One-day Test: Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI 81 kW
Small but practical cars are the bread and butter product for many motor manufacturers. It might be interesting to debate the relative strengths of the VW Golf R verses the Focus ST or Opel OPC, but in reality, changes on cars like the VW Polo have a much bigger impact on our lives, or on the lives of those around us.
This is plain to see by simply counting the number of Polos you see on the road, opposed to the amount of Golf Rs, because if your commuting route is anything like mine, the difference is one of magnitudes.
So today I have managed to take a look at an update of a car that is probably one of the most influential vehicles on the road: the new VW Polo.
Initial reactions might be that this is little more than a mild facelift, because the differences between new and old are not that obvious.
Officially, Volkswagen tells us that the new Polo has been endowed with a sharper front and rear design, but for our money the easiest way to recognise an updated Polo is by the chrome line that used to run through the centre of the VW badge, but which is now located below it.
There are of course other changes, such as new headlight units, revised tail light clusters, and a new wheel design, but for the most part you need to be a Polo aficionado to tell the difference.
Instead, what does make the Polo quite special is that the entire engine range has been reworked, while the interior has undergone a significant refresh, too — changes that are very noticeable.
The previous Polo was available in a choice of 1,4 and 1,6-litre naturally aspirated petrol engines, as well as a 1,6-litre turbodiesel. Those options have all been dumped in favour of Volkswagen’s ultra-frugal 1,2-litre TSI engine.
The direct-injection, turbocharged unit will be the only power plant on offer for the Polo and comes in two stages of tune: a 66 kW /160 Nm version and a 81 kW /175 Nm range topper.
The Polo I drove was equipped with the latter engine, and it quickly became apparent that this unit is one of the best on offer in this segment.
There is plenty of power when pulling away briskly, thanks to the turbocharger assisting the engine to deliver a decent amount of torque from low down in the rev range, and because of the engine’ small size, it is very eager to whizz to the 6 000 rpm redline.
Volkswagen also says that both engines are extremely frugal, with the 66 kW unit officially rated at 4,9 l/100 km, while the more powerful Polo is said to manage an equally respectable 5.1 l/100 km. In reality we didn’t get to those numbers in our time with the Polo, but even without trying to drive conservatively, our consumption results were in the mid six-litre/100 km category.
With a lighter foot, Volkswagen’s claims might not be that unreachable, making the Polo a very affordable car to run.
A six-speed manual gearbox is the standard option on the 81 kW Polo, but it can also be specced with a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic. The 66 kW Polo comes with a five-speed manual gearbox.
As mentioned, the Polo’s interior is another area in which Volkswagen foisted significant attention, and it’s instantly apparent when you step into the hatchback’s cabin. Premium-appearance materials, such as high-gloss black inserts, are apparent throughout the cabin, including the newly designed multifunction steering wheel.
Satin chrome inserts decorate most of the centre dash, framing a new touchscreen infotainment system, as well as the switchgear for the climate control – although both are optional extras. The result is a vastly improved interior ambience.
Sitting inside this latest version, it’s easy to forget that the Polo is the smallest car that VW sells here (apart from the Vivo, which is basically an older-generation Polo).
The instrument cluster is nothing ground-breaking but the multifunction steering wheel does allow access to key functions and loads of information, including fuel consumption, speed, navigation directions (if sat-nav is installed) and media controls.
The seats are comfortable and reasonably supportive, while the ride quality is exactly what you would expect from a Volkswagen: refined and predictable, with just enough precision to boost confidence.
There’s a long list of added-cost options to choose from fro those who feel the need to enhance their Polo even further. These include a panoramic roof, auto-activating lights and windscreen wipers, front and rear park distance control with a reversing camera, and curtain airbags.
This latest Polo is a fantastic little car that has finally reached a point where it has an engine and interior that warrants its level of popularity. It’s fun to drive, while its comfortable, almost opulent interior means owners will always enjoy the time spent in it.
There is a price to pay for these improvements though, as the entry-level 66 kW Polo starts at R188 300, while the top-end 81 kW Highline Manual commands a price tag of R233 300.
The test unit came with almost ever optional extra (except for the DSG gearbox) and ended up closer to R250 000 – which may sound like a lot for a Polo. But then, it now offers a lot of car, too …