13 Dec 2018

Volkswagen Polo Beats 2018 new car review

A small hatch to beat most rivals
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Roads and tunes have gone hand in hand just about since cars debuted.

From walkmans to discmans to iPods for those in the back seat, and cassette then CD players then iPhone cables (or less) for folks up front, turning a steering wheel then turning up tunes is a natural segue.

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But the 2018 Volkswagen Polo Beats is more than about mixing driving appeal with aural appeal. Despite being a collaboration between German car manufacturer and the US-based, Apple-owned audio brand started by rapper Dr Dre, the ‘Beats’ is a fairly complete tech-fest.

Taking the Polo 85TSI Comfortline as its base, it asks $3000 extra for not only a 300-watt premium audio system, but a 10.25-inch colour driver display, colourful dashboard inlays, integrated satellite navigation, wireless smartphone charging and part-leather-look seats.

That’s in addition to ‘B’ badging on the seats and also the B-pillars outside, while distinguishing itself from lesser grades courtesy of larger 16-inch alloy wheels (up from 15s) and a black bonnet and roof stripe. So, then, is this new model grade music to buyers’ ears?

Vehicle Style: Light car

Price: $24,990 plus on-road costs

Engine/trans: 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre turbo 3cyl | seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.0 l/100km Tested: 7.1 l/100km

OVERVIEW

The entry-level Polo 70TSI Trendline starts at $17,990 plus on-road costs for the five-speed manual and $20,490 (plus orc) for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. As the name indicates, the 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine makes 70kW of power, plus 175Nm of torque, good for a 10.8-second 0-100km/h claim in manual or auto.

Stepping to the Polo 85TSI Comfortline at $19,490 (plus orc) for a now-six-speed manual and $21,990 (plus orc) for the same auto, and it now makes 85kW and 200Nm, with 9.5sec 0-100km/h performance and unchanged fuel usage of 5.0 litres per 100 kilometres.

All grades get a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, while the Trendline gets 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps and the Comfortline alloy wheels. And it further adds automatic on/off headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a console armrest and rear map lights.

All of which carries over to the Polo Beats at $22,490 (plus orc) manual or $24,990 (plus orc) auto, in addition to the features list explained in the introduction, plus other trim bits below.

THE INTERIOR | RATING: 4.0/5

Standard Equipment: Remote central locking, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, leather-wrapped steering wheel and handbrake lever, cruise control, manual air-conditioning, and power windows and mirrors.

Infotainment: 10.25-inch colour driver display and 8.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, twin USB ports and SD readers, wireless smartphone charging, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, satellite navigation and 300-watt Beats audio.

Options Fitted: None.

Cargo Volume: 305 litres.

In some ways it’s almost unfair to compare the Polo to other light cars. That’s because this new-generation Volkswagen has grown up on the outside and inside to such an extent that it rivals the bigger breed of small cars (Mazda3, Toyota Corolla etc.)

However, we did say ‘almost’. From its hard-plastic door trims, to the lack of overhead grab handles, even this Beats model grade can feel a fraction lacking in couple of areas where both a 3 and Corolla step up, to name just two examples. Yet the soft-form dashboard and tactile controls are also a world away from the tiny turbo three-cylinder trio of Kia Rio GT-Line, Peugeot 208 Allure and Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo, which all start at sub-$25K (before orc).

Where Rio feels too plasticky, and the Swift and 208 too cramped, the Polo strides ahead for cabin quality then cements its lead for accommodation. While the comfortable and supportive front seats are up there with any in the class, the back seat is superb, and clearly class-leading thanks to a deep and tilted base, cosy shoulder support plus surplus legroom.

In more ways than one, this Volkswagen is an ‘inbetweener’ – above light cars, below small.

Choosing the Beats over the Trendline or Comfortline does require give-and-take, though. The installation of a subwoofer under the boot floor restricts space from the class-leading 351 litres of the cheaper pair, to 305L here (as is shared with the Polo GTI hot hatchback).

That’s enough of a deficit to let the 325L-rated Kia and 311L-claiming Peugeot slip past, if not the Suzuki (242L).

There are equipment trade-offs here, too. Even this Beats still lacks a keyless auto-entry with push-button start, LED headlights, climate control air-conditioning or digital audio broadcasting (DAB) – the latter a surprising omission for an audio-focused model grade.

Meanwhile a Swift GLX Turbo costs $22,990 driveaway (roughly $20,500 plus on-roads) and gets all of the above except DAB. But it further adds adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and auto up/down high-beam, all absent here.

