100% impartial car reviews, news and comparisons

Enquire
2022 Volkswagen Polo GTI review

More tech, sharper looks, and a steeper price headline changes to the Polo GTI for 2022. Does it have what it takes to stand out alongside the i20 N and Fiesta ST?

Scott Collie
Scott Collie
Deputy Editor
Published
PROS
  • Refined highway drive
  • Punchy 2.0-litre engine
  • Spacious boot
CONS
  • We miss Europe's engine/transmission
  • It's expensive for a little car
  • Some kit still optional

Little hot hatches are in vogue at the moment. From the Fiesta ST to the Hyundai i20 N, there are more options than ever for keen drivers on a budget.

Then there’s the Volkswagen Polo GTI. Like the rest of the Polo range, it’s been given a makeover for 2022 with fresh looks, more interior technology… and a steeper price to go with it.

Like the bigger Golf GTI, the smallest Volkswagen performance car on offer in Australia now occupies a very different price point to its predecessors.

As recently as 2018 the GTI carried a price of $31,990 before on-roads, and even with prices adjusted to account for the shipping delays, chip shortage, and COVID shutdowns crippling the industry the 2021 model wore a sticker of $32,890 before on-roads.

Despite sharing its engine with the pre-update model, the 2022 Polo GTI has a sticker barely shy of $40,000 before on-roads.

Can this little hot hatchback justify its big price?

How much does the Volkswagen Polo GTI cost?

The new Polo GTI has a starting price of $38,750 before on-road costs, or $40,250 with the optional Sound & Tech package fitted.

You can also option a panoramic sunroof for an extra $1500, taking the list price to $41,750 before on-road costs.

No matter which way you swing it, that’s a lot of money for a Polo. It’s about what you would have paid for a manual Golf GTI in 2018, and is comfortably more than Ford demands for the Fiesta ST ($33,490 before on-roads) or Hyundai asks for the i20 N ($32,490 before on-roads).

Volkswagen would argue the Polo is a more grown-up proposition than either of those cars (we’d agree). Its rivals would point to their superior engine outputs and more engaging dynamics (also fair).

What is the Volkswagen Polo GTI like on the inside?

It’s still a Polo, that’s for sure.

The straight lines and solid build quality don’t exactly scream GTI, but there are red flashes on the steering wheel and gear lever, and the tartan trim on the seats is instantly recognisable.

Volkswagen usually gets the fundamentals right, and the Polo GTI is no exception. The driving position is excellent for bodies of all shapes and sizes, while the flat-bottom steering wheel could have been lifted from a Tiguan or Touareg.

Standard on the Polo is a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster capable of mimicking old-fashioned clocks, or of framing key information in interesting new ways.

It’s a mirror image of what’s on offer in higher-end Volkswagen products, and blows away what’s on offer elsewhere in the class – especially with the bigger screen and mapping capability. Likewise the infotainment system, which even in its more basic guise now offers wireless smartphone mirroring and wireless phone charging.

Given the price of the Polo (and the fact the i20 N gets an even bigger screen standard) it’s a shame Volkswagen charges more for a 9.2-inch touchscreen.

The system is easy to use, and responds sharply to inputs. Although it’s a touch-based gloss black unit, Volkswagen has also stuck with a proper climate control binnacle here.

Even with the fancy screens and ambient lighting, we’d still love a bit more colour inside. Grey and black are the dominant colours, and no amount of big screens can change that. Previous Polos have featured matte red trim on the dashboard, for example, which we’d love to see here.

Storage is decent given the Polo’s diminutive size. There’s a wallet-sized slot beneath the padded central armrest, cupholders next to the handbrake, decent door bins, and a space beneath the dashboard with your wireless phone charger.

Rear seat space is impressive, enabled by the fact this Polo is actually the same size as a Mk4 Golf on the outside.

The dual USB-C ports are a nice touch, although a fold-down central armrest or air vents would make it even more grown up back there. You get two ISOFIX anchor points, and three top tether mounts for child seats.

Not only do the rear door open nice and wide, there’s enough headroom for adults to sit comfortably, and enough legroom that kids or teenagers will be able to spend a bit of time back there without complaining.

The Golf has it covered, but there’s some truth to Volkswagen’s claims the Polo is knocking on the door of Corolla and Mazda 3 hatch-sized in the rear.

Boot space is a claimed 351 litres, expanding to 1125L with the second row folded. It’s a broad, flat space that’ll swallow a couple of oversized suitcases, and hides a full-sized spare wheel beneath its floor.

What’s under the bonnet?

Power in the Polo GTI comes from a version of the EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that does service in countless Volkswagen Group products.

In this tune it makes 147kW of power and 320Nm of torque, mated with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. It’s front-wheel drive, with a brake-based “differential” on the front axle to help keeps the engine’s outputs in check.

Fuel use is a claimed 6.5 litres per 100km, and the Polo drinks more expensive 95 RON premium unleaded.

Overseas, the Polo GTI now has a 152kW tune of the same engine and a seven-speed DSG.

With no mechanical locking differential on the front axle, the Polo instead uses a brake-based torque vectoring system to keep the engine’s outputs in check with some steering lock wound on.

How does the Volkswagen Polo GTI drive?

Volkswagen GTI products are known for being polished all-rounders, and the GTI lives up to that reputation.

With adaptive dampers set to Comfort and the powertrain in its more relaxed tune, it’s a more relaxed commuter than either of its manual rivals. For a small car riding on 18-inch wheels, over some seriously pitted roads outside Sydney, it does an impressive job keeping the driver isolated.

