We test the new VW Polo!

What you're look­ing at here is one of 2018's most important new cars. In an SA ex­clu­sive, we test what's likely to be the best­seller in the Polo range

Car (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE -

SAY­ING South Africans love the Polo is akin to point­ing out some­thing as ob­vi­ous as the sky is blue or Ja­cob Zuma is a di­vi­sive char­ac­ter. Po­los sell by their thou­sands and have been do­ing so in Mzansi for three gen­er­a­tions. Ever since the Playa – it­self a re­badged Seat Ibiza Mk2 in­stead of the Euro­pean third gen­er­a­tion of Wolfs­burg’s light hatch­back – was launched in 1998, the Polo has be­come an in­te­gral part of the South African mo­tor­ing fab­ric.

We’ve been un­equiv­o­cal in our praise, too. The Polo has won the prize for top light hatch­back in our an­nual Top 12 Best Buys a num­ber of times, the out­go­ing gen­er­a­tion most re­cently in 2017 de­spite hav­ing been in the mar­ket since 2010.

There’s a lot riding on pub­lic ac­cep­tance of this new one, then. Volk­swa­gen SA, how­ever, is bullish in its fore­cast, and as such has spent R3 bil­lion up­grad­ing the plant in Uiten­hage to build the new Polo for lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional con­sump­tion on a sin­gle line along­side the new Polo Vivo (which we’ll fea­ture next month in another ex­clu­sive). It’s bought 330 new ro­bots, bring­ing the to­tal to 580 in the body shop, and that makes the East­ern Cape plant one of the most com­plex and ad­vanced glob­ally.

Up­grad­ing the plant was cru­cial, of course, be­cause the new Polo is ex­actly that: new. It sits on the VW Group’s scal­able MQB plat­form that is shared with a wide-rang­ing line-up of ve­hi­cles, all of which have their front axle, pedal box and en­gine in the same po­si­tion. That, in turn, low­ers engi­neer­ing costs and com­plex­ity.

On the Polo, MQB stretches 2 548 mm be­tween the axles, which prom­ises a spa­cious cabin, while tracks nearly 1,5 me­tres wide sug­gest sure­footed road­hold­ing. At 4 053 mm long and 1 751 mm wide, the Polo has grown by 81 and 63 mm re­spec­tively. Yet, it’s 7 mm lower.

Lo­cally, the new Polo range will con­sist of five 1,0 TSI mod­els along fa­mil­iar Trend-, Com­for­t­and Highline spec lev­els, of­fer­ing two power out­puts (High­lines get an 85 kw/200 N.m ver­sion of this en­gine, cou­pled with a six-speed man­ual). The mid- and high-spec ver­sions can also be op­tioned with a seven-speed DSG ’box. Prices run from R236 500 to R303 500 (al­though VW says these could change slightly), plac­ing the Polo at the up­per end of the seg­ment.

Top­ping the range is a 147 kw/ 320 N.m GTI, which will cost R390 000 and be avail­able right from the full range’s in­tro­duc­tion.

To those di­men­sions men­tioned: they af­ford the car a four-square look, em­pha­sised by recog­nis­able VW traits of a wide, shal­low grille and head­lamps, and dis­tinct hor­i­zon­tal lines. Char­ac­ter creases along the flanks lend vis­ual depth and, ac­cord­ing to the VW en­gi­neers we spoke to in Uiten­hage on a plant visit, are far more in­tri­cate to pro­duce than be­fore.

Over­all, the de­sign re­fines the clean, con­tem­po­rary look of the fifth gen­er­a­tion, but there were some mis­giv­ings in the team about the droopy front-end that lacks a dis­tinct iden­tity, plus we no­ticed very few mo­torists seemed to re­alise they were see­ing the new Polo (the black paint of this test car cer­tainly did it no favours). Per­haps its re­sem­blance to the Golf is a touch too strong, but is that a bad thing when a cheaper ve­hi­cle mim­ics the ap­pear­ance of a more ex­pen­sive sib­ling?

That Golf simil­i­tude con­tin­ues inside, where the Polo sets the stan­dard for the class. From its in­fo­tain­ment tech­nol­ogy – Com­fort­line mod­els gain a 6,5-inch Com­po­si­tion Colour touch­screen sys­tem with Blue­tooth, USB and six speak­ers – to the op­tion of the new­est it­er­a­tion of VW’S Ac­tive Info Dis­play dig­i­tal in­stru­men­ta­tion and App-con­nect, this is an in­te­rior that speaks to con­sumers’ de­sire to down­grade their wheels with­out sac­ri­fic­ing those mod­ern con­ve­niences with which they’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed. The in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is best in class in terms of dis­play qual­ity and user­friend­li­ness, and we were glad to note that VW has re­tained hard but­tons for of­ten-used func­tions.

