VOLKSWAGEN POLO REVIEW
A svelte new five-door body and willing 1.2 litre turbocharged petrol engine: that’s Volkswagen’s new Polo 77TSI Comfortline.
With just the right amount of ‘show’ in its nicely balanced lines, it’s also got ample ‘go’ – certainly enough to make its ‘light car’ competitors stand up and pay attention.
And, good news for buyers, the new Polo comes at a price point and with an equipment list that will help it find many more homes in Australian driveways.
So, how deep is the Polo’s charm?
We put Volkswagen’s new light car offering through a week of commuter chaos, bookended by country escapes, to see just how well it stacks up.
Although first released in Europe over a year ago, the fifth generation Polo has only been available in Australia since May.
With the new model there’s new, crisper styling featuring VW’s new corporate face.
There’s also a new turbocharged 1.2 litre petrol engine. It’s a jewel of a unit and offers power and torque outputs that defy its modest capacity.
It also offers improved fuel economy over the previous 1.6 litre naturally-aspirated engine.
Inside, the Polo Comfortline provides semi-automated air-conditioning, cruise control, a multi-function leather wrapped steering wheel and trip computer.
What’s the appeal?
It’s a “what you get for the price” thing.
At $19,850 plus on road costs, the Polo is priced right in amongst its Japanese, Thai and Korean-built opposition.
However the Spanish-sourced Polo 77TSI (Trendline variants come from South Africa) brings a level of Euro refinement and impressive equipment that its segment-mates struggle to match.
What features does it have?
Equipment includes heated, power-adjustable mirrors, power steering, power windows front and rear and remote central locking. It also comes standard with a single-disc, six-speaker, MP3-compatible CD player with auxiliary input.
Safety equipment includes front, side and curtain airbags, pre-tensioning front seatbelts and electronic stability control.
ABS brakes with brake assist, hill-start assist, and an electronic limited-slip diff.
Bumpers, door handles and mirrors get full body-colour treatment, and 15-inch alloy wheels are also included.
Inside there’s cloth seat trim with leather on the steering wheel and gear knob, front centre armrest, chrome highlights on the air vents and instruments and front and rear map lights.
What’s under the bonnet?
Not long ago, the Polo’s engine spec sheet could’ve been the stuff of full-tilt hot hatches. Just 1.2 litres in capacity, the Polo’s mill packs direct injection and an intercooled turbo.
Peak power of 77 kW is available at 5000rpm, peak torque of 175Nm arrives at 1500-3500rpm.
Thanks to that flat torque curve, there’s always plenty of urge available. And even as it approaches the top of its rev-range, the engine remains calm and composed.
Balancing the equation a little, the Polo asks for premium unleaded with a minimum 95 octane rating. Excellent fuel economy helps make that less of an issue.
A seven-speed DSG automatic is available for an extra $2500, making for a clear class leader among its auto-equipped opposition. The model we tested came with a six-speed manual transmission.
Front suspension is handled by re-designed MacPherson struts while the rear is carried by a semi-independent set-up.
How does it drive?
From behind the wheel the little Volkswagen just keeps endearing itself. Turn the key and the engine settles into a muted, vibration free idle – that’s a good start.
Slot in first gear and pull into traffic and the well-weighted steering and nicely balanced clutch reveal that they’re just the thing for commuter duty.
With superb visibility thanks to slim pillars, darting through the peak hour crush, or scoping out an elusive parking space, is a breeze.
Pile on a few more revs and the turbocharged engine proves very willing, spinning freely without noise or harshness.
Right on the 1700 rpm mark there’s a noticeable surge in performance as the turbo comes into its own.
This can take a little getting used to in urban situations, particularly if paying heed to the shift-indicator which prompts the next highest gear right in the ‘surge zone’.
Get away from the stop-start shuffle and onto the open road however, and it’s here that the new Polo really starts swinging.
There’s a well-planted security through corners, a torquey urge for hill climbs and steering that manages a decent connection with the tarmac below.
Then, to settle the whole package, there’s quiet highway cruising - easily among the best of any of the Polo’s Japanese or Korean competitors.
Polo rounds out its on-road performance with a suspension tune that doesn’t seem to have the initial firmness of much of the VW range. Instead there’s a softer, but still controlled ride, able to resist excessive roll or sloppy oversteer.
In manual guise the six-speed box is a breeze to use: the shift gate is well-defined and the lever simply slides from gear to gear.
Again, it isn’t quite up to the precision of a dedicated sportster, but the balance is just about right for a daily drive.
All up, whether on the open road or around town, the Polo proves to be an enjoyable and competent drive. While zesty at the wheel, it isn’t a dedicated hot-shoe - perhaps that’s what makes it so good to live with day-to-day.
