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25 years of Volkswagen Polo GTI: a retrospective

June 9, 2023

First-generation Polo GTI (1998-2001)

Sporty versions of the Polo existed in the past. Consider the 60-horsepower Polo GT that hit the market in 1979, or the 1987 Polo G40. That one, with its whooping G-loader, had an output of even 115 horsepower and reached a top of nearly 200 mph. The model is now a sought-after white raven in Polo-land. But the first real Polo GTI was not shown at the IAA in Frankfurt until 1998. The three telling letters GTI – even then synonymous with sportiness within Volkswagen – were prominently displayed on the grille and tailgate.

The basis of the fast hot hatch was the third generation of the Polo (6N2) with the design of Herbert Schäfer. Despite its compact size, the Polo GTI was quite powerful. It was equipped with a 1.6-liter engine that produced an impressive 120 horsepower, resulting in an “exhilarating driving experience. Like the Golf GTI, the Polo had many red accents inside and out. Another feature of the Polo GTI 6N2 were the unique “BBS RC” alloy wheels designed specifically for this version.

As with the Golf GTI, Volkswagen’s marketers saw relatively modest sales opportunities for the first Polo GTI. Volkswagen therefore limited production to only 3,000 left-hand drive units. They sold out in no time. The first-generation Polo GTI paved the way for subsequent generations, contributing to the popularity of the GTI label within the Volkswagen family. The three letters could be found on the Golf, Scirocco, up! and Lupo. The Polo GTI was a leap into the world of sporty compact cars for Volkswagen and laid the foundation for the iconic status the model has today. Yet it wasn’t until 2005 that a new GTI version appeared.

Second-generation Polo GTI (2005-2009)

The second-generation Polo GTI (9N3) based on the Polo Mk4 entered the market in 2005. It was a popular choice among car enthusiasts looking for a compact, sporty hatchback because it offered a good balance between performance, practicality and affordability. This version had a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine with direct fuel injection. Volkswagen had turned a well-behaved compact class car into a bombshell on wheels, with a more aggressive design and improved performance. The engine produced 150 horsepower, which was a significant increase over the first-generation GTI. The model accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in about 8 seconds and clocked a top of 216 km/h. 

To stay ahead of the competition’s hot hatches, Volkswagen came out with the Polo GTI Cup Edition with 180 horsepower in 2006. This delightful über-version completed its sprint to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds. 

Third-generation Polo GTI (2010-2014)

In 2010, Volkswagen introduced the Polo GTI (6R) based on the Polo Mk5. It was powered by the award-winning 1.4-liter TSI engine, which put 180 hp of power and 250 Nm of torque on the scale. Volkswagen was one of the first European automakers with direct gasoline injection and was thus also one of the first to discover that this technology only really works nicely with supercharging. The new 1.4 TSI engine even uses two systems simultaneously: a compressor and a turbocharger. The Polo GTI Mk5 was 7.5% lighter than its predecessor and accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.9 seconds.

Fourth-generation Polo GTI (2015-2017)

Volkswagen gave the Polo GTI a facelift in 2015. The model received a new 1.8-liter TSI developed by group rival Audi. With that, the new GTI was again more powerful: it produced 192 hp and sprinted to 100 km/h in 6.4 seconds. This GTI came standard with a six-speed manual transmission, unlike its predecessor, which was only available with a seven-speed DSG automatic. To make sure there was no misunderstanding that this really was a GTI, the third generation of the Polo GTI naturally had distinctive GTI features, such as a red line in the grille, GTI badges, a rear spoiler and a dual exhaust.

Fifth-generation Polo GTI (2018-2021)

The fifth-generation Polo GTI debuted in Berlin in 2017. For the first time, the hot hatch – for intimates Polo AW – reached the magic limit of 200 horsepower with its slightly modified 2.0-liter TSI engine from the Golf GTI. With that, it flashed to 100 km/h in less than 6.7 seconds and whistling on the German Autobahn reached a top speed of 237 km/h. The car – with Klaus Bischoff’s design – was on the Volkswagen Group’s MQB A0 platform, making it the roomiest Polo GTI that Volkswagen had built up to that point. It was also the first Polo GTI that was no longer available with three doors, to save costs.

The Polo GTI featured state-of-the-art features and technologies, such as a sports suspension, adaptive cruise control and a digital instrument panel. It had a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission as standard. Also standard: a lowered suspension, GTI badges, sporty steering, GTI bumpers, 17-inch wheels, larger brakes, red brake calipers, dual exhausts, red stitching and a roof spoiler.

Sixth-generation Polo GTI (2021-present)

The current, sixth-generation Polo continues the GTI tradition since 2021. Pioneering technologies such as the IQ.LIGHT matrix LED headlights and IQ.DRIVE Travel Assist plus other features usually reserved for much larger and more expensive cars make the new Polo GTI the leader within its segment. At the front, newly shaped headlights and a flatter grille – with the traditional red trim, of course – provide a refreshing new appearance. The taillights have a boomerang-like shape and the bumpers leave no doubt that this is the sportiest variant of Volkswagen’s “pocket rocket. The GTI also has a revised infotainment system. The latter works by default on an 8-inch screen, optionally expandable to 9.2 inches.

The 2.0 TSI, mated to a DSG automatic transmission, now produces 207 hp and 320 Nm. A 0-100 time of 6.5 seconds is possible. The top speed, at 240 km/h, is just slightly higher than that of its predecessor. 

Volkswagen Polo GTI Edition 25 limited edition

Because the 25th anniversary of the Polo GTI should not just pass unnoticed, Volkswagen is now coming out with a special and limited Polo GTI Edition 25 limited edition. Those who want to join the party must be GTI-worthy fast: the Edition 25 is available in our country in a limited edition of only twenty copies.