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2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI review (video)

If you’re in the market for a pint-sized hot hatch that combines zesty performance with practical and refined everyday driving, the 2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI could be your ideal match.

Nestled in the heart of the shrinking compact hot hatch segment, the Polo GTI stands out with its semi-premium character and excellent space efficiency. In this review, we’ll investigate what makes this compact powerhouse tick and why it’s still relevant in a world where electrification is all the rage.

2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI: Specifications

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 147kW@4390-6000rpm / 320Nm@1450-4390rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed dual-clutch auto
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 18×7.5, 215/40
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1326kg
Power-to-weight: 9.02:1 (kg:kW)
Official consumption: 6.5L/100km
Our consumption: 7.2L/100km
Fuel tank/Fuel type: 40L/95 RON
Power efficiency: 22.61kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 3.42 seconds*
0-100km/h: 6.52 seconds*
60-110km/h: 4.25 seconds*
1/4 mile: 14.91 seconds at 157.1km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.650g*
100-0km/h braking: 36.48m in 2.95 seconds*
Max deceleration: -1.199g*
Decibel at idle (/sport mode): 47/49*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 82*
Starting price: $39,690

*Figures as tested by Driving Enthusiast on the day. Manufacturers’ claims may be different

2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI: How much does it cost?

Prices start from $39,690 for the single-variant, five-door model on sale in Australia. This is a steep price, considering the larger Golf GTI kicked off from around $43k only 10 years ago – the 2012 Mk6 Golf GTI was priced from $42,990 for the auto.

The price doesn’t look good against its nearest rival either, with the Hyundai i20 N starting from $34,990. Although, that is only available with a manual transmission which means it will turn away some buyers.

2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI: Interior & packaging

The latest Volkswagen Polo GTI doesn’t scream for attention; instead, it confidently expresses its presence with subtle aggression and pedigree. At first glance, it’s unmistakably a Polo, but the GTI treatment adds a dash of athleticism that catches the eye. The black honeycomb grille, stylish LED headlights, and iconic but discreet red GTI accents give it a sporty demeanour without resorting to over-the-top design cues.

Move around to the side, and the 18-inch alloy wheels look proportionate and contribute to a well-balanced stance. The compact dimensions of the Polo (length: 4080mm, width: 1751mm, height: 1442mm) make it incredibly manoeuvrable in tight city streets and in pesky underground carparks. The sharp character lines and integrated rear spoiler provide a cohesive and polished look, with dual exhaust tips, a distinctive GTI badge, and LED taillights underscoring its credentials.

Step inside the Polo GTI, and you’re greeted by an interior that exudes German precision and practicality. The quality of materials and attention to detail are impressive for a vehicle in this segment. The flat-bottomed steering wheel, clad in perforated leather with red stitching and GTI badging, immediately puts you in the mood for some spirited driving.

Passengers are cradled in sports seats in the front, offering excellent support and long-distance comfort, with a range of adjustments to accommodate drivers of various sizes. The tartan upholstery is a nod to the GTI’s heritage. In terms of interior space, the Polo GTI offers enough room for four adults to sit comfortably, with respectable legroom in the back, for this class. Charging ports in the back are a real bonus, too.

The infotainment system incorporates VW’s ‘Discover Media’ 8.0-inch touch-screen. It’s sharp and advanced, if a bit complex at times, offering capacitive touch and proximity sensors to predict your commands, and it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration as standard. The digital instrument cluster is clear and customisable, providing essential driving information in a concise and attractive manner.

With a 305-litre boot, it can easily swallow some luggage or a week’s worth of shopping for a small family. The rear seats can be folded down to expand the cargo space when needed (to 1079L), making it a versatile option for daily life. A space-saver spare wheel sits under the floor.

2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI: Powertrain & handling

The heart of any GTI is its engine, and the 2023 Polo GTI doesn’t disappoint in this department. Under the bonnet lies the famous ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that, in this case, pumps out a spirited 147kW and 320Nm. That’s about as much grunt you need in a little vehicle like this. Peak torque is spread from just 1450rpm to 4390rpm, and then peak power takes over from exactly 4390rpm and it’s maintained until 6000rpm – Germanic engineering at its best.

