What is it?
The most powerful road going Volkswagen Polo ever – the limited edition R WRC.
As its name suggests, the Polo R WRC has been created to homologate the German car maker’s Polo-based World Rally Championship contender, which has already racked up five victories this year at the hands of Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala.
As specified by FIA regulations, 2500 examples of the new three door-only hot hatch are planned to be assembled alongside more sedate Polo models at Volkswagen’s Navarra plant in Spain, with orders already totaling 600 — even before the first customer deliveries.
Similarities between the road car and competition machine are few. Still, there’s enough here to suggest the Polo R WRC could mount a serious challenge to the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio RS and Peugeot 208 GTi.
Power for the hottest production Polo yet comes courtesy of a turbocharged 2.0-litre version of the Volkswagen Group’s EA113 four-cylinder direct-injection engine – essentially the same unit used in the last generation Golf GTi. It produces 217bhp on a band of revs stretching from 4500rpm to 6300rpm and 258lb ft of torque on tap between 2500 and 4400rpm – all of which is channelled through a standard six-speed manual gearbox.
This provides the Polo R WRC with 40bhp and 74lb ft more than the existing Polo GTI whose turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder direct-injection petrol unit from Volkswagen’s EA211 engine family, delivers 177bhp and 184lb ft. It also packs 20bhp and 43lb ft more than the turbocharged 1.6-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine that powers the Fiesta ST-2.
Despite the ramp up in reserves, Volkswagen has resisted the temptation to provide the Polo R WRC with a Haldex-style multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system. Such an arrangement has been developed by daughter company Audi for the limited-volume S1 Quattro – a car which shares its Volkswagen Group PQ25 platform structure with the Polo. But it retains front-wheel drive in the interests of weight saving, development costs and pricing.
Underneath, there’s a lightly modified version of the Polo GTI’s MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension, which retains the same 1445mm front and 1435mm rear tracks but supports larger 18-inch alloy wheels shod with lower profile 215/35 R18 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres as standard. The steering, an electro-mechanical system, has also been brought over from the Polo GTI with the same ratio.
The stylistic changes over lesser three-door Polo models are not quite as dramatic as you might expect from a car conceived to bring a dose of rally excitement to the road. But this is Volkswagen, and unlike some compact hot hatch rivals, it is rarely prepared to go to extremes when it comes to appearance of production models, even one that is built in such low volumes as its latest R model.
Apart from those rather appealing 18-inch alloys, you get special WRC livery, bi-xenon headlamps, deeper front bumper with integral splitter element and enlarged air ducts to increase cooling efficiency, black exterior mirror housings, a spoiler atop the tailgate and a new rear bumper boasting a diffuser-style optic to its lower section that houses twin chrome tailpipes.
Inside, the Polo R WRC receives an expensive-looking flat bottom steering wheel and WRC-badged sport seats – both with Alcantara and featuring blue stitching, R-line themed instruments with blue coloured needles, metal pedals and a black roof lining. It’s a high quality driving environment, offering loads of lateral support and fittingly sporty ambiance.
What’s it like?
Quite fast when it manages to get its power to the ground, but it’s lacking the handling finesse of some of its more keener rivals.
At 1249kg, the Polo R WRC hits the scales 54kg above the Polo GTi due to its heavier engine and more comprehensive standard equipment billing. Still, its reserves are sufficient to provide it class leading levels of acceleration.
Volkswagen claims a 0-62mph time of 6.4 sec, making the Polo R WRC some 0.5sec faster up the strip than the Polo GTi and Fiesta ST. It also says it’ll dispatch 50-75mph in fourth gear in 4.5sec. Flat out, it reaches 151mph – outpacing the Polo GTi and Fiesta ST by 9mph and 11mph respectively. Not slow, then.
The engine is impressively smooth and quite responsive, offering up a big slab of low end flexibility and a keenness to run to the 7000 rpm redline without any undue strain. What it could do with is a feistier exhaust note. There is a rawness to the acoustic qualities under load and you occasionally receive a resonant drone on a trailing throttle but it is all rather distant and lacking for purpose in a way the Golf R is not.
Also found wanting is the Polo R WRC’s ability to place its reserves to the road through the front wheels with any great resolve. A sharp loading of the throttle in lower gears in dry conditions corrupts the action of the steering as the ESP (electronic stability program) struggles to corral the efforts of the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit.
This is disappointing, because as the excellent mechanical differential fitted to the new Golf GTI has shown, Volkswagen can successfully engineer its more powerful front-wheel drive cars to place their reserves to the road without any old-fashioned torque steer antics. It’s just a pity it didn’t apply some more of that know-how to the Polo R WRC.
Accept that you have to live with the new Volkswagen’s inability to get its power down and you discover a car with otherwise sound handling traits.
Firm underpinnings provide excellent body control and the upgraded wheel and tyre package affords plenty of purchase. The steering could be a bit more communicative, but when it’s not corrupted by efforts to get power to the road it’s nicely weighted, very accurate and satisfyingly dependable.
You can push hard with a fair deal of confidence over snaking roads without any premature understeer, and lift off sharply mid corner without having to worry about the rear end stepping out of line. But while there is plenty to like there isn’t sufficient adjustability within the chassis to see the Polo R WRC trouble the best cars in its class for pure engagement.
The ride is firmer than that of the Polo GTI owing in part to its lower profile rubber. There’s enough compliance in compression and control in rebound to ensure it remains composed on all but badly pitted bitumen and without any confidence-zapping skatiness on mid-corner bumps.
Should I buy one?
There is plenty to like about the Polo R WRC, not least of all its excellent engine, superb interior and impressive levels of fit and finish. But in driving terms it is let down by its inability to place its power to the road, less than stirring exhaust note and a chassis that while providing sound handling traits sadly lacks for engagement.
Still, the initial batch of 2500 is only planned to be assembled in left-hand drive guise, meaning UK sales are out of the question for the time being. The new range-topping Polo costs a steep €33,900 in Germany, which on today’s exchange rate positions it £11,138 higher than the £17,995 Fiesta ST, which is more enjoyable to steer if not quite as powerful nor as fast or as comprehensively equipped.
Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Price £29,146; 0-62mph 6.5sec; Top speed 151mph; Economy 37.6mpg; CO2 174g/km; Kerb weight 1249kg; Engine 4 cyls in-line, 1984cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 217bhp at 4500rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 2500-4400rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual
What is it?