FOR YOUNGER CAR BUYERS, ‘CONNECTIVITY’ IS A MUST-HAVE. TAKE A LOOK, THEN, AT THE CLASS-LEADING TECHNOLOGY IN THE 2016 VOLKSWAGEN POLO RANGE.
Even the entry-level 66TSI Trendline, priced from $16,990 plus on-road costs, gets a bright 6.5-inch colour touchscreen with a simple plug-and-play USB port that allows connection of an Apple or Android phone and ‘mirrors’ its functions. Siri will read out your messages, and maps will show on your screen.
Here we are testing the mid-specification 81TSI Comfortline, which asks $18,990 (plus on-road costs) with a six-speed manual transmission or $20,990 (plus) for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic tested here.
It even has another $1500 added to it in the form of a Sport package, though at a total $22,490 (plus) it still leaves a $5000 gap to the range-topping Polo GTI.
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
Price: $20,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 81kW/175Nm 1.2 4cyl turbo petrol | 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.8 l/100km | tested: 8.2 l/100km
The fifth-generation Volkswagen Polo was released locally way back in 2009. Several updates later, the little hatchback remains a formidable force in the class.
It has never, however, been the most popular car in the light hatchback segment (last year it polled sixth), nor is it the cheapest to service (it’s quite expensive actually), and neither can it boast the longest warranty (only three years, but with unlimited kilometres).
However where the Polo has traditionally had the edge on its competitors is the way it feels inside and the way it drives.
So, let’s see if that is still the case.
- Standard equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel, air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, auto-off headlights
- Infotainment: 6.5in colour touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, AUX/USB/SD-card inputs, CD player and 180-watt 10-speaker audio
- Options fitted: $1500 Sport Package (17-inch alloy wheels with low tyre pressure indicator, sports suspension, front foglights, dark-tinted rear windows)
- Cargo volume: 280 litres minimum, 952 litres maximum
While even the entry-level Polo 66TSI Trendline scores a fancy new touchscreen, the $2000 extra spend on this middle-spec Polo 81TSI Comfortline results in a far more upmarket interior.
Satin-chrome adorns the doorhandles and licks the edges of the air-vent surrounds, a proper trip-computer screen is added, while leather appears on a steering wheel packed with audio and cruise control buttons.
The interior design of every Polo is conservative but high-quality.
The dashboard is made of soft-touch materials, although the hard plastic of the door trims and passenger airbag lid are reminders that this light hatchback is not quite a Golf from the next class up.
It’s the little things that most impress about the 81TSI Comfortline, however.
Every door has a proper vertical grab, and every power window has an ‘auto up/down’ function. There’s a flip-down centre console storage box lined in classy, furry velour trim, while the front vanity mirrors have a light each and rear riders get overhead reading lights and door storage pockets. It’s all very ‘luxury specification’ stuff.
Speaking of back-seat passengers, they are treated to the most comfortable bench in the class. There isn’t a surplus of legroom, so the cushion is heavily tilted to provide superb under-thigh support and prevent a crimped ‘knees up Mother Brown’ seating position, particularly for the lanky.
There is also plenty of footroom under the front chairs, which won’t go low enough despite the inclusion of manual height adjustment. The driving position of the Polo is too high, even for this 178cm-tall tester, and the seat itself is rather flat.
In the pre-facelift Polo, buyers were able to option excellent sports seats with classy part-leather/Alcantara trim, but this feature is no longer available. That leaves seat comfort and positioning for the driver as good, but not great.
Out back, the Polo has a decent-sized boot with an adjustable split floor and a full-size (but not alloy) spare wheel underneath.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 81kW/175Nm 1.2 turbo petrol inline four
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion bar rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.6m
The small turbocharged engine in the Polo 81TSI Comfortline has long been the best performer in its class.
The 1.2-litre delivers an outstanding 175Nm of torque (from just 1400rpm all the way until 4000rpm) and 81kW of power (between 4600rpm and 5600rpm). From just off idle until just before the redline, this engine is essentially giving everything it’s got.
Either manual or auto claims a 9.3-second 0-100km/h dash. This figure however is a tad pessimistic as independent testing has consistently shown the 81TSI Comfortline to be faster than that.
We’d save $2000 and go the manual, partially because it’s delightful, but also because the seven-speed ‘DSG’ doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability.
That said, to drive, the seven-speed twin-clutch auto is mostly excellent. There is however some occasional ‘surging’ at low speeds, particularly when attempting to ‘creep’ in traffic and the gearbox feels as though it is pulling its left leg in and out of a clutch pedal, engaging then disengaging to prevent stalling.
In ‘D’ mode the gearbox can be a slow to react, and it forces engine revs low by up-shifting early. But flick to ‘S’ mode, and the whole drivetrain comes alive, happy to hang onto lower gears while remaining refined yet alert and peppy.
Economy can be a forte of this engine, but exploit its performance and it can be a negative. Around town in dense traffic we saw as high as 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres, though a freeway run delivered just 6.2 l/100km.
Our overall on-test average of 8.2 l/100km is a long way from the 4.8 l/100km combined cycle claim. And note, the Polo also requires costly premium unleaded.
The 17-inch wheels and sports suspension of our test car provide firmer ride quality than the standard 81TSI Comfortline, but not by much. It’s still eminently absorbent and disciplined over lumpy urban roads, just firmer.
If anything that only enhances the Polo’s character. It feels agile and nimble, grippy and resistant to roll – perfectly in keeping with a light hatchback’s role zipping in and out of traffic.
The steering is smooth and consistent, though we wish it were a bit quicker and more involving, as in a Ford Fiesta or Peugeot 208.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.96 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC and rear-view camera
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Fiesta Sport, 208 Active and Clio Dynamique challenge the Polo for dynamics and ‘fun factor’ if not refinement.
The Fabia 81TSI is basically a mirror image of this Volkswagen, and even sharper deals can be had on an equally impressive small car. Meanwhile, bank on the Mazda2 for long-term durability and economy, if not a spacious cabin.
- Ford Fiesta Sport
- Mazda2 Genki
- Renault Clio Dynamique
- Skoda Fabia 81TSI Sports Premium
- Peugeot 208 Active
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The 2016 Volkswagen Polo remains an outstanding light hatchback. We wouldn’t bother with the sports package, or the automatic transmission, and if you do away with those you have a superb sub-$20k (on-road) option.
Best to think carefully about servicing costs – the first three years will require a $1532 outlay, almost double that of some rivals – and whether the Polo’s brilliant connectivity, classy cabin, benchmark rear seat and superior on-road performance are worth the weight on the wallet.
Other competitors do things almost as well for less, but we think that the best is worth paying a bit extra for.
MORE: Volkswagen News and Reviews
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