Test Drive: VW Polo Bluemotion

By Guy Bird for Sunday Express, Dec 2009

90g/km Polo leads the eco charge

A decade ago, if you wanted a choice of car that was more eco-friendly than most the pickings were slim and often a thoroughly hair-shirted affair. Forward wind to 2009 and VW’s new eco flagship Polo BlueMotion 1.2 TDI goes straight to the top of its supermini class for low emissions and fuel consumption but also – and crucially – feels normal to drive, has plenty of creature comforts and offers more than a little style.

Six technologies make the collective emission and economy difference that allow the second-generation Polo BlueMotion five-seater to register just 90g/km of CO2 and an incredible 83.1mpg (and zero road tax). VW says the biggest eco benefit comes from placing a simple gearshift indicator light in the driver’s display area to inform users of the best moment to change up or down the gearbox. Fuel economy can be boosted by a whopping 20% from this measure alone. Stop/start technology – featured on the Polo BlueMotion model for the first time – reduces CO2 emissions by 4-8 grammes per kilometre, eco-optimised longer gear ratios cut CO2 by between 3-8g/km, slimmer low-rolling resistance tyres lop off another 2-4g/km, the recovery of braking energy through regenerative braking technology removes a further 2-3g/km and aerodynamic enhancements to the grille, bumper and wheels make the final 1-2g/km of difference.

A decade ago, if you wanted a choice of car that was more eco-friendly than most the pickings were slim and often a thoroughly hair-shirted affair 

One of the aerodynamic adjustments – the much thicker upper radiator grille with BlueMotion badge – also makes the car stand out positively from other Polos on the road. Together with a new front spoiler lip plus distinctive light blue hexagonal pattern mesh seating and a leather-trimmed steering wheel, the new Polo BlueMotion feels like a smart and almost sporty place to be. UK deliveries of the three- and five-door Polo BlueMotion models are expected in March 2010, and all will be powered by just one all-new three-cylinder 12-valve 75bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged common-rail diesel engine. Although optimised for economy and emissions, the engine still records an acceptable-for-its-class 13.6-second 0-60mph time and a 107mph top speed.

While the Polo BlueMotion is a ‘normal car’ to drive in the sense of having a conventional five-speed manual gearbox, relatively responsive power steering, good brakes and a modern diesel engine under the bonnet, it would be inaccurate to describe it as ‘fun to drive’. It can be noisy and feel a little chuggy in low gears if you don’t keep the revs up, but on the plus side the stop/start system works really well for in-town economy improvements and emission reduction. It’s a very intuitive system to use, cutting the engine when the driver brakes and puts the car into neutral, and firing up again just as quickly when the driver re-depresses the clutch pedal. Unlike some other systems the driver does not need to keep his or her foot on the brake pedal to maintain the engine cut-out either.

The car becomes much smoother and quieter at 50mph and above and at such cruising speeds the economy figures achievable are astounding. During one section of our prescribed test route – albeit on a long, smooth and largely straight stretch of road rarely interrupted by crossroads or traffic lights and perfectly designed for great economy figures – we achieved an amazing 91mpg. This incredible figure is well above the official combined 83.1mpg and not far from VW’s whopping 100.1mpg extra urban (out of town) official fuel economy rating.

The Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion really is top of the class in the emission-reduction stakes

Compared to the new Polo BlueMotion’s 90g/km figure, previous supermini CO2 champions from the Ford Fiesta Econetic and Seat Ibiza Ecomotive (both 98g/km) to the Mini Cooper D (104gk/m) don’t stand a chance. With its super-frugal new 1.2 engine married to the Polo’s all-new shape only just launched in the UK, the BlueMotion should stand the test of time better than its current rivals too. The Polo BlueMotion has not been stripped of comfort or safety in a bid to save weight and fuel though. Decent standard kit includes air-conditioning, a CD stereo, four airbags and ESP electronic stability control. The emissions benefits come in the main from the new technology rather than weight loss. But then again the Polo BlueMotion’s price range is high for the supermini class, starting at an estimated £14,500 for the three-door and up to £15,100 for the five-door (adjusted to include the higher 17.5% VAT that returns in January 2010) so arguably it should offer more than just good economy for that money.

VW thinks about 5% of all Polo sales in the UK in 2010 will be BlueMotion models. That equates to nearly 2000 cars of which almost 1300 or 70% are expected to be snapped up by company car buyers. Be careful what you order though. There are other eco-focused models in VW’s range that are now being badged ‘BlueMotion Technology’ – confusingly including a few Polos – but only the most CO2 and fuel-efficient model in each VW model range will be badged solely ‘BlueMotion’. VW has stated its goal “to become the world’s most environmentally-friendly carmaker” and says its new BlueMotion models represent “the absolute pinnacle of what is currently feasible” with combustion engines. It’s a bold claim but hard to dispute: aside from the new 89g/km Toyota Prius hybrid and a few ‘zero-emission’ full-electric cars (with serious range issue and cost caveats), the Polo BlueMotion really is top of the class in the emission-reduction stakes.


Logbook lowdown

  • Model: VW Polo BlueMotion
  • On sale: March 2010
  • Price range: £14,500-£15,100 (est.)
  • Engine: 75bhp 1.2 turbocharged diesel
  • Power: 0 to 60mph in 13.6 seconds, 107mph top speed
  • Average fuel economy: 83.1mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 90g/km
  • Insurance groups: 3E (est.)
  • Rivals: Ford Fiesta Econetic, Seat Ibiza Ecomotive, Mini Cooper D
  • Stars: *****


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