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
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.
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.