It is fairly improbable that Dr Dre would be seen driving a Volkswagen Polo Beats.
The limited-edition light hatchback that bears the name of his audio company – Beats Electronics – likewise probably wouldn’t be spotted in the music videos of one of the rap artists he has helped produce, including 50 Cent, Eminem and Snoop Dogg.
What the Polo Beats attempts to do, however, is ensure the six-year-old current model keeps hitting a chord with younger buyers in a highly competitive class. While this Volkswagen hasn’t exactly been the most outlandish, ghetto-blasting extrovert in its segment, it has long been the most polished and sophisticated contender.
But does adding some funky decals, larger wheels and a booming Beats audio system turn this nippy toe-tapper into a riotous thigh-slapper?
Vehicle Style: Light hatchback
Price: $23,190 plus on-road costs or $24,490 driveaway
Engine/trans: 81kW/175Nm 1.2 turbo petrol four-cylinder | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.8 l/100km | Tested: 7.0 l/100km
The Beats limited edition commands $2000 over the middle-tier Polo 81TSI on which it’s based, totalling $20,690 plus on-road costs in six-speed manual form or $23,190 (plus orc) in seven-speed dual-clutch automatic ‘DSG’ guise as tested here.
Out are the standard 15-inch alloy wheels, replaced by larger 16s. Black door mirror caps match the newly added black-and-white side stripes and tinted tail-lights, while a Beats symbol on each B-pillar acts as the cymbal hit to cap off exterior changes.
Beats Audio also features on the side sills entering the cabin and the front tweeter caps ahead of the passengers, denoting the inclusion of a seven-speaker, 300-watt sound system from the famed brand, while part-leather sports seats are also new.
Sports seats, sports suspension and 17-inch wheels usually form a $1500-optional sports package, which isn’t available on the Polo Beats given that it swaps out the last two items for a louder stereo. A $1900-optional comfort package does, however, remain available, which adds climate control, sat-nav, automatic headlights/wipers, adaptive cruise control and low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
Standard Equipment: keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, multi-function trip computer, manual air-conditioning, leather/cloth trim, vanity mirror lights and cruise control.
Infotainment: 6.5-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology and a seven-speaker, 300-watt Beats sound system.
Options Fitted: None
Cargo Volume: 280 litres (minimum), 952L (maximum)
The current Polo may be six years old, but its interior proves that a basic design won’t age rapidly if a high standard is achieved the first time around. Conservative the dashboard and surroundings may be, but cheap and downmarket they’re not.
Adding sports buckets helps fix this Volkswagen’s otherwise flat front seats, with more than a hint of ‘GTI’ in their generous bolstering and lower positioning. Although the cream-on-grey colour scheme and bland silver applique on the centre stack aren’t necessarily superior to the 81TSI’s darker tones, it now feels airier inside.
The recently updated 6.5-inch colour touchscreen is a high-resolution highlight, complete with simple plug-and-play USB functionality and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring that negates the need for the (optional) sat nav.
During testing, it quickly became habitual to enter a destination into iPhone Maps on approach, for the vehicle to then transmit the route to the screen once inside and plugged in via USB. Once at the destination and returning to the vehicle, the phone knows where ‘home’ is and automatically routes you there.
It’s brilliant, although the day CarPlay is available wirelessly – it has already debuted as an option on BMWs – will mark the final connectivity hurdle.
And does the mooted Beats system hit the right note? Mostly, yes. It isn’t the loudest or clearest system around, with a hint of cloudy bass and muddiness in some deeply layered tracks. However, this is an ear trained on several high-end press cars – several of which can cost half the value of the Polo in itself. Generally, the notes come through with greater distinction and detail than any other car in the class.
Detail is the word for almost every other part of the Polo’s interior, too.
The main dashboard uses soft-touch plastics (with the exception of the mismatched passenger airbag pod), there are proper vertical door grab handles, matte-silver doorhandles, leather inserts on all doors and chrome rings around the speedometer and tachometer. Even vanity mirror lights are standard.
Although rear riders won’t find the most headroom and legroom in the class, the bench and backrest are absolutely first rate; respectively tilted upwards to aid under-thigh support and tilted slightly back for longer-distance comfort.
The 280-litre boot, meanwhile, is bang-on average for the segment.
Where this Volkswagen dips slightly is with standard equipment. Lacking nav, climate control, keyless auto-entry and start, auto on/off headlights and AEB may be fine in a Polo 81TSI manual at $18,690 (plus orc), but in the Polo Beats DSG at almost $25K driveaway, it’s certainly lacking some features for the price.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 81kW/175Nm 1.2 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: six-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
It isn’t an overstatement to say that the Polo 81TSI offers the driving feel of a more expensive Volkswagen for less. All these years on and the German-engineered light hatchback still simply feels like a condensed version of a semi-premium vehicle.
The 1.2-litre turbo is an absolute gem from the moment it comes to life in a smooth, silent fashion. Peak torque comes on stream from 1400rpm and is held until 4000rpm, before maximum power takes over between 4600rpm and 5600rpm.
With a kerb weight of 1151kg, the Volkswagen is not the lightest light hatchback but nor is it the heaviest. A 9.3-second 0-100km/h claim is shared between manual and DSG, and if anything that seems pessimistic.
Although the DSG can still stumble at low speeds, seemingly taking forever to transfer between ‘D’ and ‘R’ when attempting to park rapidly, while too quickly picking taller gears on hills to the detriment of driveability, it’s otherwise fairly flawless.
Once above parking speed, the engine/auto combination is among the smoothest, most responsive and aurally charming for the price. With excellent refinement and smooth yet controlled ride quality, the Polo continues to feel polished.
Some of the funk promised by the Beats label doesn’t entirely translate on the road, however. The Volkswagen Group’s newer Skoda Fabia cousin, and the Mazda2, both offer sharper steering teamed with dartier dynamics.
Partially thanks to the Beat’s impressive Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 tyres, it’s easy to find a nice rhythm through corners, though. The body leans but the chassis is nippy and nicely balanced, with tyre grip and seat bolstering to spare.
ANCAP rating: 5-stars - this model scored 34.96 out of 37 possible points.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS, ESC, and reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Five-year/75,000km capped price servicing program covers the first five annual/15,000km checks at a higher-than-average $1532 for the first trio combined.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Fabia 81TSI is basically a mirror image of this Volkswagen, but sharper – and even sharper deals can be had on an equally impressive small car. Meanwhile, bank on the Mazda2 for long-term durability, if not a spacious cabin or soothing ride.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Polo 81TSI didn’t really need a tune-up, but the Beats certainly amps up the desirability of Volkswagen’s middle-age light hatchback. Little items such as better sports seats and a superior audio system enhance an already solid package.
Perhaps its exterior and dynamics could sharpen up a little. Equally, however, few contenders in the class can match its soothing drivetrain, ride and refinement.
The main issues aren’t specific to this Polo Beats, with the exception of price. Moving beyond $20,000 heightens the equipment expectation, but keyless auto-entry is unavailable and auto lights/wipers and AEB remain optional – despite the latter being standard on every Fabia.
All of which calls only the value equation in for some fine tuning.
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