Test Drive: VW Polo

By Guy Bird for Daily Express, May 2009

Polo's style is standard...

Put aside your prejudice about the VW Polo as a dull but worthy supermini devoid of soul. Because the new fifth generation version has a visual swagger no previous model has ever mustered. It’s appeal now goes beyond reliable, well built and safe and enters the unchartered waters of style.

The new VW Polo is as quietly stylish a supermini as any in its class. Only the new Ford Fiesta or Mini can match it. But existing Polo fans fear not, for the new model’s appeal comes not from visual excess but as exterior design leader Oliver Stefani puts it, “a simple elegance”. The key to its bolder look can be found in its new proportions. Longer by 54mm, wider by 32mm and lower by 13mm the Polo now has a very planted stance on the road in a way the older more wobbly-looking version never managed. This greater width is emphasised by a long and slim horizontal grille while the Polo’s first ever side shoulder line adds a sense of robustness. But despite this visual chunkiness the car’s body weight is actually 7.5% lighter than the outgoing model, reversing recent trends for new models getting ever heavier, and helping, alongside new engines, to benefit economy and emissions by up to 20%.

Put aside your prejudice about the VW Polo as a dull but worthy supermini devoid of soul. Because the new fifth generation version has a visual swagger no previous model has ever mustered 

Yes, it’s clearly from the same family as the Golf but there are significant differences that make them easy to tell apart on the road and that help dismiss ‘mini-me’ accusations down the pub. The Polo has a slimmer single-vane front grille to the Golf’s two-vane bigger mouth, the Golf a thicker rear side pillar and the Polo ‘squarer’ and better detailed rear lights – compared to both the old Polo’s round lamps and the Golf’s rectangular ones. Inside the car feels thoroughly well put together with fit and finish akin to cars a couple of classes above and features new high quality soft-touch surfaces and well-weighted switches. The seats are highly supportive and occupant room is excellent front and back. Boot space starts at 280 litres and expands easily via fully fold-flat rear seats to 952 litres.

 At the launch of the five-door model in October (three-door sales start later in December) there will be four petrol and two diesel engines. There are three 1.2-litre petrol engines offering 60, 70 and 105bhp power outputs plus an 85bhp 1.4-litre unit. The fastest is the all-new turbocharged four-cylinder 105bhp 1.2 TSI recording a 9.7-second 0-60mph sprint and making the three-cylinder 60bhp 1.2’s 16.1-second and 70bhp 1.2’s 14.1-second figures seem snail-like. Weirdly though, all three 1.2 units record the same official economy figure of 51.4mpg and virtually identical CO2 ratings – 128g/km for the 60 and 70bhp engines and 129g/km for the 105bhp version. The two diesels, 75bhp and 90bhp versions of an all-new 1.6-litre TDI common-rail engine, post even slower 0-60mph times – the 75bhp 1.6 TDI takes 18 seconds – but the upsides arrive in greater economy and emissions.

Of the variants available on our launch, the turbocharged 105bhp four-cylinder 1.2 version was the most fun to drive, offering zesty acceleration, quick-ish steering and decent body control through corners but VW doesn’t expect more than 5% of UK customers to go for it, given its release as a top spec-only model with an expected £14k price tag. The 85bhp 1.4-litre petrol is competent if unspectacular but it is the 75bhp and especially the 90bhp 1.6 TDI diesel engines that make the most ‘middle ground’ sense. Far from quick, nonetheless both have enough power for planned overtaking in most gears, feel more solid on the road in the ride and handling stakes and record far better (and identical) economy than the rest of the range at 67.3mpg plus a 109g/km CO2 rating for low taxes (including £35 band B road tax). All cars suffer from a slightly imprecise gearbox and steering that offers only reasonable feedback, but after only a few miles most drivers should find the Polo easy to drive smoothly.

Within the supermini league, the new Polo really is first class 

By mid-2010 an ultra-green 75bhp 1.2-litre TDI diesel BlueMotion version will arrive offering an amazing 85.5mpg and 87g/km of CO2 including stop/start technology and regenerative braking, but plans for a go-faster GTi at the other end of the scale have not been confirmed. For now, the range should start at £9000 for the 60bhp 1.2 S rising to about £14,000 for the 105bhp 1.2 TSI SEL with the acclaimed seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox – another first for the Polo range. The 60bhp 1.2 SE is expected to be the best seller. The UK trim line-up will be made up of S, SE, Mode and SEL. Standard safety across the range is high with four airbags, Electronic Stabilisation Programme (ESP), the latest generation of VW’s Whiplash head restraint system and Hill Hold Control to make driving off from steep inclines easier.

The new mid-range Mode trim is significant as it represents VW’s attempt to target a younger customer into the Polo with a similar spec to SE but with more stylish alloy wheels, tinted windows behind the B-pillar, fog lights and a proper iPod connection within the centre armrest – but weirdly no air-conditioning – don’t younger people want to stay cool too? Either way, VW hopes the Mode trim will help catapult the Polo’s average customer age in the UK from 55+ to nearer 30-35. It’s a big jump and will have to result in many conquest sales. New potential VW customers hankering after the best-driving supermini will still be better suited to a three-door Mini or a five-door Fiesta but those wanting bullet-proof build quality, excellent reliability and top-class safety – now injected with a healthy dose of style – could well migrate to the new Polo. Within the supermini league, the new Polo really is first class.


Logbook lowdown

  • Model: VW Polo
  • On sale: October
  • Price range: £9000-£14,000 (est.)
  • Engine range: Petrol – 60bhp and 70bhp 1.2, 85bhp 1.4 and turbocharged 105bhp 1.2; diesel – 75bhp and 90bhp 1.6
  • Power: 0 to 60mph in 9.7 seconds, 118mph top speed (105bhp 1.2 petrol)
  • Average fuel economy: 67.3mpg (both 75bhp and 90bhp 1.6 diesel)
  • CO2 emissions: 109-139g/km
  • Insurance groups: 2-6 (est.)
  • Rivals: Ford Fiesta, Mini, Vauxhall Corsa

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