Volkswagen Polo GTI: Good Times Imminent?

00s cars Volkswagen Reviews
Richard Gooding of fame has written a few words about his latest purchase. It's a rather delightful 2001 Volkswagen Polo GTI.

Mr Richard Gooding of the rather excellent has penned a review of his 2001 Volkswagen Polo GTI.

A Volkswagen fan of many years, Rich Gooding has just taken the first step on the GTI ownership ladder, by purchasing this Polo GTI. Why did he choose the hot shot Polo and what does an early example of Volkswagen’s smaller iconic-badged hatchback offer?

Over to you, Richard.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Back in September, in the space of four days, I thought about buying a car, went and saw two locally, and ended up buying the first one I viewed. Until then, I hadn’t even considered driving anything other than my 18 year-old Polo GT Coupé. But that was before the Volkswagen UK 2011 Polo GTI press car arrived, and unwittingly – and starkly – pointed out that even a fuel-injected 1993 car is now an antique. Lovingly referred to by family members as ‘the classic car’, the three-door hatch, (called ‘coupé’ due to Volkswagen’s reinvention of the Mk2 Polo as a ‘bread van’-shaped hatchback), has covered 164,000 miles, 116,000 of those in my 12-year ownership. But, surprisingly, (both to me and those that know me), it now has a new driveway mate.

As I hadn’t considered buying another, newer, car, I hadn’t really thought about what form that more modern, playful, refined, yet inexpensive potential purchase would take. Being a lifelong fan, I guess it was always going to be a Volkswagen, although when I started looking at my sudden-imposed £3,000 limit, all sorts of machinery presented itself. From early Renaultsport Clio 172s, (I’ve always liked the look of the first-generation cars), through to first-year, high-mileage Audi A2s, the search was quite an eye-opener. But as you can see from the pictures, I again plumped for a Polo, my fifth. Was it really going to be anything else?

Polo – mint

2001 Volkswagen Polo GTI review

The Polo GTI first arrived in the UK in 1999 for the 2000 model-year comprehensive Polo facelift, (at least 60 percent of the ‘3F’ Polo was new), and was sold for just two years, ahead of the arrival of the more sensible Mk4. Limited to 3,000 units, a pre-facelift Mk3 GTI was sold on the continent during 1998 based on the model introduced in 1994, and it was on this hot shot Polo that the 2000 GTI was based. Featuring a new 1.6-litre, 16V 125bhp engine with variable valve timing, it gave the new 1,084kg performance Polo a 0-62mph time of 8.7 seconds and a 127mph top speed. It was, the most powerful production Polo to date. Although enjoying one of the shortest lifespans of any car, there were many changes in the two-year Polo 3F GTI lifecycle.

2001 Volkswagen Polo GTI interior

Early cars came with red ‘GTI’ badging, (as opposed to just the ‘I’ on later models), red seatbelts and manual air-conditioning and a sunroof. Leather was an – expensive – option, too, and cars with hide came with an all-black interior. When deciding upon specification, I decided against leather trim, predominantly because it did away with the red-trimmed door panels, (leather models had black), and the red-flashed and stitched seats. If there’s one thing the 2000-2002 Polo GTI’s cabin did, it was to show that Volkswagen had a sense of fun. The bobbly dash was borrowed from the smaller Lupo, while the chrome-trimmed dial bezels were styled similar to the air vent flourishes in the first-generation Audi TT’s cabin.

Seemingly a lot of car for the now moderately cheap money, (£13,995 when new), equipment levels were good, too: ABS, CD player with 6-CD boot-mounted autochanger, digital air-conditioning/climate control, Electronic Differential Lock, headlamp washers, power-steering, remote central locking, sport seats and xenon headlights all feature (the 2000 Polo GTI was the cheapest car on the market at the time with gas-discharge headlamps), lending a ‘big car’ air. The fact that my car is tidily original, looks natty with its original 15-inch BBS alloys and Reflex Silver paintwork sealed the deal. I paid £2,400 (down from £2,700), which is somewhere in the middle price bracket for a tidy, original car. Scouring Auto Trader’s brilliant iPad app and the classified ads on eBay threw up cars ranging from £800 for a leggy early model, to a 52,000-mile 2001 car for £3,245. Surprisingly, lots of cars had leather, so they were ruled out, while many were 100,000 miles plus, so my car was one of the lowest-mileage cars I turned up.

Mid-life crisis

2001 Volkswagen Polo GTI side

Y464 GHJ has only covered 67,000 miles, and comes with an almost solely Volkswagen Retailer stamped up service book. There are some little bits and pieces that need sorting naturally, (bumper scuffs and the like, but it is a 10 year-old car after all), but that’s half the fun. The interior needs a good clean, too, but it’s nothing an afternoon of elbow grease shouldn’t sort out. I’ve got no plans for the car apart from the initial tidy up, as I’d like to keep it standard. The first parts have been bought and fitted – a set of mud flaps to protect the paintwork, and also a replacement whip aerial mast to replace the aftermarket corroded chrome one that was on the car when I bought it. There were things to look out for, though. Volkswagen issued a pedal box recall around seven years ago, but this car’s been done, and it’s also had a recent cambelt change. The gearbox feels fine too, as these can cause problems.

At 38, is it my ‘mid-life crisis’ car? I don’t think so, it’s just a much more sensible option for these modern times we live in (although not as sensible as a three-cylinder TDI might have been – with 144lb ft of torque it soundly beats the GTI’s 112lb ft – of which I only saw three advertised in my 2000-2002 window). Yes, the Clio 172 would have been more fun in an enthusiast sense, but the possibly flaky build and cheap-looking interior do it no favours. Have I made the right choice? I’m hoping my first foray into GTI ownership will be as much of a pleasure to own as its driveway predecessors, but only time will tell. So far, though, it’s proved to be comfortable, refined and stylish motoring with a dash of added zip. It doesn’t seem to suffer a from a drink problem either, with a recent week’s driving recording figures of 36 and 40mpg. And a little shallow perhaps, but, when your other half tells you it’s a good-looking car, you know you could be onto a winner.

More mint words

Rich Gooding

Rich Gooding runs, and is the former newsletter editor and co-founder of the VW Polo Register, the UK’s longest-running organisation for Volkswagen Polo drivers. Established in 1996, the club set the template for the many UK Polo owners’ clubs in existence today.

Rich has also written extensively for the local and national Volkswagen press, and has an unrivalled 18-year enthusiasm for the marque. He currently owns a well-preserved 1994 Volkswagen Polo Coupé GT and an original 2001 Volkswagen Polo GTI.

You can find the Twitter feed here (@polodrivercom) and Rich’s personal feed here (@gooding2shoes).