Advice on buying the best of the fourth-generation model.
The supermini market was big news at the start of 2002, as two of the biggest names in the sector were replaced with significant new models. They were the Ford Fiesta and the Volkswagen Polo, the former Britain’s bestselling small car and the latter the most prestigious in its class.
Naturally, comparisons were drawn between the two, with Volkswagen playing the durability card to promote its new model. Sold as ‘The Tough New Polo’, a series of TV ads were created showing the German model surviving in situations that other cars may have struggled with. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that the Volkswagen tends to suffer from more mechanical breakdowns than its Ford rival, despite its perceived reliability. Even today there are motoring publications that talk about the Polo’s ‘bulletproof ’ reliability, which makes us wonder if they were using rubber bullets – but more of that later.
First, a potted history. The Polo was revealed to the world at the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show, its debut overshadowed by the events that unfolded in New York on September 11, which also happened to be press day at the show. It went on sale in the UK in March 2002, with a choice of three-cylinder 1.2 or fourcylinder 1.4 petrol engines, or 1.4 and 1.9-litre diesels; the 1.4 diesel was a three-cylinder model and the other a much older 1.9-litre PD unit, both turbocharged and naturally-aspirated.
The entry-level model was called the Polo E and came with central locking, a radio-cassette and not much else, although there was a choice of 55bhp or 65bhp outputs from the 1.2-litre engine. The E was also available with the 1.9-litre SDI naturallyaspirated diesel, developing 64bhp. Next up was the S model, with electric front windows, remote locking, a single-slot CD player and aircon; available with the 1.2 engine in both power outputs, as well as the 75bhp 1.4 petrol and the willing 75bhp 1.4 TDI. The same engine line-up was offered in the SE, which gained plusher trim and alloys, while the range-topping Polo was the 100bhp Sport, which came with the 1.9-litre TDI engine only.
In 2003, hot on the heels of the Rover Streetwise, Volkswagen revealed the Polo Dune. It was based on the SE, but with plastic cladding around the body and a raised ride height to help shrug off potholes. In 2005, the range was given a facelift, with new single-piece front headlights replacing the twin originals, and a brighter, more youthful cabin. The Dune was renamed the Crosspolo, while the Polo GTI also made a return, using the 148bhp 1.8-litre 20v petrol turbo engine from the Golf GTI.
2006 saw the launch of the new Polo Bluemotion, which was designed with various aerodynamic enhancements to go with its three-cylinder diesel engine, promising 72mpg on the combined cycle. That’s pretty much on a par with most small modern diesels, but back in 2006 it was big news.
The MKIV was replaced in 2009 by the bigger and wider MKV, though it wasn’t withdrawn from sale completely. Instead, it was relaunched in South Africa in 2010 as the Vivo, which replaced the Golf Mki-based Citigolf.