Do you have RM200,000? Great! Go out and buy a Golf GTI.
If you don’t, well, consider one of two options. Rob a bank or read more about what Shannon Teoh has to say about its smaller brother, the Polo GTI.
Like the respective sports they are named after, the Golf is a far more mainstream car. Fits five comfortably, is well-balanced and has a really sweet engine for the Malaysian driving experience.
The Polo is for people who enjoy smashing their crotch against something hard as they chase about a field trying to hit a ball in exactly the sweet spot that will make it travel significantly instead of just swinging a long stick aimlessly around.
The Polo is a far more challenging car. Which is another way of saying it is less accomplished. In today’s world of motoring, the Golf is far more palatable. Decently spacious, a six-disc front-loading stereo, DSG, and 0-100 in 6.9s.
The Polo can be a tight fit for the non-average Asian, has a medicore sound setup, a five-speed manual and a 1.8l turbocharged engine which helps it to the ton in 8.2s. But hell, what do you think people used to drive say, 30 years ago when the first Golf GTI was made? Back in the day, that thing was hella impressive. It did the sprint in 9.8s on a 110hp 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine. How? It weighed less than 900kgs.
Having driven that car after it was updated with a 5-speed, it did a slightly faster 9-second sprint. But it felt phenomenal! Ferrari-like! It felt so fast because it was so damn bare. Imagine riding a bicycle that accelerated like a motorbike and you’ll get what I mean.
In a sense, the Polo GTI is like driving an old-school Golf GTI. Not only is the engine the same one as the Mk IV Golf GTI, it basically shares similar dimensions to the first Golfs, and has a five-speed transmission that needs a bit of work to get the most out of the car.
At 1,164kg, the Polo is pretty light in modern terms. Coupled with a suspension lowered by 15mm and the 148hp engine, the Polo is what you’d call nippy and agile. But it takes some getting used to. The turbo lag is tangible and can be annoying when getting around bends, especially lower-speed ones where wheelspin can and will occur. With 220Nm of torque available from 1,950rpm, the ESP stability control and TCS traction control are usually working overtime.
But there is no way you can immediately handle this car the way you would a Golf GTI. The Polo’s balance is a bit off, maybe due to the large engine in front, or simply that the chassis setup is inherently not as good.
I believe that this is probably true. The same engine produced 237hp in the old Audi TT. They must have toned it down for a reason and in this car, the setup feels like it is at the edge of acceptability before it just becomes too “difficult” to drive.
Priced at RM138,888, it is the other side of the spectrum for the same budget as say, the “easy” choice of a Honda Accord. But why buy a big saloon if you don’t need the space and comfort?
In fact, recently, a dealer, VW Cars, was apparently throwing the price down to RM119k. And with the year-end in sight, they’ve gone lower for a limited amount of units (probably to get rid of old stock). The Polo GTI can now be yours for under RM100,000. RM99,999 to be exact. That’s something to think about, then…
Because like the original Golfs, however, it can be rewarding if you work at it. The steering feels less direct and the attention you have to pay to switching gears can be fun, if not as efficient as sticking the DSG into S. And the DSG typifies the reason why Golf GTIs, like all cars, have evolved today to become so easy to drive and make racecar drivers out of mediocre talents – people like to have tools that make them do better.
And it’s still hard to do better than a Golf GTI.
Story by Shannon Teoh.