Of course, not all great things come in small packages but the old adage rings true with the latest Volkswagen Polo.
The new model follows in the footsteps of what is one of the best urban runabouts on the planet. But the sixth-generation isn’t just a light nip and tuck – it brings the latest in safety technology, an even greater degree of sophistication, and a more spacious cabin while remaining affordable to buy and own.
It might not be the cheapest in its class but starting at $17,990 driveaway for the entry-level Trendline with a five-speed gearbox it is a substantial entrée into the German brand that’s both appealing to first car buyers and those wanting to downsize from a larger car.
In its most basic guise, the Trendline rides on 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, has cloth trim seats, air conditioning, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, tyre pressure monitoring and an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with a reverse camera and smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android devices, effectively giving owners access to sat nav, voice activation and messaging functions on the go.
More importantly, it comes with low- and high-speed automated emergency braking, a driver fatigue warning and full airbag protection for outboard occupants. On top of that, owners can upgrade the safety credentials with an optional Driver Assistance Package that costs $1400 and brings adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go in heavy traffic, blind spot monitoring and semi-automated parking with what Volkswagen calls Manoeuvre Braking, where the car will automatically stop when an object is too close.
Under the bonnet, the Polo Trendline is powered by a 1.0-litre turbo charged three-cylinder petrol engine that produces 70kW of power and 175Nm of torque with a claimed average fuel consumption of 4.8L/100km.
Despite having a broader spread of ratios, the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which costs an additional $2500, increases fuel consumption slightly to 5.0L/100km.
If you’re after a little more of everything, the Comfortline variant, which costs $20,490 driveaway, adds 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers and higher-grade cloth trim while the engine has been upgraded to produce 85kW and 200Nm and the standard manual gearbox has six, rather than five, speeds. Similarly, it can be optioned with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic for $2500, which – quizzically, when compared to the Trendline – makes it more efficient with a claimed average of 5.0L/100km against 5.1L/100km for the manual. Whatever the powertrain configuration, the reality is the Polo is one of the most efficient cars in its class anyway
For a limited time, Volkswagen is offering a Launch Edition for an additional $1000 that adds larger 16-inch alloys, front fog lights, darkened tail lamps, window tinting and a wireless charging pad in the centre console. More permanent members of the Polo team will arrive later in the year, including the GTI hot hatch and the funky Beats edition with an upgraded audio system and a splash of colour in the cabin.
- Trendline: Cloth seat trim, leather covered steering wheel, cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning as well as a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors, 15-inch steel wheels
- Comfortline: Comfort cloth trim, front arm rests, chrome interior accents, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, 15-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, six-speaker audio, digital radio
- Cargo Volume: 351 litres to rear seats, 1125 litres to first row.
It’s a smart looking car in the metal that nicely integrates VW’s latest design language into a smaller package but it’s inside where the Polo stands out in this class.
Utilising Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform that also underpins the Golf, Tiguan and Arteon, it rides on a wheelbase that is 78mm longer than its predecessor, is 81mm longer in overall length and 69mm wider with a boot that has 71L more cargo carrying capacity and increased dimensions throughout
It’s significantly larger than the car it replaces, which effectively means it uniquely straddles a space in between light cars, such as the Mazda2, Suzuki Swift and Kia Rio, and small hatchbacks the next size up, like the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30.
There is plenty of space both in the front and the rear, with comfortable seats and good vision out of the glasshouse, and the boot is also big enough to handle the everyday duties of a small family.
The whole lot is finished with quality materials and craftsmanship well beyond the norm for urban runabouts. The large infotainment screen that sits flush within the centre console is particularly classy, the instruments are clear and concise, and there’s plenty of cubby holes in the centre console to keep small items secure.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol, 70kW 5000-5000rpm, 175Nm 2000-3500rpm (Trendline) 85kW 5000-5500rpm, 200Nm 2000-3500rpm (Comfortline)
- Transmission: Five-speed manual (Trendline), six-speed manual, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (Comfortline) front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc
- Steering: Electric power steering, 10.6m turning circle
Out test drive included roads through the Adelaide Hills this week where the Polo impressed with a level of sophistication in its driving character that few city cars can match.
The three-pot engine has the typical chubbiness found in others with this configuration, in that it offers decent, but not spectacular, pulling power in low and middle revs, but runs out of puff towards the top of the range. It’s relatively quiet when cruising and yet has a thrummy exhaust note as the revs rise.
It’s not going to win the traffic light grand prix from a standstill though, especially with the five-speed manual in the Trendline which has super-tall gear ratios designed for higher speeds in Europe, which means it requires a big prod on the throttle to get moving and you’ll be constantly rowing through the cogs in traffic and when driving up hills.
The dual-clutch automatic is much more convenient in that regard, but it quickly searches for the tallest ratio to save fuel which labours the engine and makes it feel and sound a bit lumpy.
And, to be honest, the extra grunt in the Comfortline specification isn’t that obvious unless you’re wringing its neck.
However you drive it though, the steering is well weighted and positive across the ratio, the brakes feel solid and the Polo has a sure-footed stance through the bends without pretending to have any sporty pretensions. Having said that, the suspension is always busy trying to iron out any imperfections in the road, and perhaps a little firm for Australia’s pock-marked network, but has good compliance and only feels crashy over harsh bumps.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The underlying theme in the latest sixth-generation Polo is that it’s a lot of car for the money, even if it is a little pricier than some rivals, and one that resets a few benchmarks among its peers.
It’s a smart car to look at, to drive and to own with a veneer of European polish and panache that others simply cannot match.
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Volkswagen Polo - Prices, Features, and Specifications