Car reviews - Volkswagen - Polo
Sharp styling, heaps of practical and usable space, turbocharged powertrains, manual gearbox available across the range for now, high-levels of standard equipment, suspension is great at soaking up bumps
Room for improvement
Steering is a little too light during enthusiastic driving, cheapie doorcards, no grab handles
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13 Mar 2018
By TUNG NGUYEN
IT CAN be hard to stand out from the crowd sometimes, especially in the light-car segment where it seems like every volume manufacturer has an offering to appeal to varying tastes and budgets.
The Mazda2 drips with style, the Ford Fiesta has a sporty character, the Hyundai Accent is cheap as chips and the Suzuki Swift just oozes personality.
However, Volkswagen is setting itself apart from the pack by positioning its new sixth-generation Polo as a premium offering with enough equipment, practicality and polish to compete against not only its light-car rivals, but offerings in the segment above.
Can the new Polo really stand head and shoulders above such a crowded and competitive field?
Let’s not mince words here, Volkswagen’s new Polo is, on debut, the most well-rounded and arguably the best light car on the Australian market right now.
Kicking off at $17,990 before on-roads might seem a bit steep compared with the circa-$15,000 of its competitors, but the Volkswagen Polo’s pricetag also includes a leather steering wheel with audio controls, 8.0-inch infotainment screen with smartphone connectivity and a turbocharged engine.
The engine in the entry-level 70TSI Trendline offers 70kW of power and 175Nm of torque, fed through either a five-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that lifts the price to $20,490.
While performance is nothing to write home about – zero to 100km/h is knocked down in 10.8 seconds in either transmission – it is suitably peppy around town and lower speeds where the Polo will spend the majority of its life.
Peak torque is on tap from 2000rpm making zippy lane changes easy and enjoyable.
Fuel economy is good too, with Volkswagen claiming 4.8 litres per 100km in the manual and 5.0L/100km in the automatic, with our limited time in the automatic test car yielding a 6.1L/100km figure for some around town driving and spirted back-road blasts.
Steering on the Polo is light, making it a breeze around town, but can be a little lacking in feedback when pelting down a series of quick bends.
The chassis, while eager enough, also lacks a little communication and feel, but that’s what the forthcoming GTI hot hatch is for.
Suspension is also tuned adequately to soak up bumps and road imperfections with aplomb, happily dealing with potholes, coarse road surfaces and big dips without a hitch.
Stepping up to the $19,490 85TSI Comfortline means power is up to, you guessed it, 85kW, while torque increases to 200Nm – a figure which eclipses all others (barring performance models) in the light-car class and even some small cars.
The 0-100km/h sprint time is cut to 9.5s, while fuel economy barely takes a hit at 5.1L and 5.0L/100km for the manual and automatic respectively.
The upgrade in performance is noticeable though, and while there were no manual 85TSI Comfortlines at the launch event, we think that would be the specification of our choice.
For those who would rather a two-pedal operation though, the automatic is smooth and smart shifting, even at low speeds that can often trip up dual-clutch boxes of yore.
Of note however, no paddle shifters are available on the Polo and, while the gear lever can be put into a manual mode, the gear-orientation is backwards and requires a push up to upshift. Shame.
The interior is a nice place to be, with the Polo offering supportive seats with plenty of adjustability and soft-touch dash materials that elevate the in-cabin ambience.
However, we noticed the same materials were not applied to the doorcards, which feature hard, scratchy plastics, and the lack of any grab handles caught us by surprise on a particular twisty road.
The 85TSI Comfortline adds some nice touches including 15-inch alloy wheels, a front centre armrest and additional storage cubby in the roof, but it is great to see the Polo with high-levels of the aforementioned standard equipment across the entire range.
Volkswagen should be applauded for making safety features such as autonomous emergency braking, cruise control, reversing camera and drive fatigue monitor standard on every single new-generation Polo instead of locking the equipment away on options packs or higher grades.
Building the new Polo on the MQB platform means increased dimensions all round for better interior space and boosted load lugging capabilities.
The numbers speak for themselves, the boot will now swallow 351 litres of volume – a significant increase of 71L over the outgoing model – and inside, front and rear passengers also benefit from more shoulder and headroom.
Is it noticeable though? Absolutely.
The Polo might be classed as a light car, but – not unlike the Tardis – its diminutive dimensions hide a capacious, nearly cavernous, interior space.
We fit more than comfortably in the rear pews, even with the driver’s seat set to our six-foot-tall preferences, while the boot outclasses some vehicles in the small-car segment above.
The Polo will happily swallow an overnight bag and a backpack with plenty of room to spare, and if even more space is needed, the rear seats will fold down to offer 1125L of volume.
It all results in a thoroughly impressive package that weds small-car practicality with light-car dimensions – and price too.
While, yes, the Mazda2, Toyota Yaris or Honda Jazz are cheaper – as well as some entry-level small cars for that matter – the Polo actually offers enough gear, performance and practicality to take on any vehicle around the $20,000 price point.
We reckon the Volkswagen Polo has just reset the light-car benchmark.
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