Seat­ing com­fort, too, is tops – the sports seats as part of the Beats pack­age (more of which in a mo­ment) fit­ted to this ve­hi­cle are wide, go far up the back and have long squabs – and the steer­ing

col­umn ad­justs across a wide range for reach and rake.

But the real rev­e­la­tion is aft. The rear doors open wide, the aper­tures are gen­er­ous, and once seated, oc­cu­pants will find 665 mm of knee­room, mak­ing the VW one of the more spa­cious in its class. We mea­sured 224 litres of lug­gage space, which is about class-av­er­age, but slightly up on be­fore.

As men­tioned, this test ve­hi­cle is equipped with the Beats op­tion for Com­fort­line mod­els, which costs R12 650 and in­cludes those seats, a 300 W au­dio sys­tem, front foglamps with a cor­ner­ing func­tion, 16-inch Torsby al­loys, tinted glass and Beats stick­ers and lo­gos plas­tered across the ve­hi­cle.

Mounted trans­versely in the stubby nose is the lower-pow­ered ver­sion of the 1,0 TSI three-cylin­der tur­bopetrol en­gine. De­vel­op­ing 70 kw and 175 N.m (4 kw/15 N.m up on the equiv­a­lent out­go­ing 1,2 TSI), the triple is a refined pow­er­train with few vices (it vi­brates slightly at low revs and lacks the ul­ti­mate smooth­ness of the Fi­esta’s class-lead­ing 1,0-litre Eco­boost).

It is marginally slower to 100 km/h than the 1,2 TSI, but matches

it on in-gear ac­cel­er­a­tion de­spite overly long ra­tios in the sweet-shift­ing ve-speed trans­mis­sion. The one-litre also sipped a com­mend­able 5,8 L/100 km on our mixed-use, 100 km fuel route.

The en­gine’s re­laxed ap­proach is a per­fect match for the com­fort-ori­ented sus­pen­sion tun­ing and light but direct, elec­tri­cally as­sisted power steer­ing sys­tem. The ride is one of the stand­out el­e­ments of the new Polo. Driven back to back with a fth-gen­er­a­tion model, its suc­ces­sor is no­tice­ably more tied down over bumpy tar­mac, with a neu­tral han­dling bal­ance that even­tu­ally fades into gen­tle un­der­steer, with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the out­stand­ing bump ab­sorp­tion that’s be­come a Polo hall­mark. Oc­ca­sion­ally, the tor­sion beam at the rear can feel a touch too re­ac­tive to sur­face changes, but we’re nit­pick­ing. We’ll wait to drive the ex­pertly fet­tled Fi­esta on lo­cal soil in a few months be­fore we give a nal verdict, but the VW sets the cur­rent ride-qual­ity stan­dard.

In terms of safety, the Polo gains a pair of airbags to take the to­tal to six, and fa­tigue de­tec­tion now forms part of the pack­age. Blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing, mean­while, is an op­tion. In our ex­act­ing 10-stop brak­ing test, the Polo recorded 2,99 sec­onds, earn­ing it an “ex­cel­lent” rat­ing.

TEST SUMMARY

CAR’S writ­ers are of­ten ac­cused of VW bias, most re­cently in a let­ter in this is­sue’s Mail section, but when the brand’s cars are as nely at­tuned to buy­ers’ needs as the new Polo is, we can but praise the man­u­fac­turer’s ef­forts.

Tak­ing what made the pre­vi­ous ver­sion so good – com­fort, stel­lar t and nish, fru­gal run­ning and refined per­for­mance – while im­prov­ing its tech of­fer­ing, mak­ing it even more refined and en­hanc­ing the spec, Volk­swa­gen has turned the Polo into an ex­cel­lent prod­uct. De­spite pric­ing that’s at the spikier end of the spec­trum – es­pe­cially on Highline mod­els – we fore­see no rea­son why mo­torists won’t again buy Po­los in their thou­sands.

clock­wise from be­low LED foglamps are now in­cor­po­rated into the front apron; Beats lo­gos abound, in­clud­ing this one on the B-pil­lars; five-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion shifts cleanly, but a six-speeder with closer-stacked ra­tios would make bet­ter use of the 1,0 TSI’S nar­row spread of peak torque.

All the car most peo­ple will ever need. I’d stump for the DSG, though Ter­ence Steenkamp

Baby Golf, any­one? New Polo gains yet more ma­tu­rity and space Ryan Bubear

Takes the Polo’s con­ser­va­tive-but­classy sta­tus to a new level Gareth Dean

clock­wise from top These sculpted seats, plus the two-tone up­hol­stery, form part of the op­tional Beats pack­age; rear legroom is much im­proved over that of the pre­vi­ous model, while head­room is gen­er­ous enough for a six-footer to sit com­fort­ably; boot mea­sure­ment is class-av­er­age, im­peded fur­ther by the Beats model's large sub­woofer forc­ing a higher place­ment for the oor board.

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