King Baby Hot Hatch

The Volkswagen Group knows a thing or two about platform sharing so when they set out to build a diminutive hot hatchback, they usually end up with more than one.

Two giant killing hot hatches from the VW Group battle to see which is best

They arguably also have the most diverse product range in the world and have offerings from tiny city cars to the fire breathing Lamborghini Aventador and the opulent Bentley Mulsanne.

The key to the Group's success is modular manufacturing, which has been around since the invention of the motorcar. Its premise is it makes better economic sense to invest in one car and derive as many models as possible from it. However, it can also mean diluting your own product unless you allow for some customisation.

With that in mind, the strategy the Germans have adopted is to develop a single base platform, gave it some engine options and let the various brands cherry-pick what they needed. Hence why the Audi A1 uses the PQ25 small car platform, which also underpins the Volkswagen Polo and SEAT Ibiza.

Here's where the bit about customisation comes in. You can't charge people the same price for an Audi A1 as you would a Volkswagen Golf GTI. Hence why both cars don't share the same mechanical specifications and even use contradicting brand images. Still, in ultimate performance guise, it's a very close run thing to the point that they're nearly identical on paper.

Polo and A1 use the same platform but look and feel very different

The Audi A1 1.4T S line is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine producing 182bhp at 6200rpm and 250Nm between 2000-4500rpm. The Volkswagen Polo GTI also uses a 1.4-litre TSI engine but in this instance it's the twin-charger version used in the Golf and Scirocco 1.4TSI. This baby GTI gets 177bhp and unsurprisingly, 250Nm as well from 2000-4500rpm.

There are other similarities. Both cars use a relatively simple McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension set-up but Audi claims to have done some fine tuning to make the A1 ride and handle like an Audi should. They also deploy 7-speed dual-clutch auto gearboxes, and while VW says DSG and Audi prefers S tronic, both are essentially the same thing.

Despite the similar mechanical specs, these two are quite different stylistically. The A1 is typically Audi and looks like it was hewn from a solid block of metal. The S line styling additions add a sportier front bumper, side and rear aprons as well as a roof-mounted spoiler. It's attractive and a well-executed design for a premium modern city car.

Polo GTI uses a tuned 1.4 TSI motor good for 177bhp & 250Nm

Small cars are Volkswagen's forte though. The Polo's natural rivals are the Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris and when you line them up together it's the car everybody assumes is the most expensive. It isn't but it exudes an air of undoubted quality. The GTI version looks fabulous with sporty bumpers, a roof-mounted spoiler and bigger wheels adding to the sense of speed. Inside, there are tartan seats, red stitching and the wheel from the Golf GTI so it also feels sporty. It isn't so cheap anymore though. When it was launched the Polo GTI three-door retailed at RM132,888. Today you have to pay RM166,888.

Polo interior gets all the GTI go-faster addenda; scrumptious!

It's an A1 interior, nothing more and nothing less

Rather perversely, the inside of the Audi A1 1.4T S line looks exactly the same as the standard 122bhp 1.4T. The seats are sportier and you get leather on the steering wheel and gear knob but that's about it as far as differentiation goes. You can opt for leather seats but it adds RM6,000 to the price tag and brings it to RM215,000.

More expensive A1 uses a 1.4T motor to produce 182bhp & 250Nm

While both cars come from the same platform-sharing tree, the parts bin raiding seems to have produced two very different cars, which is especially true when you drive them hard.

The Polo GTI is a car that does exactly what it says on the tin. Its looks promise a fun driving experience, which is what you get. Acceleration from a standstill is almost violent if you floor the throttle with a big dose of torque steer even in the dry. Keep it on just the right side of controllable and 0-100km/h is covered in 6.9 seconds. A top speed of 229km/h is impressive but you'll need nerves of steel to get there.

