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2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI, Golf GTI & Up GTI Driven: What's So Special about These Performance Cars?

Volkswagen Polo GTI. (Image: Cars18)

Volkswagen Polo GTI. (Image: Cars18)

Where all the GTI cars really lit up and were on top of their skills was at the Ascari Race Track in Spain. And you'll be surprised which was our pick among the lot. Read on...

Volkswagen one of the biggest car makers in the world has a history of GTI cars that goes back by four decades with the 1976 Golf GTI also known as Golf Mk 1. There was also a Scirocco GTI along with it and both these hot hatchbacks featured an engine that produced 110 PS of power. Now, for 2018 a 110 PS power engine might not be much for many but consider this, back in 1976 these cars must be any owners pride. The first ever Volkswagen GTI that caught my attention ever was the 2001 Golf GTI which was also the 25th-anniversary edition Golf Mk4. That might be very recent for many, but for me, that was what a hot hatch should be like. Sadly we do live in a country that believes in fuel efficiency and bang for their buck, at times even compromising on safety. Performance for many in India is still something of a luxury and often seen as something that rich guys prefer in their cars. But here was Volkswagen that literally translates to 'peoples car' trying their best to give you a rush. In India, Volkswagen as a brand is a decade old and like many European manufacturers is misunderstood at times. But the Indian automobile enthusiasts are also becoming more evolved. Pouncing on that growth curve was Volkswagen with the Polo GTI in India. The Polo GTI's when came to India was sure expensive but the fact that VW test marketed the demand and sold all of their intended lot of Polo GTI's in India is a testimony that there are performance enthusiasts in the country and there is definitely a market for it. So when Volkswagen invited us to Malaga in Spain to drive the 2018 line up of VW GTI cars at the VW Performance Days 2018, we just could not resist.

Volkswagen in 2018 is offering the GTI in their three models. The VW Up!, Polo and the Golf. The last time Volkswagen offered the GTI models in three variants was from the year 2000-2005. Interestingly back then the Golf and the Polo did exist as the GTI variant along with the now not so much recalled Lupo GTI. So there was no Lupo this time but an Up! GTI instead. Among the three cars, the only relevant product for the Indian consumer was the Polo GTI, because let's just admitted that Polo as a product in India by VW needs a refresh. So we were excited to drive the Polo GTI first and as we realised so were all the motoring journalists that flew from all over the world. So the car that we managed to drive first was the Golf GTI.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

One look at the new VW Golf GTI and you might mistake it for a Polo GTI. Both the cars look so similar to each other that if you don't pay attention to the details you'll just be left wondering which one is which. How one can make out that it's a VW Golf and not a Polo is with the headlamps, the Golf has a split headlamp design and of course, the tail end design and lamps are also different. The Golf GTI That we drove was powered by a 4-cylinder petrol engine with direct injection and a turbocharger. This helps it produce 245PS of power at 5000-6700 rpm and a maximum torque of 370 Nm at 1600-4300 rpm. Now imagine such a powerful engine on a hatchback and you won't be surprised by the power rush that it is capable of delivering. What we were interested in was how it was to drive?

The transmission that we drove on the Golf GTI was a six-speed manual one and the shifts were just as sporty as one would expect on a GTI. Once you press the pedal to the metal the Golf GTI just goes and you forget that it is still a hatchback. The steering precision is absolutely brilliant and the slightly harder suspension on the roads of southern Spain makes your confidence in driving this car at high speeds go high. You also feel secure in the cabin of the Golf GTI and there are loads of telemetrics and intelligent functions inside the Golf GTI that keeps things interesting. Also, by all means, it is a fast hatchback with a 0-100 km/h capability of just 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h. A 50-litre fuel tank an efficiency of almost 10 km/l also makes it have a decent range. But we were on open roads 90% of the time. Also, we were now even more excited to drive it at the Ascari race track a day later. Some of those things that are standard on a Golf GTI were an Active Info Display that's very similar to an Audi Virtual Cockpit. Overall, the VW Golf GTI for us on the road was like the safest bet that had power, speed, precision as well as safety. A hot hatchback done right.

