The Volkswagen Polo has long lived in the shadow of the highly praised Golf since it hit the market in 1975 as the smallest car in the Volkswagen range. The first generation was in fact a rebadged version of the Audi 50. Seen as the cheaper, smaller, less well-appointed alternative, the Polo was never fully appreciated in its own right. Cars grow, however, and much like how the Polo’s cousin, the Audi A3 is now as large as an A4 of days gone, the Polo is similarly proportioned to the Golf of not too long ago. Size wasn’t by far the only thing the Golf had going for it however so how does this underdog stack up in the battle of the siblings? Let’s find out on our R-line test car of today which is a 95bhp variant, packing a litre turbo triple. It’s brought down to our shores by Ideal Automobile, who also bring down other Continental cars such as the Seat Arona and Skoda Karoq.
First off, let’s get it out of the way that I personally love the way the new Polo looks – its subtlety and non-offensive styling are perfect for a daily driver in my opinion. Additionally, it carries an air of unmistakably slender, modern European design. Very Volkswagen-looking headlights flow out of the sides of the front radiator grille which sits atop a sculpted bumper with matte black inserts, complete with LED daytime running lights.
On the side, the crispness continues with the doors looking like a shirt pressed by a no-nonsense German launderer. A faux vent on the front fender (on the R line featured) initiates a crease that extends to and beyond the all-red taillights, wrapping around two thirds of the car. The very short rear bumper and bulbous hatch lend to the appeal. The whole design is the opposite of fussy while managing to look premium in the right trim. The only eyesore and one that is unfortunately a common sight nowadays are the chrome “designs” on the lower extremities of the rear bumper made to look like dual exhausts at a distance. Why?
Mech & Tech
The Polo you’re looking at on these pages shares a great deal with its extended family that includes Seat and Audi. Having driven the Arona and Q2 1.0 liter crossovers in particular, the similarities are screamingly obvious right from the spec sheet, all the way to the driver’s seat. The car tested featured the now familiar 1.0 three-cylinder TSI, though in this tune producing 95hp, 20hp less than its larger Seat and Audi cousins.
This is mated to a seven speed DSG ‘box which is known among testers to make the most of small output engines’ power bands. Some may argue that CVTs make even better use of modest power but I’m yet to come to terms with the washing machine-like drone of a CVT. Power is fed to the front wheels while stopping power is via discs all round. Macpherson struts up front and a multilink affair at the rear should make for a comfortable ride as well as a decent handler.
Getting going is straightforward with a standard P-R-N-D shifter that can be slotted into manual mode, and a normal handbrake – even the older generation will feel at home behind the wheel in comparison to the current crop of vehicles that use everything from buttons to knobs to stalks which, though easy, can unnerve the uninitiated. On start-up, one of the more noticeable attributes is how quiet and vibration-free the engine is, especially for a three cylinder.
The throttle pedal has a fair bit of travel which helps prevent jerky driving by those with a particularly heavy foot. That said, 175nm of torque is not going to have you holding on to your seat either. Happily though, most of this torque is available from very low down in the rev range, characteristic of direct injection engines and this is noticeable right from the get go.
Pottering around in traffic, the Polo took no more than five hundred meters to get accustomed to, which is a testament to European ergonomics. The steering is light at low speeds which will be appreciated by most and the sixteen inch wheels on our test car left enough meat in the tires to aid the suspension in coping admirably with bumps. Gearshifts are frankly imperceptible as is engine NVH for the first half of the rev range. Ideal Automobile tells us the DSG ‘box has gone through several updates and the “failures” reported in the early versions are now a thing of the past.
Finally finding an opening in the city traffic, a switch over to manual mode and pushing the accelerator firmly into the carpet showed that the 1.0 Polo has more than adequate surge to get you up to speed, overtaking multiple vehicles at a stretch with relative ease. Surprising at this point however was how quiet the engine still was – given the car is targeted at younger buyers, perhaps VW should’ve actually left a little engine noise in the mix as the whole experience is nigh on muted. Like the light steering though, eight out of ten buyers will view this as a positive.
Another welcome addition, given how responsive the gearbox is, would’ve been paddle shifters. As is often the case however, we needed to remind ourselves that this is the 1.0T 95bhp and not the near 200bhp Polo GTi – perhaps the “R line” visual additions look too sporty for the 1.0? We’ll let the buyers decide. Corners are dispatched without a fuss but the car slants heavily toward comfort over sportiness. To this end, it does an impressive job while it’s good to know you have a turbocharger up your sleeve for those overtaking manoeuvres.
Living with it
Inside the Polo is a nice place to be – external sound deadening is up there with the best of them and the seats and finish are typical VW, not feeling like an entry level offering by any means. Knee room even for taller rear passengers is plentiful for a car of its size and the whole interior feels much more spacious and breathable than the Audi A1 with which a lot is shared. The boot too is spacious and massively practical, being a hatch for starters, made more useful with commonly seen folding rear seats and a not-so commonly seen boot floor that can be lowered for a few extra inches of depth.
Being a relatively modestly specced car, our test car did not feature the dual-zone climate control which, in addition to being convenient, completes the premium look of the dash. The super responsive screen atop the centre of the dash is however standard and works brilliantly. As an option, the Polo can also be had with the group’s signature digital gauge cluster though I personally actually prefer the illuminated analogue gauges on our test car. The interior and exterior are heavily customizable with colours and options so make sure you put in the time if you’re putting your money into one.
The standard audio system deserves some praise as it was one of the better ones heard in a compact car – at listenable volume, it was impossible to find distortion while bass was deep enough at low volumes as well. In keeping with the “younger buyer” theme of the car, a 300 watt “Beats” audio system is available should you choose to spec it. Naturally, Beats is a name better known among the iPod generation than Fender or Dynaudio. The Beats package extends beyond the sound system however, and includes the aforementioned digital gauge cluster and a wireless charging bay – very clearly targeted marketing here.
VW tends to score among the top bracket for safety and the Polo does just that – five stars from Euro NCAP do not come as a surprise and we’d have frankly been disappointed to see anything less. Barring knee airbags and an active bonnet, the Polo has nearly every other safety system covered and will give you peace of mind in that area.
Fuel Economy & Price
Thanks to direct injection and turbocharging, and given our experience with how little the engine had to strain, we estimate fuel economy in the region of 11-13kmpl in Colombo. This might not sound like a lot amongst the flood of 20+ km/l WagonRs and Aquas but the Polo is a far more cosseting experience. Price wise, Ideal Automobile offers the car at a very tempting Rs.5.8mn as tested and it can be had for less or more, depending on what exactly you want from it.
Being a long-time fan and admirer of European hatches, I had high hopes for the Polo and am happy to report that it did not disappoint. Taste differs but this is where I’d probably put my money if shopping around with a Rs.5-6mn budget. Yes, a Jap would have better resale value etc but it’s that unquantifiable premium experience you get from a car like this, while using it, that you pay for by way of extra depreciation. Just remember, R line does not make it a hot hatch so don’t expect it to do things it cannot. Nevertheless, what it can do, is give you a quality driving experience that won’t cost you a house.
95bhp @ 5,000-5,500rpm
175Nm @ 2,000-3,500rpm
Front wheel drive
Wheels & Tyres
195/55R16 all round
0-100km/h in 10.8s
Top Speed 187km/h
Kerb Weight 1,070kg
Fuel Tank 40L