GET AN UPGRADE
VW POLO ADDS SPACE, SAFETY AND SOPHISTICATION
Little wonder so many motorists are downsizing: small cars are getting bigger. The new Volkswagen Polo is roomier than a Golf from 10 years ago, fitting in size — and price — between city hatchbacks such as the Honda Jazz and small cars, among them the Toyota Corolla.
It starts from $17,990 drive-away for a manual and $20,490 drive-away for an auto, pricing it at the top end of its peers but still undercutting most vehicles the next size up.
According to VW’s tape measure, the new Polo has a bigger boot than a Mazda3, Ford Focus and Subaru Impreza hatch, more headroom than a Kia Cerato and more shoulder room than a Hyundai i30.
It’s no bare bones proposition, either. All models — from the base Comfortline up — come with low and high-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a rear camera hidden behind the VW badge on the tailgate, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in an eight-inch hi-res touchscreen, cruise control, leather steering wheel, digital speed display, two USB charging ports and height adjustment for both front seats.
The $22,990 drive-away Trendline gains 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, auto dimming rear view mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, front centre armrest and map lights.
The $23,990 drive-away Launch Edition gains 16-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear glass, front fog lights, LED tail-lights and wireless phone charging.
The new Polo earns a five-star safety rating when measured against the latest criteria and VW has also made advanced safety available in a $1400 option pack. The extra tech includes radar cruise control with automatic stop-and-go in traffic, blind zone warning and rear cross traffic alert.
Its “manoeuvre braking” function will automatically slam on the brakes when driving in forward or reverse up to 10km/h, such as in car parks.
A pleasant surprise in an industry increasingly fitting space-saver spares: the new Polo comes with a full-size spare on a 15-inch steel rim.
Less welcome news for buyers on a budget: the new Polo — as with other VWs, most European cars and some class rivals — still requires at least 95 RON premium unleaded. In return, though, the miserly fuel consumption ratings are between 4.8L and 5.1L/100km.
The turbocharged 1.0-litre may be smaller in
capacity and have three cylinders rather than the previous engine’s four but it punches above its weight.
The base model gets 70kW/175Nm and dearer models are boosted to 85kW/200Nm.
These figures outshine most direct rivals — including the Suzuki Swift turbo triple — and give cars in the next class up a run for their money.
The more powerful Polo has the same torque as a Mazda3 and 15 per cent more than a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic.
Transmission options are a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, five-speed manual (70TSI) or a six-speed manual (85TSI).
Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km, which means most drivers will only need to take the car for routine maintenance once a year.
The service costs have come down slightly versus the previous Polo but they are still a touch on the high side ($1213 over three years for the auto, $1253 manual), although by no means the dearest among its peers.
Warranty is capped at three years, unlimited kilometres; longer coverage would be a welcome development and help remove any niggling doubts about long term reliability. For the warranty period, there is free 24-hour roadside assistance.
ON THE ROAD
Cars in the tiny tot class can feel and sound tinny, though they are the hardest cars to manufacture because makers want to save a dollar at every turn.
However the new Polo feels grown up, not only in terms of size but also in the way it drives.
The cabin presentation also takes the Polo up a notch. It’s surprisingly quiet for a small car. The tiny engine isn’t raucous and there’s not much tyre noise inside the cabin.
You can feel the subtle rumble of the threecylinder engine when you floor the accelerator but the engine itself has more urge than you might expect — and enough oomph to keep pace in the daily grind.
The more powerful engine feels a little more spritely but if the budget doesn’t stretch that far the 70TSI variant will do just fine.
Previous VW twin-clutch autos have been prone to delayed reactions and some shudder on take-off and this has been largely addressed with “wet clutch” technology.
The Polo has a more rudimentary “dry clutch” automatic gearbox but most of the gremlins appear to have been ironed out. It shifts smoothly and the delays when moving from rest are closer to conventional autos than they’ve been in the past.
On a couple of tight U-turns on a smooth road, we could feel some vibration through the steering wheel; we’re unsure whether this was a tyre rubbing on the underbody or a trait of the axle design, given the relatively tight turning circle.
Auto headlights would be a welcome addition on the base model, especially given the