Power is sent to the front wheels through a quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This powertrain setup makes for a potent combination along a winding road, but it also provides 0-100km/h acceleration in a Vbox-verified 6.52 seconds (official claim is 6.8).

The suspension is firm but well-damped, striking a balance between comfort and sportiness. It rides over Aussie country roads with confident poise, and the steering is precise and offers plenty of feel-good feedback.

Being a compact hatch, it does use an inferior torsion-beam rear end setup compared with the Golf’s more comprehensive multi-link setup. But, this doesn’t seem to negatively impact rear end stability, even along rollercoaster-like bumpy mountain roads. The rear end remains planted. VW provides adaptive dampers on the GTI, too, which gives the driver extra layers of versatility.

Equipped with front-wheel-drive, there is some minor steering-tug under heavy acceleration around corners, but it’s well-controlled and you quickly adapt to it and have fun with it. The XDS electronic differential lock makes sure no (or minimal) power and torque is lost through inside-wheel wheelspin. This just hooks up and goes, even on greasy hairpin corners.

Speaking of corners, the Polo GTI is very committed and composed, with minimal body roll. It’s a car that encourages you to explore its limits, and it does so predictably and safely. The brakes also provide strong stopping power, and the pedal feel is good. According to the specs, the GTI features the same brakes as other higher-spec Polo variants, only here you get red-painted calipers. It doesn’t necessarily need bigger stoppers because the GTI only weighs 1326kg (tare).

The sporty exhaust note, complete with pops and crackles on the overrun, adds to the exciting driving experience. It’s an audible reminder that you’re in something special, even if it’s just a compact hatchback. And it’s not too loud.

For day-to-day driving, the Polo GTI is equally adept. It’s easy to manoeuvre in traffic, and the suspension, while taut, soaks up bumps and imperfections without feeling harsh; it thuds rather than crashes and bangs. The adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist systems provide safety and convenience for highway cruising.

2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI: Key attractions/reasons to buy

In a market filled with increasingly complex and digitised vehicles, the VW Polo GTI stands out as a beacon of simplicity and driving pleasure. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks or excessive power to impress; instead, it focuses on delivering a pure and engaging driving experience with thorough engineering.

Sure, it’s not the most powerful hot hatch in its class but it offers more than enough grunt so you can properly enjoy a spirited drive. And with an official fuel consumption rate of 6.5L/100km, you won’t need to take out a second mortgage to support regular Sunday drives.

2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI: Key considerations before you buy

There is no more manual transmission option (in Australia) which means you need to adjust to the dual-clutch auto. If you’ve driven with these types of transmissions before, then it’s a non-issue. But if you haven’t, you do need to adapt your driving style just a bit to maintain comfortable driving.

It can be a bit clunky going from drive to reverse, and vice-versa, and initial take-off is a bit like a manual; there’s a minor delay as the clutch packs grab and distribute engine torque.

The other main concern is simply the price. Like almost everything these days, the Polo GTI has become a more expensive product than ever before. Priced from around $40k before on-roads, that’s where the larger Golf GTI sat not too many years ago. But at least with a VW you are getting a semi-premium product in return.

2023 Volkswagen Polo GTI: Video

How does it rate against its rivals?
  • Price
  • Quality look & feel
  • Interior tech
  • Powertrain performance
  • Ride & handling
  • X factor (does it stand out in its class?)

Final word

The Polo GTI has an undeniable charm and a sense of dignity that sets it apart. It’s not outrageously loud or overly-rigid in the handling department. Instead, it blends an attractive combination between refined motoring and hot hatch fun.

Brett Davis

Brett started out as a motor mechanic, but eventually became frustrated working on cars that weren't his. He then earned a degree in journalism and scored a job at Top Gear Australia back in 2008, and then worked at Zoom/Extreme Performance magazines, CarAdvice, and started PerformanceDrive/PDriveTV in 2011 with Josh Bennis, and ran it for 12 years. He's now the owner and managing editor here at Driving Enthusiast.
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