The circuit commentator and presenter Tom Schwede grew up in a very automotive environment. It was the perfect background for the work he now does writing and talking about cars. For example, his first test drive with the new Polo GTI 2.0 l TSI1 in Mallorca, which Tom sums up below. He publishes additional texts and pictures since 2007 on his website, 1300ccm.de, a “car-blog for car-natives”.
Sporty compact cars from Volkswagen play a great role in my automotive background. When I was in primary school I used to admire my neighbour’s VW Golf GTI2. And even after almost 40 years I still remember the chequered seats and of course the cool gear knob. As a young driver my dream car was the Polo G40. But “thanks” to my height – I’m six foot six – the Polo was not an option for me 30 years ago. In those days I didn’t fit into the compact car. So I bought myself a second-generation Golf GTI.
That was almost 30 years ago. In the meantime almost every model of car has got a lot bigger. The latest Polo is a little over 12 feet or four metres long.
Which is about the same as my first Golf. But I still find a very comfortable seating position in the new Polo. The instrument panel is well laid out and the controls are easy to reach.
Even today, that is not something I can say about every small car. Then there is the fact that the current model is a good ten centimetres wider than the compact car from the early 1980s. And this expansion makes a big difference to the space available inside.
Today the driver’s feel for the road is backed up by a computer
In the Polo GTI that Volkswagen has lent me for this road test, I’m looking at the digital instruments of a virtual cockpit.
Here, digitalisation is at your fingertips. Nowadays our cars are moving computers. Almost everything that was controlled mechanically or electromechanically in my GTI, 30 years ago, is now managed by bits and bytes. In those days the driver had to have an instinctive feeling for the car’s limits, but today, the electronic control units ensure that drifting doesn’t become a near-death experience.
Among other things, this means the current front-wheel drive Polo GTI is extremely neutral going round corners, even at high speed.
The electronic differential lock XDS is partly responsible for this, as is the perfectly balanced running gear. This active drive control system uses the sensors in the electronic stabilisation programme (ESP system) and responds to the reduced pressure on the inner front wheel during dynamic cornering. XDS stops the wheel from spinning with targeted braking. This improves traction and stops the car from understeering.
My first rendezvous with the new Polo GTI 2.0 TSI is on the Circuit Mallorca in Llucmajor. There are five tight hairpin bends on the 3.2 kilometre race track. Then there is a slightly drawn-out right-left combination and a fast double-right bend.
The Polo GTI impresses me on all these corners with its neutral road holding. I really have to provoke the little sports car deliberately to experience that tendency to understeer typical of high-powered, front-wheel drive vehicles. And even in such an exceptional situation, the Polo remains easily and safely controllable.
The mountains prove what the VW Polo GTI can do.
I leave the racing track with the certainty that on normal roads it is practically impossible to push the Polo beyond its limits.
To continue the road test I have chosen a road to the north of the island, which leads down to Sa Calobra on the coast. It is surrounded by jagged white cliffs, falling away steeply to the sea. Behind them is the spectacle of the glistening blue Mediterranean. And in-between twists the road.
It is a thrilling stretch of tarmac, supported by pillars and bridges built into the mountains. The exciting and spectacular highlight of the tour is the famous 270 degree bend at the foot of the Coll dels Reis.
After the turn-off into the wooded hills of the Serra de Tramuntana, the road first climbs slightly for 2.5 kilometres. There are plenty of hairpin bends waiting for the Polo here. I use the short straights in between to enjoy the sound of the engine.
Shortly after crossing the mountain ridge at the 728 metre high Coll dels Reis, the road curves to the right. After a while the road cuts underneath itself like the knot of a tie. On an early Sunday morning in the winter there isn’t much going on here. I stop for a photo. Straight away a VW Beetle drives through my picture.
A little later, two amateur cyclists stop next to the Polo. They obviously know about cars. Because GTI and 200 PS are facts even I know in Spanish. After a brief petrol-head chat, I continue on my way. Ahead of me lies the road down to Sa Calobra. The setting for the ten kilometre drive is breath-taking. Between the countless hairpins there are always short straight sections. The corners come thick and fast, especially on the upper part of the route. Hardly any of the straights between them are longer than 200 metres. I’m falling for this road and for the Polo GTI!
Especially as the 6-gear dual clutch gearbox that comes as standard on the Polo always selects the right gear for the corner. Coming out of the curve the traction comes in, I use the torque to accelerate out of the bend. It’s great fun. A British magazine recently voted this route one of the most exciting stretches of asphalt on the planet. After my drive today I share their opinion.
About the author:
Tom Schwede grew up in a very automotive environment. His grandfather towed his folding caravan with a sports car. His father preferred engines with double overhead camshafts. His aunt drove a five-cylinder turbo. Altogether it was the perfect background for the work he now does writing and talking about cars. After all, whenever a classic car or a modern classic car race takes place in Germany today, there is good chance that Tom will be there reporting on the vehicles.
1Polo GTI 2.0 TSI, 147 kW – Fuel consumption in l/100 km: urban 7.7 / extra-urban 4.9 /combined 5.9; CO2 emissions in g/km: 134 (combined). Efficiency class: C.
1Golf GTI 2.0 TSI (169 kW / 230 PS)- Fuel consumption in l/100 km: urban 8.2 – 7.8 / extra urban 5.5 – 5.3 / combined 6.4 -6.3; CO2 emissions combined in g/km: 148 – 145; efficiency class: D.