Small favourite gets big­ger

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The Volk­swa­gen Polo has long forged a rep­u­ta­tion as the car that sets the bar for small cars and the sixth gen­er­a­tion, which will be man­u­fac­tured in SA and will go on sale in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2018, is no dif­fer­ent.

It has op­tions for full dig­i­tal instrument clus­ters, large, high­res­o­lu­tion in­fo­tain­ment screens, ground­break­ing con­nec­tiv­ity and the full raft of the MQB ar­chi­tec­ture’s safety sys­tems. All of that pales into in­signif­i­cance along­side the car’s sheer com­po­sure, so­phis­ti­ca­tion and ma­tu­rity of the pow­er­train, the ride and the han­dling.

The sixth-gen­er­a­tion Polo is even bet­ter, stronger, big­ger and safer, with more driver as­sis­tance sys­tems and more dig­i­tal frip­pery. It has mor­phed into a lit­tle big car with as­ton­ish­ing lev­els of ride, noise and pow­er­train so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

It has grown again, adding 81mm in length to sit at 4,053mm as it moves across to VW’s ubiq­ui­tous MQB ar­chi­tec­ture, which hosts ev­ery­thing from the Golf to the Tiguan and the China/US/Rus­sia At­las SUV.

Though this is its small­est ap­pli­ca­tion, the Polo uses all of the stuff of­fered by the MQB’s me­chan­i­cal and elec­tronic sys­tems and even de­buts (as an ex­pen­sive op­tion) the next gen­er­a­tion of VW’s dig­i­tal instrument clus­ter. It of­fers self-park­ing for both par­al­lel and 90° parks, city brak­ing, ac­tive cruise con­trol, lane-keep­ing sys­tems and pedes­trian warn­ings.

It does all of this in a car that has 92mm of metal added to the wheel­base (now at 2,548mm) and most of that has been given over to the rear seat’s oc­cu­pants. Lug­gage ca­pac­ity has also grown 71l, from 280 to 351. At 1,751mm, it’s 69mm wider, though the roof height has been low­ered 7mm to 1,446mm.

So it’s big­ger, but also more prac­ti­cal and it’s still eco­nom­i­cal and, at 1,105kg for the light­est ver­sion, it’s roughly line ball with its pre­de­ces­sor for weight.

VW in­sists the body de­sign is a sight to be­hold and it prob­a­bly is if you like your A0-sized hatch­backs look­ing dis­tinctly like a quite fa­mous other VW hatch that’s slightly big­ger but a bit fresher. The pro­por­tions move away from the slightly long-nose stance of the Gen V ver­sion and to­wards more bal­ance, im­por­tant for the in­te­rior space.

The cargo area is a big step up. It fits a pair of carry-on roller bags length­ways or even a mighty big suit­case laid flat with space left over. It’s 705mm long and that can rise to 1,380mm with the 60:40 split-fold seats down, which they do with a much flat­ter lay­out than be­fore.

The downside is that the Polo loses its false-floor that gave it a boost in prac­ti­cal­ity and al­lowed driv­ers to hide things they’d rather peo­ple didn’t see. The floor still lifts up, but there’s a spare 15-inch tyre in there now.

The rear seats are the pri­mary ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the big­ger wheel­base, with more head­room de­spite the lower roofline and demon­stra­bly more legroom than its pre­de­ces­sor. The front seats are the place to be, though. Ev­ery­thing is slightly tilted to­wards the driver, in­clud­ing the air-con­di­tion­ing con­trols, which have been dropped down low in the cen­tre con­sole area.

The base cabin spec de­liv­ers a tra­di­tional pair of ana­logue di­als, split by a small dig­i­tal screen, but that can be re­placed (at a sig­nif­i­cant cost) for an 11.7inch dig­i­tal instrument clus­ter. It’s clear and clean, with the abil­ity to switch be­tween views and which can be tai­lored.

On the same level as the dash, is an in­fo­tain­ment screen that can be ei­ther 6.5 or eight inches with three lev­els of so­phis­ti­ca­tion, in­clud­ing a glass screen over the big­ger units. They’re ges­ture con­trol, with sup­ple­men­tary touch­screen op­tions pop­ping up as your fin­gers get closer.

VW also makes much of the con­nec­tiv­ity of the Polo, which makes it even more odd that the stan­dard car doesn’t come with a USB socket. Pay enough, and VW will de­liver in­duc­tive charg­ing for your cell­phone.

There are dis­ap­point­ments, though. The plas­tic trim down low in the cabin feels a fair bit below pre­mium and they’ve done away with over­head grab han­dles. CEO Herbert Deiss in­sists the de­ci­sion was taken be­fore he ar­rived in mid-2015, but it means the only grab han­dles are part of the arm­rests.

There are also some de­sign bits and pieces, which VW has al­most hid­den clev­erly, but not quite. Where the two pieces of colour for the dash­board meet, the bottom is sep­a­rated by the steer­ing col­umn, but the top part has an an­gled seam that’s usu­ally hid­den from the driver by the steer­ing wheel. But it’s

not hid­den from the pas­sen­ger.

