Understated supermini gets more power and fewer buttons
What if we told you there was a new hot hatch, with compact exterior dimensions, but powered by a 204bhp 2.0-litre engine? The Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai i20N make do with 1.5 and 1.6-litre engines, so a big lump in a supermini makes for a bit of a hot rod.As you’ll have surmised from the title, that car is the Volkswagen Polo GTI, and it’s been around for a few years. And yet, the Ford and Hyundai, and to a lesser extent, the Mini Cooper S, get all the limelight.The main reason is that the others are simply more exciting to drive. The VW Polo has just been facelifted, but despite some mechanical changes, it’s no surprise that the GTI still can’t touch its rivals for driving thrills.And that’s OK. There is absolutely a place for something small, with a bit of go, but without the hard ride, nervous engine, shouty exterior, or manual gearbox normally associated with a hot supermini.The headline changes include more power for that 2.0-litre EA888, from 197bhp to the current 204. The dual-clutch gearbox has gained an extra gear ratio to become a seven-speed. A six-speed manual was announced at one point for this generation, but never actually came to the UK. And it sold poorly in other regions, anyway, so the Polo GTI will remain automatic-only.Less welcome are the interior updates. Entry-level Polos get good old physical controls for the climate control and on the steering wheel, but in the GTI, those are replaced with touch-sensitive controls. Using the climate control panel isn’t too onerous, but the steering wheel controls will drive you mad as the car speeds up on the motorway because you accidentally brushed the cruise control adjustment.The facelifted Polo gets a new, slightly cheaper-feeling gear selector, while all GTIs now get the full digital gauge cluster as standard, as well as an 8in touch screen. Finally, the headlights and rear lights have been subtly altered. The clusters themselves are a bit fancier than before: at the front there is an illuminated crossbar and the headlights are matrix LED as standard. At the rear, the indicators are now dynamic.