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By Jonathan Crouch
Added 23rd June, 2017
, updated 17th February, 2020
The Volkswagen Polo has been much improved in MK6 model form. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
You could argue that in this MK3 design, we finally got the proper Beetle tribute model we should have had in the first place. This car borrows its heritage, its silhouette and its retro uniqueness from the post-war original, but fuses it with the sort of fuel economy, safety and creature comforts that the modern buyer demands - without the retro excesses and gender-specific touches of the second generation car. With the 'A5'-series MK3 model, the sportier look was matched by a sportier feel from an efficient range of engines but even so, this is a design you'll still either love or hate.
Which is just as it should be. A model like this remains an unashamed indulgence, both on the part of its maker and those who will buy it. True, the trend modern Beetles once set for High Street chic was quickly copied by a whole clutch of rivals. Yet you can see why loyal owners love this Volkswagen so much. It certainly isn't a rational choice. But then, if we did everything for rational reasons, the world would be very dull indeed. Just as its original predecessor did over seventy years ago, this car made the automotive landscape just that little bit brighter.
The 2013-2019-era Volkswagen Golf R might seem a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it's a four-wheel drive, 300PS, two-litre turbo road rocket; the sort of car that you thought had gone out of fashion with the demise of the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. On the other, it's a wholly civilised, beautifully built family hatch that can better 40mpg and emits less carbon dioxide than a VW Lupo GTI. That, more than its incredible performance figures, shows us how times have changed and how fast hatches have needed to rehabilitate themselves or die.
Offering a strong value proposition and no shortage of capability, it's easy to see how the Volkswagen Golf R found such a ready market amongst more mature hot hatch fans. Whether it's for you though, will very much depend on how you like your sports hatches.
When the Golf GTI was first launched in 1976, Volkswagen wondered whether it would struggle to sell an early production run of 5,000 vehicles. By 2012, two million sales later, the issue the issue the brand faced was not whether this car would sell, but who might buy it. After all, previous to 2012, this model had mainly sold to folk who, if they were honest, would probably admit to having out-grown the shopping rocket genre it originally created. In 7th generation form, this car needed to return a little to its roots - add an old fashioned dose of fun into the mature mix. It did.
You might not know that from the figures. In all the dynamic measures that tend to matter to hot hatch drivers - 0-62mph acceleration, top speed, lap times, lateral grip, braking performance and so on - this Golf never really seriously bothers the class best. You might not be immediately arrested by the looks either, or the initial experience on the drive round the block. But persevere. Forty years of experience in creating a car of this kind has to count for something. It does.
Importantly, Wolfsburg didn't here make the mistake of developing this GTI for the track rather than the road, so bumpy British tarmac doesn't bother it. You're always confident in pushing the performance envelope in a way that few rivals can match, yet that's possible without the sweaty palms that usually characterise red mist motoring. MK5 and MK6 Golf GTI models were also accomplished in this way, but with its extra power, lighter lithe responses and brilliantly sorted suspension, this MK7 version can not only be a confident performance car but a credibly exciting one too. So yes, it should sell to folk who want a proper hot hatch experience as well as a very mature one.
The very first generation version set out to define a fundamental standard for performance that was more precise than any other compact car. So it is here. Long after the novelty of some rivals has worn off, this GTI will always feel a class act. Crucially though, in this form, it's also a very entertaining one.
With the up! GTI, now lightly improved, Volkswagen rekindles the spirit of shopping rockets past. Jonathan Crouch checks it out.
So: the best of both worlds, at the push of a button. Is that what we've got here? Pretty much, yes. The Volkswagen Group weren't the first to bring us the benefits of plug-in motoring but they were the first to really perfect it - or at least perfect it as far as was possible in the 2016-2019 period within the limits of the then-available battery technology. As a result, if you're a used car buyer who's never thought much of electric mobility as an automotive solution, here's a model we think might convert you.
Everything's so straightforward - so normal. Just leave the thing in its 'Hybrid Auto' setting and you'll get diesel-like fuel economy with a real surging turn of pace when you need it. Even if you never once plugged this car in, you'd probably be perfectly happy with what you had. So no, you don't have to press buttons and select menu options to enjoy and benefit from GTE motoring.
But devoted owners will want to do that. These people will see ownership as being all about mastering and getting the most from the Plug-in hybrid concept. For them, there'll be nothing normal about what this Volkswagen can do. They'll talk of its silent all-electric operation. Or running costs that decimate their annual tax payments and see a potential three-figure range achievable from every gallon. Or maybe the way in which when used for short journeys, it can make fuel station visits a thing of the past. It's all deceptively unique. It's all a taste of the future - but in a car very much for today.
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