With a new Volkswagen Polo GTI announced, we’ve taken a look back at the previous versions of Wolfsburg’s supermini that have worn the fabled hot hatch badge. And not just because ESM’s editor has owned two of them…
Ok, maybe the ownership history plays a small part in it, but there’s also the motivation to raise the profile of the Polo GTI and its ancestors. Having spent some 19 years living in the shadow of the bigger Golf GTI, we think it’s only fair that the Polo gets some attention. There were fast Polos before the GTI, but here we’ve stuck with the six that were given the GTI badge.
1998 – 6N Polo GTI
Until 1998, the most powerful version of the third-generation 6N Polo was the 1.4-litre 16V model with 100hp. Things changed in 1998, with the introduction of a limited edition GTI, boasting a 1.6-litre engine producing 120hp. Suspension lowered by 15mm, a set of 15″ BBS RXII alloy wheels, uprated brakes, and a standard Electronic Differential Lock were the other mechanical changes.
Inside was a leather-wrapped steering wheel, with sports seats and red-edged floors mats also part of the package. Only 3,000 cars were produced, and all in left-hand drive, meaning the UK would have to wait slightly longer for a Polo GTI.
1999 to 2002 – 6N2 Polo GTI
As part of a comprehensive mid-life facelift, Volkswagen made the Polo GTI a permanent fixture on the 6N2 price list. Much was carried over from the 6N GTI including the same 1.6-litre engine, but with power boosted to 125hp. This drove the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox, which gained a reputation for failure at high mileage. Something the 6N2 GTI owned by ESM’s editor fortunately managed to avoid. 0-62mph needed 8.7 seconds, with a top speed of 127mph, meaning performance was more warm than boiling.
As the range-topping model, Volkswagen went all out with kit levels. Final specification did vary slightly, seemingly dependent on when the car was built in its short lifespan, with some cars having a sunroof and air conditioning in lieu of full climate control. Xenon headlights were a key feature, as were the 15″ BBS RXII alloy wheels borrowed from the 6N version. A deeper front splitter, shapely side skirts, and a rear hatch spoiler completed things outside, with buyers given the choice of three or five-door versions. Colour choices were limited to red, black or silver in homage to the original Golf GTI.
2006 to 2009 – 9N3 Polo GTI
VW skipped the idea of a GTI for the initial fourth-generation Polo, waiting until the midlife facelift 9N3 version to introduce it. Having been used in virtually every model across the Volkswagen Group empire, the 20-valve 1.8-litre turbo engine finally made it into a Polo in 2005. An output of 150hp and 160lb-ft of torque marked a sizeable jump over the 6N2, with high-revving thrills replaced by turbo twist instead. However, the gearbox was only a five-speed manual, and earlier cars suffered from reliability problem. Performance was mildly improved, with 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds and top speed of 134mph.
Styling was unashamedly influenced by the Mk5 Golf GTI – a car which had firmly re-established the Volkswagen GTI brand. For the Polo this meant borrowing the blacked-out centre section of the front bumper, plus honeycomb mesh inserts and red stripe for the grille. The 16″ alloy wheels were also copies of the larger Monza wheels fitted to the Golf, with tartan cloth trim for the seats another retro-inspired addition.
2008 – 9N3 Polo GTI Cup Edition
Perhaps stung by criticism that the 9N3 GTI wasn’t fast enough to challenge other supermini-derived hot hatches, Volkswagen released a special Cup Edition in 2008. Inspired by the race cars from the ADAC Polo Cup, performance, chassis and styling were all upgraded. Power from the 20-valve 1.8 turbo engine was increased to 180hp, with 173lb-ft of torque, helping reduce the 0-62mph time to 7.5 seconds. Top speed also rose slightly to 139mph.
Most noticeable was the adoption of a bodykit taken almost directly from the Cup race car, with deeper front and rear bumpers, plus a substantial rear hatch spoiler. A set of larger 17″ alloy wheels were added, whilst the size of the brake discs grew, and the suspension was lowered by some 15mm. The only downside to all this was that Volkswagen denied it to UK customers, but this didn’t stop enthusiasts ordering the parts and creating their own replicas.
2010 – 6R Polo GTI
Volkswagen got clever with the 6R Polo GTI. Perhaps too clever. In a bid to mix performance and economy, the 1.4-litre TSI Twincharger engine made an appearance, featuring both a turbocharger and a supercharger. Not only that, but it was only avaliable with a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. This setup was shared with the contemporary SEAT Ibiza Cupra and Skoda Fabia vRS, with all cars boasting the same 180hp and 180lb-ft of torque. Performance did improve, with 0-62mph recorded in 6.9 seconds, and top speed now up to 142mph.
But then came the problems. Owners of early cars reported oil consumption levels on a truly epic scale, caused by the design of the piston rings and injectors. Volkswagen would end up replacing piston rings, pistons, or even entire engines to try and solve the issue, creating a troubled reputation for the 6R GTI. Engine aside, the 6R GTI gained an extra red stripe for the honeycomb mesh grille, alloy wheels in standard 17″ size, and the adoption of the XDS electronic differential lock over regular Polos.
2014 – 6C Polo GTI
Although not openly admitted by Volkswagen, clearly something needed to change with the drivetrain of the Polo GTI. For the midlife update the 1.4-litre Twincharger was junked, and a six-speed manual gearbox made a welcome return, although the seven-speed DSG remained an option. Based on the 2.0-litre EA888 unit from the Golf GTI, the new 1.8-litre TSI engine featured 192hp, and 236lb-ft of torque in the manual version. This made the GTI even quicker, with 0-62mph taking an official 6.7 seconds and being capable of 146mph flat out.
The external design also received a comprehensive overhaul, adding bespoke front and rear bumpers, a redesigned honeycomb grille, and red stripe which ran all the way into the new LED headlights. There was of course still tartan trim inside covering the seats, whilst a new multi-function steering wheel was borrowed from the Golf GTI. Most significantly was the new option of the ‘Sport Performance Kit’ which added electronically adjustable suspension dampers. Oh, and placed a ‘Sport mode’ button prominently on the dashboard, thus gaining the 6C GTI a place in the ESM garage.
This brings us completely up to date, with the new Polo GTI, based on the Volkswagen MQB A0 platform, waiting in the wings. For more information on everything VW Polo, be sure to check out our good friends at PoloDriver.com for an inexhaustible resource on Volkswagen’s supermini.