipped the scale at around 2,800 pounds.
Of course, over two decades of design and technology separate these GTIs. For 2021, the Polo gets a new-look front end that borrows styling cues like a wider air dam from the eighth-generation Golf GTI. Bigger changes await out back, where the LED lights now stretch into the hatch (another Golf-sourced cue). Volkswagen makes 17-inch alloy wheels standard, and 18-inch wheels are found on the list of options along with a contrasting black roof.
From the driver’s seat, with the engine off, the best way to tell the updated Polo apart from the outgoing model is by looking straight ahead. The 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster offers a higher resolution and sharper-looking graphics, according to Volkswagen. Look right, and you’ll spot the latest generation of the firm’s infotainment system, which is compatible with various online services plus wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Volkswagen also added its IQ Drive Travel Assist semi-automated technology, which can take over braking, steering, and accelerating at up to 130 mph when the right conditions are met. The company stresses IQ Drive Travel Assist does not turn the Polo into an autonomous car, and the driver must keep both hands on the wheel.
Dealers across Europe will begin receiving the redesigned Polo GTI in the coming months. Buyers will have five colors called Deep Black Pearl Effect, Smoke Gray Metallic, Kings Red Metallic, Pure White Uni, and Reef Blue Metallic, respectively, to choose from. Nothing suggests the hot hatch will be sold in the United States, however.