Volkswagen Polo GTI wears new face

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THE Polo looks crisp, clean and elegant, inside and out. Its three turbocharged engines are fuel-efficient and punchy, giving you great everyday performance. The Polo squeezes easily into small parking spots but feels like a bigger car on the road in a good way, with reassuring road holding.
The previous super- and turbocharged 180-hp 1.4-liter Twin-charger is out, and a turbocharged 192-horse 1.8-liter is in. The loss of the Roots blower, which provided much-needed low-end torque in the 1.4, is compensated for by the extra displacement of the new 1.8-liter. Maximum torque, previously rated at 184 lb-ft, stays the same with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic but rises to a formidable 236 lb-ft when paired with the six-speed manual.
With the dual-clutch ‘box, the performance numbers stay identical, while the automatic’s European-cycle combined fuel economy beats that of the stick by 3 mpg. Nonetheless, we’d go for the slick-shifting manual, as the extra torque of its engine can be easily felt, even if it’s not reflected in the standard sprint.
The strong engine teams with a practically flawless chassis. Fitted with a brake-based limited-slip differential (a function of the stability-control system), the Polo GTI remains neutral up to the limits of adhesion. There is little body roll, and to top off the capable chassis, the electric power steering is remarkably precise and nicely weighted. What this Polo lacks, though, is an eagerness to rotate into corners.
With a tastefully executed cabin and a small dose of heritage GTI cues, this ultimate Polo is actually a competent long-distance cruiser.
Yet for all its merits, we think that the Polo GTI could trade a bit of perfection for a healthy dose of passionit’s a bit too well behaved for our tastes. (Its soundtrack, for instance, isn’t very aggressive.) We praise VW for bringing back the manual, but we can’t help but look ahead to the rumored Polo R, with four-wheel drive and about 250 horsepower. When that car appears in Europe, we’ll once again start clamoring for the Polo to be sold in the States.

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