Polo looks a win­ner

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

THE bat­tle for 2010 Car of the Year hon­ours be­gins right here and now. The first se­ri­ous con­tender is the new Volk­swa­gen Polo, a mini-Golf with a start­ing price of $16,690.

It will have to bat­tle a wide range of new stars, from the boxy Toy­ota Rukus and BMW’s classy GT to the Se­ries II Holden Com­modore VE.

The Polo has not done well in Aus­tralia, partly be­cause it was too ex­pen­sive and partly be­cause the pre­vi­ous mod­els were . . . well ... tinny lit­tle cars with­out much charisma.

The lat­est, fifth-gen­er­a­tion, car changes the pat­tern. It has ev­ery­thing from clunk-close doors to im­pres­sive equip­ment and real driv­ing en­joy­ment.

The ba­sic en­gine doesn’t have much punch, and there’s steer­ing kick over cor­ru­ga­tions, but the new Polo fi­nally shows sim­i­lar strengths to last year’s cars­Guide win­ner, the Golf.

Volk­swa­gen Aus­tralia prod­uct mar­ket­ing man­ager Vladan Dimic says: ‘‘We are con­fi­dent we have cre­ated a car that is the right pack­age for the tar­get cus­tomer. We want it to be the third vol­ume pil­lar in Aus­tralia af­ter Golf and Tiguan.’’

The new Polo is a com­plete makeover, un­like the pre­vi­ous car, which was ba­si­cally a facelift.

The body struc­ture is new and stiffer, and it has the prom­ise of five-star ANCAP safety, in­clud­ing six airbags and sta­bil­ity con­trol. There are two petrol en­gines and a tur­bod­iesel, and a seven-speed DSG manu­matic gear­box.

Two bod­ies, three and five-door hatches, have Trend­line and Com­fort­line equip­ment pack­ages.

Volk­swa­gen says the car has $1000 of no-cost safety equip­ment, as well as a re­mote con­trol that can open and close the win­dows, white-lit di­als and a new steer­ing wheel. Yet prices are gen­er­ally lower, by $300 in the case of the man­ual three-door Trend­line that opens the bat­ting.

The en­gines range from the 1.4-litre four with 63kW/ 132Nm to the 1.2-litre turbo with 77kW/175Nm and the 1.6-litre tur­bod­iesel with 66kW/230Nm.

Both petrol en­gines have im­proved fuel in­jec­tors and an elec­tric turbo waste­gate.

It has a wider new sus­pen­sion, MacPher­son struts in the nose and a tor­sion beam axle in the tail, anti-skid four-wheel discs and al­loy wheels on all but the base car.

The petrol en­gines use pre­mium un­leaded. Still, VW says econ­omy is im­proved by up to 24 per cent and quotes 4.6 litres/100km con­sump­tion and 121g/km CO for its best per­form­ers.

Two op­tional equip­ment packs are avail­able: the $900 com­fort deal that in­cludes rain-sen­sor wipers; and the $770 au­dio pack­age with the Blue­tooth phone con­nec­tion that should be stan­dard.

Driv­ing

THE new Polo has more than ever be­fore. You see it in the big­ger body, feel it in the slightly roomier but much higher-qual­ity cabin, and en­joy it in a car that is as good to drive as any­thing in the baby class — ex­cept my per­sonal favourite, the Fi­esta — and equal to the best on

quiet­ness and re­fine­ment. The doors close with a thunk, the seats are sup­port­ive, the steer­ing is light and di­rect, and the sus­pen­sion soaks up most bumps and un­du­la­tions with­out a drama.

It’s a Euro­pean car with a Ja­panese start­ing price — though the five-door comes from South Africa— which means it will get on to a lot more shop­ping lists.

I drove all va­ri­eties of the new Polo and en­joyed the two ex­tremes, the ba­sic three-door with a 1.4-litre en­gine and the DSG tur­bod­iesel five-door.

The starter car is quiet and re­spon­sive, though big hills show a lack of pulling power, and it rides best of the bunch, de­spite steel wheels.

I was not wor­ried about a five-speed man­ual gear­box and I like the three-door body, though ri­val brands say it’s not a win­ner and VW only ex­pects to sell one car in five with­out back doors.

The tur­bod­iesel flag­ship is punchy and very well equipped, but you pay for the lux­ury.

And there is still a lit­tle kick through the steer­ing on bumps, as well as sus­pen­sion that feels a lit­tle bouncy at times.

But over­all, there is a lot to like in the new Polo and very lit­tle to crit­i­cise.

Will it be cars­Guide Car of the Year? Based on a rel­a­tively short first drive, it’s go­ing to take a good car to beat it.

Right pack­age: the well-per­formed Volk­swa­gen Polo, with a big­ger body, roomier feel and much higher-qual­ity cabin, is a Euro­pean car with a Ja­panese start­ing price.

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