Volkswagen Polo GTi 1.4lt 180bhp DSG 7-speed

Can a hot hatchback work with an automatic gearbox?

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If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have laughed it off as a fairly silly query. But with the constant improvement of twin-clutch transmissions  it’s now a perfectly valid question.

Buying a GTI is as much about performance as quality, though, and this is where things got intriguing. There’s no doubting the Polo’s punch: its turbo- and supercharged 1.4-litre petrol engine produces 178bhp and 184lb ft of torque, the latter available from just 2000rpm. And with power sent to the front wheels via the near-seamless shifts of a seven-speed DSG ’box, acceleration was as effortless as it was relentlessly brisk. Passengers were often astonished the first time I passed a national speed limit sign, eyes widened by how quickly such a meek-looking machine gathered pace. If you don’t know your cars, the 17in Monza alloys and red-striped grille are too subtle to be giveaways.

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And the answer to my initial question? DSG still has flaws, namely poor pick-up from a standstill and the occasional unexpected downchange, but it’s an admirable bit of technology. Yet each time I returned to the Polo after a night or two in a manual car, I immediately missed the intimacy of nailing gearchanges myself. I appreciate the efficiency and refinement a dual-clutch ’box provides, but cars this small – especially heated-up versions – need a manual option. The Polo doesn’t have one.

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So, it’s fast, classy, comfortable and a piece of cake to run, if far from pulsating dynamically. It’s rare, too – 599 Polo GTIs found UK homes in 2011, a mere 1.3 per cent of Polo sales. But while the large mileage I covered in our car proves how pleasurable it was to live with, I’ve not pined for the Polo since it left. It felt more GT than GTI, and badged thus it would have delivered on its promise far more sweetly.

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