It's not a dangerous car or even an uncomfortable one to drive, and if you keep within the limits of the chassis it's fun and very quick but when you push further things start to go a bit pear shaped. The problem is the chassis, which struggles to keep up with the performance. There's a fair amount of body roll when you get overly aggressive with the steering; torque steer is an ever-present threat and it just doesn't 'stick' to the road to engender confidence. True, the Polo GTI is faster than similar-sized rivals, but the Audi A1 makes its weaknesses stand out a bit more.

Polo GTI is quick in a straight line but watch out for torque steer

With the price it charges you would expect Audi to be given carte blanche to cherry pick the best bits from the Volkswagen parts bin. The A1 may share loads of parts with the Polo but it's in the details where the differences lie, which makes the Audi a better car to drive.

There is no performance advantage to speak of. With similar kerb weights and power outputs the numbers are close. 0-100km/h is covered in the same 6.9 seconds it takes the Polo GTI while top speed is listed as 227km/h, which is close enough to call it even. Yet, it's the quality of delivery that sets the A1 apart.

Floor the throttle on the Polo and the performance is accompanied by a booming exhaust that is sporty but also a little bit uncouth. Do the same in the Audi and you get more bass with a cultured roar and tiny pops when you change gears. Similarly, when you're driving hard, the A1 feels more secure and confidence inspiring. It turns into corners with the same amount of enthusiasm as the Polo but it has greater body control and feels less like a hyperactive rabbit on speed.

In the Audi, you're never worried about spearing off the road if you're too ham fisted so you can drive faster and feel safer at the same time. It's an advantage extending to ride comfort as well. With a smoother ride, you end up feeling less fatigued in the A1, while the added refinement means it's a more serene environment to be in too.

The Audi A1 handles better and also has better ride comfort

Despite being essentially the same cars under the sheet metal then, the Audi A1 1.4T S line and Volkswagen Polo GTI 3-door have very distinct characters. They go about doing the same things differently and while both have performance levels capable of scaring more expensive GT cars, one is clearly better to drive than the other.

Unless of course price is a big concern. This would have been an easier argument to make when the Volkswagen Polo GTI was priced at RM132,888 as it meant a substantial RM77,000 gap between it and the Audi A1. At RM166,888 you're getting into bigger car territory where the VW badge can't quite justify it's price anymore. You could for instance almost get a Passat CKD for similar money. But then you're not after a family sedan are you?

The only view other hot hatch drivers will have of the Audi A1 1.4T S Line

So, here's my recommendation. Buy the superior Audi A1 if you're a wealthy car enthusiast. If you're still wealthy but want to save some money and prefer Bon Jovi to Bach, then go the Polo GTI. Either way, you'll be getting a superb pocket hot hatch so your really can't go wrong.

THE FIGURES

Audi A1 1.4T S Line

Price: RM209,000

0-100km/h: 6.9 secs

Top speed: 227km/h

Engine: 1.4-litre, inline-4, petrol, turbo

Installation: Front, transverse, FWD

Power: 182bhp at 6200rpm

Torque: 250Nm at 2000-4500

Gearbox: 7-speed automatic (S tronic)

Wheelbase: 2469mm

Length: 3954mm

Height: 1416mm

Width: 1740mm

Brakes (f/r): Ventilated disc / solid disc

Suspension (f): McPherson Strut

Suspension (r): Torsion Beam

Volkswagen Polo GTI (3 door)

Price: RM166,888

0-100km/h: 6.9 secs

Top speed: 229km/h

Engine: 1.4-litre, inline-4, petrol, twin-charged

Installation: Front, transverse, FWD

Power: 177bhp at 6200rpm

Torque: 250Nm at 2000-4500

Gearbox: 7-speed automatic (DSG)

Wheelbase: 2468mm

Length: 3976mm

Height: 1452mm

Width: 1672mm

Brakes (f/r): Ventilated disc / solid disc

Suspension (f): McPherson Strut

Suspension (r): Torsion Beam

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