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Our long term Volkswagen Polo GTI has been clocking up the mileage since its introduction in May, with the most recent being a visit to Gerotek where its performance credentials was put to the test.
Before colleague Mark Jones was afforded the opportunity to grab junior by the scruff of its neck though, his findings being revealed next month, a more pressing matter presented itself, namely, and unsurprisingly, the Coronavirus.
Not long after our Pure White tyke’s arrival, the announcement was made that South Africa was preparing to go into lockdown for an initial period of three weeks which has subsequently lasted longer than what anyone expected. The looming shutdown therefore presented something of a dilemma as the GTI, like its minder, would have to be cooped-up in quarantine and unable to get a feel for it out on the open road, meaning no indication of its prowess out of the city’s confines.
As it transpired, the tiny window of opportunity before what was to become known as Level 5, remained open long enough for the GTI to take on the open road which, in this case, turned-out to be a 2 519 km road trip from Johannesburg to my hometown of Despatch in the Eastern Cape and then back where the isolation was set to take place. Given the strict limitations placed on travel in the weeks and months that followed, the trip down to the coast proved ideal.
The early morning departure from the Big Smoke, which looked more like a December holiday mass exodus, even at 5 am, saw the GTI not wasting time getting into its stride. With the four mode Sport Select system switched to ‘Normal’ and the climate control off, it quickly shrugged off its GTI mantel in becoming an everyday Polo as Gauteng disappeared in the rear-view mirror.
Out on the N1, the leather trimmed sport seats proved a lot more comfortable than expected, although the level of wind noise that filtered into the cabin at the national limit was less impressive. What’s more, an intermittent rattle would present itself from time to time, whose origin has so far not been detected. Unexpectedly, the ride was on the firm side but not so harsh that my back needed realignment after 200 km.
Being adverse to any kind of Eco mode, the GTI’s biggest achievement was its consumption. Keen to exploit its humble side, I didn’t rush my progress with the aim of not stopping for a fill-up every time as soon as a petrol station appeared.
The first stop in Bloemfontein, with half a tank remaining after almost 400 km, saw the Virtual Cockpit Display instrument cluster reading an average of 5.1 L/100 km, point-eight up on Volkswagen’s claim. Two stops later, and on arrival in Despatch after 1 055 km, the display still read 5.1 L/100 km. It was somewhat startling to say the least given the presence of the 2.0 TSI power station up front’s 147kW/320Nm.
While smooth, a certain amount of hesitation still exhibited within the six-speed DSG, however, this was only noticeable at slow speeds as the box went about its business in a completely slick and unobtrusive fashion otherwise. Fortunately, there was a moment to get better acquainted with the Polo’s other side.
With the mentioned selector switched to Sport and the gearbox in manual, the Polo pulled strong and really come alive as each tug of the paddles affixed to the steering wheel delivered slick shifts and smile inducing whine from the turbo. Similarly, the steering provided just enough feel though not as much as I would have liked.
From behind the wheel, the biggest no-no, from a personal perspective that is, is the lack of the 9.2-inch Discover Media infotainment system that includes satellite navigation. Granted, although the standard eight-inch Composition Media system with App Connect cannot be faulted for its ease or usability, the presence of the more upmarket display would have been better.
The onset of the lockdown then hit and apart from topping up for the essentials at the shops, the Polo sat motionless for weeks until it was announced that a seven-day grace period had been granted to citizens who had left their province of work or residence.
It was therefore time to head back after nearly a month and in spite of the indicated consumption having swollen to 6.2L/100 km, the trek back up to Johannesburg via a detour through Bethlehem in the Free State, saw it levelling out at 6.1L/100 km.
This part of the journey took a tad longer though as the constant darting out to avoid a puncture or damaging the 18-inch Brescia alloy wheels on the myriad of potholes that characterise the road around Sasolburg and Heilbron also resulted in the Polo’s Driver Attention Alert system activating on a number of occasions in response to the human behind the wheel possibly getting weary. It also showcased the stiffness of the suspension as great care had to be taken in order for it not the ‘hit through’. Fortunately, this didn’t happen and no ill effects prevailed once back in Johannesburg.
As much as Covid-19 had threatened JG 26 HD GP’s tenure, the small loophole it provided was enough to confirm it being the typical GTI that displays a ‘Dr Jekyll’ persona on one hand and a ‘Mr Hyde’ on the other. Useable, fast, practical and surprisingly frugal, yet purists will continue to scoff at the thought of the GTI insignia starring on anything other than a Golf.
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