When the previous generation Volkswagen Polo first arrived in 2009 it created a storm. Here was a car with features, technology, and refinement to challenge Volkswagen’s own Golf but in a smaller package and with a smaller price tag.
Now, with the new sixth generation Polo the size disparity has been addressed though not in the way you might expect - the new car is quite a bit larger than the model it’s set to replace and while it may not be Golf-sized yet it’s grown to a more practical size.
Of course technology also marches on, and thanks to the modular nature of Volkswagen’s electronics systems the new Polo borrows from its larger siblings to bring buyers a more comprehensive suite of convenience, safety, and infotainment technology.
TMR travelled to Germany for the Polo’s global launch to see just how much breathing room the Golf has been left with.
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
Price: $ TBA
Engine/trans: 70kW/175Nm 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo petrol, 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo petrol
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.4-4.5 l/100km (70 kW)
The finer details are still to be locked down for the 2018 Volkswagen Polo but before it arrives toward the end of the first quarter of next year but a few key details are known.
Aussie buyers will be able to pick from two engines, both 1.0-litre three cylinder turbo petrols, with outputs of either 70kW and 175Nm or a more gutsy 85kW and 200Nm version. Trim levels will be divided initially between the entry-level Trendline and mid-spec Comfortline with the Highline arriving later still and the Polo Beats and more powerful Polo GTI arriving towards the end of the year.
From the outside the new Polo sticks to Volkswagen’s evolutionary approach to styling, keeping an air of familiarity when compared to the outgoing model, but integrating new details like a strong shoulder line, more prominent wheel arch detailing, and more expressive headlight and taillight assemblies.
In its European home market, Volkswagen is also keen to ramp up the individuality of its little hatch with an astonishing range of eight different colours for the stand-out dash inserts and 11 different seat trims covering everything from basic black all the way to more attention-grabbing brightly coloured pieces.
The Polo story starts with more space. Lots more space. Overall the new car is 81mm longer than the current model, riding on a 92mm longer wheelbase with increased passenger space in every direction and a boot that jumps from 280 litres to a far more practical 351 litres.
Larger passenger space means the Polo can now more easily accommodate adults in the rear. Front headroom has been increased by 15mm and rear headroom climbs by 21mm with plenty of foot and legroom easing the burden of being relegated to the rear.
To go with the more roomy interior, the design and layout of the dash and major controls lines up with Volkswagen’s latest systems meaning touchscreen infotainment systems with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available in either 6.5 or 8.0-inch sizes, plus the option of an Active Info Display digital instrument cluster.
Depending on the model (and the way Volkswagen Australia chooses to specify the cars that arrive locally) features like dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, wireless mobile charging, and LED head and taillights will also be available.
The calling card of the Polo Beats sees the interior kitted out with a 300w sound system with input from audio specialist, Beats, along with an interior treatment that includes a ‘velvet red’ dash panel, multi-tone seats, and unique wheels and stripes on the outside.
Those big coloured dash decor panels bring a touch of vibrancy to the light car class that has been otherwise reserved for small SUVs up until now, ranging from muted and elegant blacks and greys through to bold orange and blue, with Volkswagen promising the panels will be interchangeable should you wish to tone down (or brighten up) your interior at a later date.
Although the design is still a little on the conservative side (bright inserts aside) Volkswagen hasn’t stepped back from its reputation for quality with fine panel tolerances and a rich look and feel to interior surfaces.
Upper dash sections are covered in soft touch surfaces on all but the Trendline model, but the doors make use of hard plastics all over - which is not unusual for the segment, but almost a letdown given the level of quality the rest of the interior exudes.
The Polo also hangs onto an old-fashioned manual handbrake, which eats into interior storage just a little but the Polo still provides a proper centre console with armrest, two front cup holders, deep door bins, and a front storage receptacle designed to accept a mobile phone
ON THE ROAD
European buyers will end up with an almost extraordinary range of eight engines to select from including diesel and compressed natural gas engines, with outputs ranging from 48kW to 110kW but Australian buyers will have a choice of just two engines until the Polo GTI hot hatch arrives.
Both the Polo’s new engines are based on the same basic turbocharged three-cylinder design with outputs tweaked resulting in either 70kW and 175Nm or 85kW and 200Nm paired with a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch manual transmissions.
When the Polo GTI does eventually arrive it will be powered by a 147kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine with either a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The new engines in the standard Polo versions do the job quite nicely. Robust torque from down low makes for swift acceleration and refinement levels are high, with little in the way of engine vibration and only a hint of characteristic three-cylinder thrum when pushed hard.
Vehicles driven on the European launch featured adaptive dampers, which can react to road surfaces and adjust accordingly, as well as offering a firmer sport setting. Though it's hard to give a definitive verdict on ride quality over Germany’s near-perfect surfaces a quick sprint over cobblestones and one brief rough country road section suggest the Polo should get by just fine.
Even on the Autobahn, where the 70kW Polo was able to stretch its legs up to around 140 km/h, the cabin stayed so quiet that occupants could easily maintain a conversation - not only that but the occupants in question were three Aussie lads with a combined weighbridge ticket of around 300kg and the Polo showed no signs of struggling with its load.
The smart money for regular commuters is the DSG automatic which takes the fuss out of creeping through slow moving traffic with much better low-speed control than earlier versions of the same. Keen drivers will also like the manual with a well defined but light shift action and an easy to modulate clutch pedal with spot-on weighting.
There’s still some questions to be answered. Noise levels on Euro roads were low, but Aussie tarmac can be harder on the ears, and fixed rate suspension still needs to be put to the test, though it's difficult to imagine the well-mannered Polo dropping the ball in either respect.
Safety Features: Even in its most basic form, the Polo Trendline will include electronic stability control, a full suite of airbags, and Front Assist with City Emergency Braking (also known as autonomous emergency braking) and pedestrian monitoring. Other features available include rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, driver fatigue monitoring, semi-automatic self-parking, adaptive cruise control, and proactive occupant protection preparing the seatbelts and ABS brakes, plus closing the windows to improve protection if an impending impact situation is detected.
Although the current Volkswagen Golf offers more space, more power, and more flexibility, the newest Polo takes such a big leap forward (yet again) that some buyers may question if they need to spend the extra to step into a Golf.
With pricing and specifications for Australia still to be revealed it's hard to say just how competitive the new Polo will be, but the early signs are promising. Volkswagen has delivered the comfort, technology, and space of cars from the class above and that’s a big deal.
Then again, that’s what the Polo has always done. For buyers that don’t need the size of a small car but aren’t willing to miss out on Euro-refinement and quality the Polo is, and always has been, a light car with a heavy dose of premiumness built in.