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By Andre De Kock

Motorsport Correspondent

Polo GTI a race car straight off the showroom floor

VW's junior hot hatch will get your adrenaline flowing like hundreds of racing drivers around the country.

For South African car manufacturers, the link between motorsport participation and vehicle marketing can be a tenuous one, especially in times when petrol prices force car buyers to put fuel efficiency before performance.

Like, for instance, now. Be that as it may, Volkswagen’s Polo Cup racing category is going – and going strong – in its 26th year this season.

And – more than a quarter-century after its inception – the formula’s race cars still closely represent a model offered for sale to the public.

For this writer, that is the Polo’s greatest asset – it is by far South Africa’s most popular race car.

Spread across disciplines like Global SupaCup, the Inland Volkswagen Challenge, the CompCare Polo Cup, the Coastal GTI Challenge, Clubmans and SuperHatch there are more Volkswagen Polos on local circuits than the cars of all the other manufacturers combined.

All-out action in the Polo Cup.

One of the main reasons is the CompCare Polo Cup series, designed 26 years ago to give young local drivers a ladder of opportunity in circuit racing.

As Polo Cup Cars get replaced, they get farmed out to club racers, who take possession of well built, reliable competition vehicles, that lend themselves to a wide variety of modifications, should new owners so wish.

The current CompCare Polo Cup race cars use exactly the same turbocharged, four-cylinder, 1 998cc engine found in the road-going Volkswagen Polo GTI.

The engines are crated from Volkswagen SA to the race car builders at Volkswagen Motorsport and, apart from being fitted with a Push to Pass device, are identical to the ones found in the showroom Polo GTI.

ALSO READ: Freshened-up Volkswagen Polo still the class benchmark

It develops 147 kW of power between 4 400 rpm and 6 000 rpm, plus 320 Nm of torque between 1 500rpm and 4 350 rpm.

Polo Cup racers rev the power plant 6 000 rpm all the time – yet, in the four years of using them, not a single engine in the formula has been blown up. The grunt and twist gets sent to the front wheels via a six-speed DSG gearbox.

The wheels are 18-inch spoked alloy items in 215/40 R18 rubber, the same as those on the track cars.

All of which makes the Volkswagen Polo GTI the closest road car to a circuit racer available in this country.

Sure, there are a number of other, faster road cars, the Polo GTI will accelerate from standstill to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds and packs a top speed of 238 km/h, but this Polo has racing DNA that transcends mere performance figures.

The Polo GTI has an unassuming presence.

From the outside, it looks fairly unassuming – Volkswagen have resisted the urge to bedeck it with stripes, large spoilers or large badges.

But, people in the know will look at the GTI nomenclature and understand that it speaks of greatness.

The road car will seat four adults in comfort and five in a squeeze, accommodated on cloth upholstery.

Automatic climate control is standard, as is an on-board computer with Bluetooth connectivity, remote control locking, electric windows all-round, rain-sensor wipers, front armrests, an adjustable multi-function steering wheel, a USB port, heaters for the front seats and a heated rear window.

Pre-emptive safety kit includes ABS with brake assist and traction control, stability control, daytime matrix LED lights, directional turning headlights, plus park distance control cameras front and rear.

In the event of a shunt, human cargo will be protected by six airbags located in the front, side and rear in the forms of curtain airbags.

The cabin features prominent red GTI accents.

Driving the Polo GTI is about realistic expectations. It is not a supercar, and some of our fellow motoring scribes fell into the trap of criticising the car because it cannot take on Porsches and the like.

What it can do, and very well, is to immerse and involve you behind the wheel. It is remarkably easy to drive, for all the right reasons.

The power comes on song strongly and over a wide rev range. The steering is kart-like direct and gives you a lot of feedback, while the handling is superb.

This Polo is planted, and says planted through corners at speeds too ridiculous for old people like me to attempt.

Somehow, it just feels right, and if it were not for the bloody petrol price, we would have chosen to drive it the long way to any destination.

At R494 600, the Polo GTI comes with a three year/120 000 km warranty and a three year/45 000 km service plan.

For more information on the Polo GTI, click here.

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