Eaten bread is soon forgotten, they say. It applies to me in some instances, I’m afraid. I should stress I am not talking about ever taking for granted the wonderful hospitality afforded me by so many. Instead, I’m applying the old adage to cars.
You see, it can be difficult (for me anyway) to recall precise details and minute impressions of a car I’ve driven months previously when comparing it with a rival I’m currently testing.
Major elements, and some really good cars, linger long in my memory. But so many motors are of such similar standard these days that differentiation can come down to tiny margins that time can blur.
Thankfully, such is not the case with this week’s car. Scarcely had I finished sampling the new Ford Fiesta ST (tasty, spicy, pricey) than another potential feast presented itself on the small hot-hatch menu: the 2-litre, 200hp, 5dr Volkswagen Polo GTi. It meant I was much more immediately able to compare and contrast. Like two courses in succession, each unfolded its distinct flavours.
You might remember I recently reviewed the Fiesta ST. It was a sizzler. There are no other words for it. Like the GTi, it, too, punches 200hp or as near as makes no difference – which is massive power within a supermini body.
But, as with food, it is how the power is cooked, seasoned and presented that affects so much. Which is why near-contemporaneous tests of both cars afforded me an opportunity to notice and compare the little things.
For example, the Polo’s mid-range pulling power was greater; yet the ST felt more energetic. That’s because there are different philosophies at play. Ford want the ST to be super sharp to highlight the brand’s technological abilities. Sure, you can drive it like a ‘normal’ 5dr supermini but after sampling its hot-hatch abilities a few times, I think you’d be inclined to seek its quicker side more often.
Volkswagen, by their own admission, have seasoned the GTi to deliver more impact nearer the middle of the spectrum to accommodate a larger helping of practical, rather than outright, performance.
In other words, they are trying to appeal to more ‘sensible’ people like you and me (?) who want a bit of fun but don’t feel the pull to be constantly testing its flat-out dynamics.
How did I feel about that? Initially, a bit disappointed. What is the point of calling a car ‘GTi’ if it doesn’t push boundaries? It didn’t have me wide-eyed with wonder or excitement like the ST had only a few hours previously. That’s something you’d surely expect of a car starting around €32,000? (Yes, it is mad money but I’ve already said that about the slightly less expensive ST – so I won’t burden you again).
I just could not get excited about it the way I had with the ST. I kept looking for that ‘spark’ and either I missed it or it wasn’t there.
Yet different flavours filtered through as I made further acquaintance. For a start, I much prefer the look of the GTi. And while I may not be in a majority with that opinion, there is no arguing against the Polo having a more substantial feel and profile than the Fiesta. I could not get over the space in the cabin.
I think it is also better set up to distance you from road ruts and noise. It felt more accomplished in, and capable of, ironing out the bumps and humps. Against that, the ST felt intrinsically more direct. But since I first drove the ‘basic’ Polo this time last year, I’ve been impressed with every version I’ve tested. I’ve particularly noted how solid it has always felt; it is a big, strong supermini with an excellent chassis. One that, in this case, has been tweaked and enhanced for ‘hot-hatch’ endeavours.
The question is: should such a ‘hot hatch’ be more audaciously tuned?
Here’s my (sort-of) ironic answer. If I were testing it straight after a saloon or SUV and not a rival, I’d probably accept its level of ‘heat’ as reflecting an attempt by Volkswagen to embrace a wider audience with the promise of good fun.
I’d probably praise them for sensibly recognising the everyday practicalities of owning a car like this.
But after being really excited by the Fiesta shortly before the GTi drive, I concluded I’d have to make a ‘hot-hatch all-or-nothing’ decision. So the ST takes the kudos. It’s a really ‘hot’ hatch. Which just goes to show you that eaten bread may not always be soon forgotten if it makes enough of an impression in the first place to keep it fresh in your memory.
Facts & Figures
Volkswagen Polo GTi 2.0TSi. 5dr, 200hp, €280 road tax. Price: €36,024. Range starts: €32,395 (delivery/related charges extra).
Standard spec includes Adaptive Cruise Control, 17ins alloys, voice control, 8ins ‘Composition Media’ (six speakers), front fogs, cornering lights, forward collision warning, ‘electronic differential lock’ XDS.
Options: technology upgrade, two-zone climatronic, 18ins wheels.