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Volkswagen Polo review (2009 onwards)
What – Volkswagen Polo
Where – Sardinia
Date – May 2009
Price – From £9,000 (TBC)
Available – October 2009
Key rivals – Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i10, Renault Clio, SEAT Ibiza, Skoda Fabia, Vauxhall Corsa
The new Volkswagen Polo, platform partner with the latest SEAT Ibiza, is a triumphant return for the brand's famous supermini. A new turbocharged 1.2 blows us away as we get familiar with 'Mini-Golf'...
We like – brilliant new 1.2 TSI engine, engaging driving experience, high quality interior, green, rides well, it’s a miniature Golf We don’t like – not knowing how much it is going to cost, old non-turbo petrol engines, gutless entry-level diesel
Volkswagen has pulled a fast one here. What were you expecting from a new generation of Polo? High quality, yes - but not exactly cutting edge. Or exciting. To put it bluntly, a car that's worthy but dull. And initial impressions at the world reveal in Geneva this March did little to redress such ponderings.But see VW's all-new supermini out on the road, away from the harsh and artificial motor show lights, escaped from the constraints of the flattening photograph, and it is immediately apparent the design is much more successful than that. Imagine a reduced-size mk6 Golf, but one with a large dollop of added aggression.
Think Mini-Golf, as in Dr Evil's Mini-Me from the Austin Powers movies. It's remarkably dramatic, if also rather clever, since the level of attitude is decidedly colour dependent. So traditional Polo buyers - that would be older folks - can opt for conservative silver, and not scare themselves whenever they look at it on the drive. The younger audience VW is desperately courting should choose bright red. It's that vibrant Golf GTI colour, and combined with the new Polo's black detailing looks fantastic. Maybe not as sharp as the current Ford Fiesta, but the Polo is a different kind of product, more mature, and perhaps also less likely to date... And if you think that's nifty, just wait till you drive it.
Engines for the UK comprise 60hp and 70hp naturally aspirated 1.2 petrols, an 85hp 1.4 petrol and a pair of new 1.6-litre turbodiesels. Plus an also new 1.2 TSI turbo petrol, which we'll come back to (it's worth the wait). We drove the TSI, the 1.4 and the less powerful 75hp diesel.The new 1.6 diesels bless the Polo with common rail technology for the first time - boosting efficiency and refinement. Trouble is, almost as soon as you start the 75hp version you'll want more power. Hopefully the 90hp version is better. Certainly the Europe-only 105hp variant has plenty of go.
The 1.4 petrol surprises you straight away by sounding - shock - sporty. Don't worry it's not obtrusive, but driven hard this Polo doesn't complain, it basks. The note is never stressed, never breathless, and matched to a sweet, linear power delivery it goes 0-62mph in 12.1 seconds. Not quick, but certainly spirited.You don't want that, though. You want the 1.2 TSI. A brand new engine, the small capacity makes it frugal - in fact official economy figures suggest the light-footed will use no more fuel in this than the old non-turbo 1.2s - yet the turbocharger turns it into something just short of mighty.
105hp and 129lb ft of torque means 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds, and a top speed of 118mph. This means it accelerates faster than the old Polo 1.6 (not to mention a mk4 Golf that was cynically badged GTI), and is chunky with torque throughout the mid-range. It's a joy.There is basically no turbolag. The thing hustles up its six-cog gearbox (all other Polos get just five speeds, except the DSG automatic 1.4, which gets seven) with real enthusiasm, and sounds great doing it. Revvy, responsive - even zingy - we came away thoroughly converted. Who needs big capacity these days?
Ride and Handling
To deliver such a jaw-dropping new engine, then fail in the ride and handling department would be senseless. But Polos have never exactly been celebrated for their chassis prowess. Safe and sensible is to be expected here. But expectations be damned - the new Polo obviously didn't get that memo.It's not only lower, longer and wider than the car it replaces - it's lighter, too. Squat and purposeful appearance is accompanied by a deft, tenacious driving experience that continues the mini-Golf theme. This is no mere appliance, rather a mature and likeable driving companion. One with a cheeky glint in its eye.
The steering is a touch slow-witted, reacting a fraction later than we'd ideally like - again VW doesn't want to go scaring the old folks - and isn't exactly feel central. But even the basic 1.4 on small 15-inch alloy wheels will get up and have a go if you show it some twisty mountain tarmac.That point about the wheels seems geeky, but it makes a difference. The 1.2 TSI we tried was on 17s with lower profile, grippier tyres. Together with the featherweight engine and its extra power, the Polo morphs from a clearly good car into something almost extraordinary. Fuzziness snapped into focus.
The almost is important - Volkswagen makes no pretence that this is supposed to be a 'warm' hatch, or any other kind of performance model. Yet from out of absolutely nowhere comes this Polo that grips and grips, is fluent over bumps and has the same sort of limit-dynamics friendliness as the latest Golf GTI.Part of the trick here is that VW has made a car that's fun to drive determinedly yet isn't stupidly fast. It's a beautifully balanced package - and though obviously not as outright incredible as the properly warm Reanultsport Twingo, it is similar in sensation. You also get a much better interior...
Interior and Equipment
Mini-Golf marches on when it comes to the cabin. Quality is supreme. The Ford Fiesta may have got better, but it really isn't close to this. What's more, the Polo's interior design is so much more - yes - mature. There's no tacky silver plastic panelling here. Just VW-grade soft-touch darkness, and excellent ergonomics.Again, the Polo manages smart and sensible without being dull. The centre console tilted just so towards the driver is a great detail. The glovebox is huge, the cupholders deep, rear legroom generous for a supermini, and the optional new touchscreen satnav amongst the most intuitive we've used.
Economy and Safety
Safety levels are very good for this class. Four airbags, active front headrests and ESP are standard; VW is confidently predicting a five-star EuroNCAP score. Both the diesels return 67.3mpg while emitting 109g/km CO2 - with an even more eco-conscious 96g/km variant still to come. This is badged BlueMotion in Europe.But it won't be over here, as just a few months later an even more efficient BlueMotion will arrive, promising an outrageously low 87g/km and staggering 85.5mpg fuel economy. Whoa. But returning to the 1.2 TSI, even this emits just 129g/km, officially averages 51.4mpg. It's a bit of an all-round star.
The new Polo doesn't go on UK sale until October, with a three-door version (set for reveal at the Frankfurt motor show) following in December. So the problem we have judging this car is that Volkswagen hasn't priced it yet.We do know it will start around £9,000. And will almost certainly cost more than the opposition. But taken as a complete product, the Polo's quality is outstanding. It's more grown up than the Fiesta, but never boring. Great car.
Engines (petrol)1.2 60hp, 1.2 70hp, 1.4 85hp, 1.2 turbo 105hp
Engines (diesel)1.6 75hp, 1.6 90hp
Torque (lb ft)79-169
Top speed (mph)97-118
Co2 (g/km)/Tax (%)109-139/10-16
Rating (specific model)VW Polo 1.2 TSI
Ride and handling****
MSN Cars verdict****
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