Is It A Golf Or Is It A Polo?
New VW Polo Moves Upmarket, Like Everybody Else
Competition Strong: Jazz Best, Korean’s Massive Guarantees
VW’s new Polo is now on sale. This is the fifth iteration of the car in 34 years, and every time it renews itself it seems to get a little bit closer to being a reinvention of its big brother, the Golf. They are unlikely to merge into one any time soon though, as the Golf itself also seems to be moving relentlessly upmarket.
As you would expect from VW, Europe’s biggest manufacturer, the Polo range is massive and at launch there is a choice of five engines three petrol motors and two diesels. There are two naturally aspirated 1.2 litre engines with 59 and 69 hp and a 1.4/84. There are two 1.6 litre common rail diesels producing 74 and 89 hp.
There will be a new 1.2/104 hp TSI turbocharged petrol motor early in 2010. “TSI” technology takes direction injection a stage further by supercharging, to cut a long story short. TSI produces high power and torque across a very broad rev range from 1,000 to 6,500 rpm. Expect to see this more and more on VWs as the company strives to produce more power from smaller engines to meet its CO2 obligations, with having to sacrifice too much power or fun.
Four trim levels are on offer, and an A/C model “for those requiring” climate control, VW says. Presumably that is everyone except the great unwashed from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth anxious to cut their carbon footprints. The range starts at “S”, with Moda for younger buyers, SE, and topping out with SEL. A BlueMotion version will follow in 2010, designed with fuel-saving in mind. This will have a new 1.2 litre three-cylinder common rail diesel, automatic stop-start, regenerative braking, (nothing to do with brakes, it recaptures energy while free-wheeling) a gearbox with revised ratios, optimised aerodynamics, suspension lowered by 15 mm and low rolling resistance tyres.
Made in South Africa, Spain
To make you think you’ve bought a Golf, not a Polo, you can also choose such upmarket options as touch-screen satellite navigation, a DAB digital radio, climate control or seven-speed DSG double clutch automatic.
The new car is 7.5 per cent lighter than the old one despite being wider and longer, helping the Polo to deliver a 20 per cent improvement in fuel economy.
The interior shows big improvements too, with white backlit dials, high-quality plastics and subtle aluminium highlights adding a touch of class.
VW, not to mention every other European car maker, is anxious to say its cars are moving the game on to the next level.
Moving on up
One example of this in the new Polo range is the availability of the DSG twin-clutch automatic gearbox. This provides superfast, super-smooth gear changes, said to actually improve on a manual’s fuel consumption. I drove the Polo SEL 1.4 DSG, and it matched up with engine nicely, although the gearbox generated some weird noises from under the bonnet. I’ve driven other cars with this type of gearbox, and somehow started out thinking this would be a hot version. Of course, with a 84 hp it was nothing of the sort, just delivering a workmanlike performance, although pickup did seem a shade sluggish. This version, at £14,775, seems good value, although the one I drove had extra stuff like sat-nav (£795), electronic climate control (£340), natty wheel trims (£380), auto-dimming and rain sensors (£120), front passenger airbag deactivation (£45), smoking pack (£20), multifunction leather steering wheel (£345), and metallic paint (£385). That brings the total to £16,865 mega pricey even for a well-specced little car.
I also drove the SE 1.2 69 hp with a 5-speed manual gearbox (see databox for details). This should be the biggest selling Polo and is well equipped at £11,995, although it doesn’t have proper air conditioning. “Nice, but gutless” was my note to myself after driving it. The SE 1.6 TDI 74 hp 5-speed manual costs £13,205; “Quite sharp and pokey (as in good performance)”.
The Polo is a nice little car, with great quality and driveability. The competition in this sector is fierce, so this one doesn’t stand out from the crowd, which includes Koreans like Hyundai and Kia which offer 5 or 7 year guarantees. My favourite is still the Honda Jazz, recently reinvigorated. The Honda has the looks, build quality, utility and interior classiness which still makes it stand out as the number one choice. If you can’t afford it, go to Hyundai and Kia for their matchless guarantees.
Neil Winton October 20, 2009 (I paid my own expenses to go to the VW Polo launch, and they didn’t even provide cucumber sandwiches in the afternoon)
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