What did our passengers think?
Those ‘long of leg’ found much to like in the front seat of the Polo, with a great range of seat travel to suit most heights.
Width on the other hand was a little more precious, with plenty of room between seat and door, but less it seemed between the two seats.
The rear offered more foot and knee room than expected, but still proved tight, particularly with the front seats set back.
Three across the rear was fine on short trips, but anything beyond a trip to the video store started to try friendships.
Two in the rear was ideal. A flat roof that doesn’t eat into rear headroom, and large uninterrupted windows for all-round visibility helped keep those relegated to the back happy.
Firm but comfortable seats work well for long trips, however the front buckets lack width for bigger passengers and can start to feel a tad squeezy on longer journeys.
Interior quality and feel
There is something approaching a premium feel to the Polo’s interior, even in its basic black.
There are soft-touch plastics on nearly all contact surfaces, quality graining on the dash and doors, soft armrests and subtle chrome highlights.
Legibility of the instrument cluster, ventilation and audio controls is excellent – they’re clear, easily defined, and with a spacious and intuitive lay-out.
Volkswagen shows its dedication to interior quality with a well turned out and well-built interior with consistent panel gaps, a quality feel and solid touch-points and switchgear.
The Polo’s boot features a floor that can be mounted at two different heights, allowing a generous amount of ‘hidden from sight’ underfloor storage when required.
Officially there’s 280 litres of space available. Folding the 60:40 split rear bench brings that total up to 952 litres.
The boot floor also features tie-down hooks for securing loose items.
Elsewhere in the cabin, the Polo provides a sizeable air conditioned glovebox, centre console bin, storage space in the centre armrest, seatback map pockets large pockets for the front doors.
How safe is it?
The 2010 VW Polo has been awarded a 5-Star crash safety rating in tests conducted by both Australia's ANCAP and Europe's Euro NCAP crash testing system.
Standard safety features include front, side and curtain airbags. Three-point seat belts are featured in all five seating positions, with front seatbelts also equipped with belt tensioners.
The front seats feature safety-optimised head restraints, and there are three head restraints in the rear.
Electronic stability control is standard, as is anti-lock braking with braking assist, hill-start assist, anti-slip regulation, an electronic limited-slip differential and engine braking control.
Fuel consumption and green rating?
In its six-speed manual guise, the Polo’s 1.2 litre TSI engine records an official fuel consumption figure of 5.5 l/100km for the combined cycle.
On test, which leaned a little more heavily towards town driving, the Polo returned 5.8 l/100km.
A decent result given the amount of stop-start commuting involved, and evidence that the Polo should be capable of matching its claimed consumption.
Greenhouse gas emissions are rated at 128 g/km and the4 Polo earns a four and a half star rating in the Government’s Green Vehicle Guide.
How does it compare?
Five door versions of the Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Toyota Yaris, Suzuki Swift and Mazda 2 all fall within cooee of the Polo for price and features, and provide engines that generate similar power and torque.
Cutting back the door count, or becoming less picky about price, sees the Polo in a very crowded market space.
When it comes to interior fittings, the Volkswagen stands clear of the others for the quality of its tactile surfaces. The Fiesta ‘out-funks’ the Polo though with its mobile-phone inspired dash.
Refinement is another area where Volkswagen puts the likes of the buzzier Yaris and Swift to shame. Throw a few corners into the mix however and, despite the Polo’s best efforts, the sharp Swift and delightfully balanced Fiesta have the advantage (and are funner steers).
Even against its bigger brother the Golf, although larger and more expensive, the Polo holds its ground well. (The cross-shop comparison is bound to happen often within VW showrooms.)
With the Polo’s European cachet, an appealing price (though not bargain basement) and an engine unmatched for torque in its class, there’s much to like.
Certainly enough to make the decision between the Polo and Ford’s excellent Fiesta a difficult one.
Volkswagen vehicles are covered by a three year, 100,000km warranty, including a three year paintwork warranty and 12 years anti-corrosion protection. Roadside assist is also available for the duration of the warranty period.
Candy white, Flash red, Ocean blue, Savannah yellow, Deep black, Pepper grey and Reflex silver. All exterior hues are teamed with an interior in black cloth.
The Polo 77TSI Comfortline is priced from $19,850 plus on road costs.
Metallic paint adds $500 and a DSG automatic gearbox costs $2500.
The 2010 Polo is a great leap forward over its predecessor. While the former model was good, the new model is better in just about every tangible aspect.
Sure, there are other ways to save money on a small five-door hatch. But, stack up the safety equipment, interior feel, convenience features and engine performance, and almost nothing in its class can touch the Polo.
Put it on the list. A long hard look at the Polo is a must for anyone shopping for a small car.