Volkswagen Polo GTI launched in Sepang – Mk5 looks set to win lots of new friends

Volkswagen Group Malaysia today launched the Polo GTI at the Sepang International Circuit, in conjunction with the Scirocco R-Cup one-make race taking place there over the weekend. The Mk5 arrives in both three-door and five-door form, with both variants sharing common specifications and features.

The twin-charged 1.4 litre TSI unit that equips the car offers 180 PS (or 178 hp, if you will) at 6,200 rpm and 250 Nm at 2,000-4,500 rpm, and the Mk5 gets a seven-speed Direct Shift Gearbox transmission – with an XDS electronic transverse differential lock – as standard. Performance specs for the 1,269 kg hatch include a 6.9 seconds 0-100 kph time as well as a 229 kph top speed.

While the power output is 30 PS more than that offered by the 1.8 litre turbo mill on its predecessor, VW is playing up the Mk5’s frugalness in consuming less fuel even with that substantial increase in zip, with the car managing a claimed 5.9 litres per 100 km compared to the Mk4’s 7.9 litres per 100 km, an improvement of 24%.

Volkswagen Polo GTI launched in Sepang – Mk5 looks set to win lots of new friends

There’s the usual mix of ABS, EBD and ESP, as well as hill-hold control, and the GTI comes with a sports suspension and 17-inch Detroit alloys, wrapped with 215/40 series Bridgestone Potenza Adrenalin RE001 rubbers. Features include bi-xenon headlights (the GTI is the first Polo to wear them) with cornering lights, LED daytime running lights and corner marker lights as well as a panoramic tilt/slide sunroof.

Inside the cabin, you get sports seats dressed in the familiar GTI tartan design (called Jacky, if you must know), and items such as electro-hydraulic power steering, electric windows, rain sensor, central locking, driver seat height adjustment, green tinted insulated glass.

Also on, cruise control, rear park distance control (PDC), a leather-wrapped multi-function three-spoke steering wheel with paddle shift and a RCD 310 radio/CD/MP3 player with USB/iPod/AUX-In connectivity.

Volkswagen Polo GTI launched in Sepang – Mk5 looks set to win lots of new friends

In terms of safety features, the car comes equipped with combined head-thorax side airbags and twin front airbags, belt tensioners, belt tension limiters plus belt warning, head restraints designed to avoid whiplash trauma (each in front) as well as Isofix points on the rear bench seat.

There are six different colours to choose from, these being Candy White, Flash Red and Black as solid shades, Reflex Silver and Shadow Blue as metallic colours and Deep Black with a pearl effect.

Of these, the white, red and silver were the shades worn by the test mules that were serving on track as part of the launch and drive experience. I can’t, however, tell you what the Polo GTI feels like on track (no groans, please); my counterpart from Autocar Asean and I were supposed to be the last two out, but by the time it was to be our turn, the track closed for race practice.

Volkswagen Polo GTI launched in Sepang – Mk5 looks set to win lots of new friends

What I can tell you is how the Polo GTI feels out on the road, albeit briefly – arrangements were made to get us both out for a short blast around the ‘hood. It turned out to be a pretty decent session; the weather had just begin to take a turn for the worse, but the roads just around the circuit gave enough space and length to stretch the car’s legs, with a good mix of sweepers and wide-ish corners.

There’s a decent amount of poke from the get go, and with the slippery conditions permeating there was even a chance to get torque steer going initially, standing on it. Managing to get up to speeds of 150 kph on the back roads, the car felt lively and willing to go. The steering feels nicely weighted, with turn-in crisp and rapid, and those who revel in information coming off the wheel will quite like this one.

Handling-wise, the car’s articulate character shines, and responds to ruffian behaviour like it loves it. Like its bigger Golf sibling, this one makes average drivers feel more accomplished than they are, and rewards better ones. Grip levels are high, and in-corner composure (and follow-through) is very poised when the car is set up cleanly. Nimble is the word that springs to mind.

Volkswagen Polo GTI launched in Sepang – Mk5 looks set to win lots of new friends

All this ability to deliver such thuggery is tempered by the suggestion from the course terrain chosen that the Polo’s suspension is, for want of a better word, unyielding. The firm quality coming off it has great appeal (I love it for what it accomplishes), but you’ll have to savour the ruts and dips with equal passion, especially if you’re bombing along at speed. It got a bit hairy once during the run, but on the whole affects passenger comfort more than the car’s disposition.

Arguably, the person who buys a Polo GTI isn’t going to tick compliance in the boxes, but daily use might turn out to be an interesting affair, based on the initial take – the full session with the car when it comes should answer things better.

Based on the brief impressions, the Mk5 is looking like every bit the pocket rocket it’s suggested to be though. At RM132,888 for the three-door and RM135,888 for the five-door variant, you can imagine this one doing very well, and the three-door looks quite likely to be the kitten chosen by those who so want to take one home.