The steering is light, and the dual-clutch transmission shuffles unobtrusively to a tall ratio and leans on the engine’s torque to get you moving. There’s a hint of a bark from the engine when you put your foot down, but it doesn’t really shout.

Flicked into Sport, though, the adaptive dampers stiffen up, and the throttle gets sharper. There’s more noise from the engine, more weight to the steering, and the transmission holds a lower gear to keep you ensconced in the meat of the 2.0-litre motor’s torque.

Put your foot down and it offers a solid shove in the back, backed by a raspy bark from the exhaust. It doesn’t zing like the three-pot engine in the Fiesta ST, nor does it have the bombastic character of the 1.6 in the i20 N, but it’s every bit as fast.

With no mechanical locking differential on the front axle, the Polo instead uses a brake-based torque vectoring system to keep the engine’s outputs in check with some steering lock wound on.

In soaking wet conditions you can get the car to push wide when you’re too heavy on the throttle, and on our brief launch drive it never felt like the front axle was able to lock up and drag you out of corners like the old-fashioned i20 N or FiST with their mechanical differentials.

When you’re in less of a hurry, the Polo remains the most grown-up little hatchback to drive on the highway. The IQ. Drive suite of assists gently nudges the car back into its lane when you drift, and the adaptive cruise smoothly maintains a gap with the car in front.

Like everything else in the Volkswagen Group, it won’t overtake from the left lane unless you manually accelerate. It’s a clever feature in Europe, where lane discipline is a thing, but it’s less helpful on Australia’s highways.

We’re not sure how many GTI owners will track their cars, given it’s pitched as more of an all-rounder than a track star, but we pushed the Polo for a few laps around a drying Luddenham Raceway regardless.

With a mere mortal behind the wheel it feels quick and effective; willing to tighten its line gently when you back out of the throttle, but not as playful as either of its compact hatchback rivals. With a TCR driver going flat out, however, it feels far more alive.

It’s still more of a road car than track car, but the Polo GTI isn’t out of its depth when there’s no speed limits.

What do you get?

Polo GTI highlights:

  • GTI body trim and metallic paint
  • Tartan interior trim
  • Alarm system
  • Keyless entry and start
  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • Adaptive suspension and drive mode selection
  • Satellite navigation
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Voice control
  • Sport seats
  • Sport steering wheel and paddles

The Sound & Tech package ($1500) brings a 9.2-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation, and the same six-speaker Beats sound system as the Style.

That’s atop the following specification from lower grades.

Polo Life highlights:

  • 8.0-inch digital instrument binnacle
  • 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired)
  • DAB+ digital radio
  • Wireless phone charging
  • Parking sensors, front and rear
  • Reversing camera
  • Cruise control (not adaptive)
  • LED head- and tail lights
  • 15-inch alloy wheels
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • Comfort cloth seat trim
  • Automatic headlights and windscreen wipers
  • Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
  • Front centre armrest

Polo Style adds:

  • Comfort sports front seats
  • Digital Cockpit Pro (10.25in instruments)
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Travel Assist (adaptive cruise + lane centring)
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Rear cross-traffic alert
  • Automatic reverse parking assist
  • Matrix LED headlights with adaptive high beam
  • Premium LED tail lights with scrolling indicators
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • 16-inch alloy wheels
  • Front fog lights
  • Interior ambient lighting

Is the Volkswagen Polo GTI safe?

The Polo has earned a five-star ANCAP safety rating twice. It was tested by Euro NCAP in 2017, and recently re-tested under stricter 2022 protocols.

The updated rating came on the back of scores of 94 per cent for adult occupant protection, 80 per cent for child occupant protection, 70 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 70 per cent for safety assist.

Standard safety equipment includes:

  • Front, front-side, central, and curtain airbags
  • Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
    • Pedestrian and Cyclist detection
  • Lane-keep assist
  • Reversing camera
  • Driver fatigue detection
  • Front and rear parking sensors

Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are part of an options package on the base Polo Life, and standard on the Style and GTI, as are adaptive cruise control and Travel Assist – which combines adaptive cruise and lane centring functions for semi-autonomous highway driving.

How much does the Volkswagen Polo GTI cost to run?

The Volkswagen Polo is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with five years of roadside assist.

Volkswagen offers three- and five-year servicing plans for its cars.

A three-year pack costs $1200, and a five-year pack will set you back $2300.

CarExpert’s Take on the Volkswagen Polo GTI

The new Polo GTI is still the most grown-up, most comfortable little hot hatch money can buy.

It’s more mature than its rivals from Ford and Hyundai, but can still put a smile on your face when the road gets interesting.

Even with all the technology in the Volkswagen stable thrown at it though, it’s hard to get past that price. For all its strengths, the Polo looks pricey alongside the i20 N in particular – especially given you have to pay $1500 to gain the full-sized infotainment system with satellite navigation.

The appeal is there, as is the fun, but the even by modern standards the GTI is an expensive little hatchback.

Click the images for the full gallery

MORE: Everything Volkswagen Polo

Share
Link copied!
Scott Collie
Scott Collie

Scott Collie is an automotive journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Scott studied journalism at RMIT University and, after a lifelong obsession with everything automotive, started covering the car industry shortly afterwards. He has a passion for travel, and is an avid Melbourne Demons supporter.

Learn about CarExpert or contact CarExpert.
Ratings
Overall8.2
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8
Ride Comfort 8.5
Safety 8.5
Fit for Purpose 8
Handling Dynamics 8
Interior Practicality and Space 8.7
Fuel Efficiency 8.5
Value for Money 7.5
Performance 8.5
Technology Infotainment 8
Pricing
$38,750 MRLP
Top Line Specs
6.5L
147kW
150g
Not tested
View all specifications

Also on CarExpert