Volkswagen Up! GTI

We felt so much at home with the Golf GTI that when it was time to shift to the Up! GTI we were a bit reluctant. The VW Up! is what one can define as an entry level car in India that if were to come would compete with the Maruti Suzuki Alto. But don't be fooled, by no means it's as basic as an Alto, also the one that we were about to drive was a GTI Up!. Having said that the VW Up! is a smart looking car and also reaks of the clean line design language that VW is known for. It does, however, has a tall boy design to it. Also, the Up! GTI is a follow up to the original 1976 Golf GTI, and follows in its glory but with all the 21st-century gadgetry. The Up! GTI does not feature an Active Info Display but if you have a smartphone, the Up! GTI will keep you connected and give you functions such as maps and of course BT/AUX music playing capabilities. Now the Up! falls in a small car segment and seeing ambient lighting inside its cabin was something of a surprise for us. As soon as we stepped into the car after the Golf GTI space was a bit of an issue, still ample if you compare it with any small car in India.

The Up! GTI that we were driving came with a 999cc 3-cylinder TSI petrol engine that produced 115 PS of power and maximum torque of 200 Nm. That is hot hatchback category in India. The engine sound had a distinct grunt to it that did appeal to us. The Up! GTI also came with a 6-speed manual transmission and boy did this one go. The Up! GTI definitely has that '!' mark in its name for a reason. That reason for us was that on these amazing European roads we were in a way go-karting in the Up! GTI. This mini rocket is capable of doing a 0-80 km/h dash in just 5.8 seconds and a 1-100 km/h in 8.8 seconds. We know of sedans in India that moves slower than that. The Up! GTI promises you more joy to drive than the Golf GTI. We were surprised by the stability it had at high speeds and we were left wanting for more. It, however, does tend to understeer but if you are good enough driver you'll just have a smile on your face. It's also the first Up! by VW that comes with a petrol particulate filter and fulfils the new Euro 6 AG emission standards. So maybe when it makes business sense for VW, you might just see this one come to India.

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Now, after driving two extreme ends of the spectrum, it was time for us to drive the new Polo GTI. The standards were already set high by the Golf GTI and the fun dose was reaching max while driving the Up! GTI. And it was again time for us to switch the car and get into the Polo GTI.

Volkswagen Polo GTI

This was what we came to Spain for and it was time to get behind the wheel of the Polo GTI. In its latest generation, it is gaining plenty of momentum with a power output of 147 kW / 200 PS, a 6-speed DSG fitted as standard and a top speed of 237 km/h. The new Polo was launched last year and India is still waiting for it to be refreshed. The one that we were about to drive was the GTI badge and a giveaway to that was the legendary red stripe on the radiator grille that just expresses the fact that the GTI badge on the Polo means business. The 17-inch wheels house low profile tires and give you glimpses of red painted brake callipers. The Polo GTI has a design language which will at first make you not think much about it much, but as you start to notice the subtle changes on it than a regular VW Polo, you just know that this can be you everyday hatchback that drives you to work by the day and without much of a flash will make you get noticed by the night. The 320 Nm of torque on offer is also something that keeps things exciting on the Polo GTI.

The GTI variant is a fast machine and is capable of a 0-100 km/h dash in just 6.7 seconds, that is 0.5 seconds slower than the Golf GTI but it's the way the Polo GTI goes that give you the rush. The top speed on offer is 237 km/h and we did indeed touch 200 km/h plenty of times while driving it. The six-speed DSG gearbox with a sports mode is something that you would want to drive the Polo GTI in all the time. The stability on the Polo is not as much as the Golf GTI but it does have that more engaged driving experience like an Up! GTI. In our experience, it was a perfect blend of the capabilities of an Up! GTI and a Golf GTI. It was the pick for us among the three cars that we drove on the roads of Spain. Driving the Polo GTI made us wonder the one question that was just natural, when will VW be getting this to India? We already have had the taste of the Polo GT as well as the previous version of the Polo GTI, but this is something that ane performance oriented consumer needs now.

Having said that we were excited for day 2 of the Volkswagen Performance Days 2018 where we would be driving these three pocket rockets at the Ascari race track. For that wait for the part-2 of this driven series on Cars18.

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