Of course where this Volkswagen can hang its hat is with that delightfully crisp 10.25-inch driver display that permits zooming in and out of the nav screen using just the steering wheel trip computer controls. The nav itself is superbly easy to use, with predictive address entry a really premium feature, while the 8.0-inch touchscreen is slick and high-resolution. The only caveat is a charging pad where a smartphone too-easily slips off it.

Oh, and the Beats audio sounds great, especially for a six-speaker-plus sub arrangement. Tellingly, you can leave the bass, treble and mid-range in their standard setting, and it still cranks up a treat. The only caveat is it can get a bit muddy in really dense music tracks, while some may find it has too much inherent bass – but it’s still a real kicker among basic rivals.

ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5

Engine: 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre turbo petrol 3cyl.

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, FWD.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear.

Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes.

Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering.

Best not be scared by a three-cylinder engine in a $20K-plus small car. Thanks to turbocharging, the 1.0-litre trio of Rio GT-Line (82kW/172Nm), Swift GLX Turbo (82kW/160Nm) and this Polo Beats (85kW/200Nm) all make healthy numbers all over.

And we do mean ‘all over’. This Volkswagen makes peak torque from 2000rpm until 3500rpm, and maximum power at just 5000rpm. While at first glance it might seem more potent than the six-speed auto-equipped Suzuki, though, its rival weighs 915kg and this seven-speed dual-clutch auto-equipped Beats tips the scales at a portly 1152kg.

Even so, the turbo three-cylinder is just the most delightfully sweet, energetic and yet refined engine, all the while delivering on-test urban economy of 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres even in gridlock, before lowering to a stellar 7.1L/100km overall – despite being 2.1L/100km above its ridiculously low claim, it’s still a superb result.

In S mode, the auto really gets the best out of the engine, ensuring it’s kept spinning enough above idle to be in its sweet spot. The only problem is, sometimes it allows the engine to over-rev when cruising, without the intuition to detect particular driving, and slip to tall gears while remaining alert.

It’s preferable to standard D, though, which is already in fifth gear by 50km/h. It chases tall gears so eagerly that throttle response turns to mush, and the engine is left to momentarily labour when acceleration is quickly required.

Compounded by an overly eager stop-start technology, which kills the engine before coming to a complete stop, and for the driver, it feels sluggish – like the engine is being strangled.

At least with the Beats only, there are paddleshifters that work a treat on a twisting road, but otherwise do yourself a favour: save $2500 and buy the infinitely superior manual.

Fortunately, even the auto isn’t enough to take away from a superb on-road package. The steering isn’t as sharp as a Swift’s and the handling lacks the keen, fleet-footed dance through bends that its sub-1000kg kerb weight allows. But everywhere else the Polo is class leading.

Its handling is unflappable, so planted and assured that you’d think it has rock-hard suspension. But it doesn’t. The ride quality is comfortable but controlled, the sound deadening so far beyond any other light car that it almost feels luxurious. This really is the benchmark for ride and refinement, no question.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5-stars – this model scored 36.7 out of 38 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2017.

Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS, ESC, reverse-view camera, forward collision warning with low-speed (sub 30km/h) autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection.

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Three years/unlimited km

Servicing: With annual or 15,000km servicing intervals, up-front plans are available to three years or 45,000km for $1152 (an average $384 each) or to five years or 75,000km for $2164 (an average $433 each), which is highly competitive.

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

The Rio GT-Line is $21,990 driveaway, roomy and backed by a seven-year warranty – but it’s also a bit cheap inside.

The 208 Allure is a 1.2-litre turbo three-cylinder bundle of joy to drive, but it lacks both space, equipment and infotainment smarts for its $24,990 (plus orc) sticker.

The Swift GLX Turbo is the Polo’s best rival, cheaper inside and much noisier, not as comfortable in its seating, yet brimming with character, high-end handling and an equally good engine – only with a better auto.

  • Kia Rio GT-Line
  • Peugeot 208 Allure
  • Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.0/5

The Polo Beats really should strike a chord with buyers young and old, for its a mix of benchmark infotainment (lack of digital radio excepted), class-leading space and comfort, plus an engine and suspension tune unbeaten for punch and refinement respectively.

Owing to a flawed auto and stop-start tech, it misses a half-star from what should be a near flawless score here. And it loses another half-star for a lack of equipment – for $25K, rear parking sensors, LED headlights, keyless auto-entry and climate control should be standard.

But that’s about it. In every other way this second-from-top Polo feels like great value, regardless of whether you see it as a grown-up light hatchback or downsized small car.

And that final verdict should sound good to any potential Beats buyer.

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