The Polo runs a raft of con­ven­tional pow­er­trains and there are no im­me­di­ate plans to elec­trify it. In­stead, it will even­tu­ally re­ceive some mild hy­bridi­s­a­tion to lower the petrol en­gines’ CO2 emis­sions, but for now they’ll be pow­ered by petrol or diesel.

Lo­cal mod­els have yet to be con­firmed, but in­ter­na­tion­ally the range will start with a pair of non­turbo, three-cylin­der en­gines. The en­try-level 1.0l has just 48kW of power and 95Nm of torque, which ex­plains away the 15.5-sec­ond “sprint” to 100km/h, but doesn’t sug­gest why that might be slower than its pre­de­ces­sor.

The stronger of the two atmo three-pots has 55kW and the same 95Nm of torque (its power peak is higher than the 48kW car) and oozes through to 100km/h in 14.9 sec­onds. Not spritely. The more favourable op­tion is the 70kW/ 175Nm tur­bocharged ver­sion of the same 999cc en­gine, which pulls the 0-100km/h time down to 10.8 sec­onds and rips a full 6.5 sec­onds off the fourth-gear burst from 80-120km/h.

The good, strong, smooth en­gine fits right in to the new Polo’s mind-bog­gling lev­els of so­phis­ti­ca­tion and ma­tu­rity, with­out los­ing the vo­cal char­ac­ter of the war­bling three-cylin­der lay­out. It’s un­mis­tak­able for its ma­tu­rity, fir­ing up evenly and cleanly and VW has done a re­mark­able job of iso­lat­ing its in­her­ent vi­bra­tions from the cabin and the driver’s seat.

It’s a lot stronger than the pa­per­work sug­gests, too, with our ur­ban-heavy drive pro­gramme show­ing the Polo could com­fort­ably pace city traf­fic, pull strongly away from lights, punch into small traf­fic gaps and do it all with ease.

While the poverty pack Po­los use five-speed man­ual gear­boxes, the turbo 70kW ver­sion comes with ei­ther the stick shifter or a seven-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion. With more gears to spread the work­load, the DSG car posts the same ac­cel­er­a­tion fig­ures and its claimed fuel con­sump­tion rises from 4.4l/100km to 4.6, al­most cer­tainly down to its belt­line bur­geon­ing from 1,145kg to 1,180kg.

In­ter­est­ingly, it reaches up to 187km/h, the same top speed as the orig­i­nal Golf GTi. We didn’t have enough un­lim­ited au­to­bahn to hit those heights, but we climbed eas­ily be­yond 160 and the car was rock solid, sta­ble and com­fort­able.

There are other en­gines com­ing and we also man­aged some seat time in the 85kW ver­sion of this same tur­bocharged three-cylin­der mo­tor, plus the 70kW tur­bod­iesel that punches might­ily but is an en­gine tech­nol­ogy on its last legs. It’s still smooth and far stronger for in­gear ac­cel­er­a­tion than the petrol cars, but it’s also more ex­pen­sive and it’s a fuel that, for city­fo­cused cars, is in­creas­ingly be­ing frowned upon.

Above that there is the new 1.5l tur­bocharged four-cylin­der en­gine, with cylin­der-onde­mand and a raft of other high­tech (and ex­pen­sive) stuff for 110kW, then there’s the 2.0l Polo GTi with 147kW.

It’s the chas­sis that has taken a big step for­ward. VW claims its tor­sional rigid­ity has im­proved plus it runs a four-link rear sus­pen­sion and has ad­justable dampers as an op­tion. It helps the ride qual­ity that gi­ant wheels and tyres aren’t any­where near the Polo. It doesn’t mat­ter that you know this is com­ing from the same MQB that is so im­pres­sive be­neath the Golf and the Ar­teon and Tiguan and Pas­sat. It’s so good as a ride pack­age on rough city streets that you can only sit back in as­ton­ish­ment.

Cabin noise lev­els are sur­pris­ingly low for a C-seg­ment car, much less an A0 car.

The steer­ing is a bit life­less, but neatly ac­cu­rate and fast enough for rapid, city work and com­fort­able on high­ways, and the brakes are strong and the driv­ing po­si­tion is near per­fect.

But what­ever else you take away from the Polo will fall away into rel­a­tive in­signif­i­cance when you no­tice the things that should be hap­pen­ing be­neath you on typ­i­cal roads, but aren’t.

It wouldn’t mat­ter what lev­els of con­nec­tiv­ity Volk­swa­gen put into the car, if this was all it did well. Be­cause it does it like no other small car out there.

The 2018 Volk­swa­gen Polo looks more grown up, more Golf-ish.

The new Polo gets ac­cess to all the MQB safety sys­tems in­clud­ing pedes­trian de­tec­tion.

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