Car reviews - Volkswagen - Polo - 16V 5-dr hatch
Interior space, on-road competence, build quality
Room for improvement
Choppy low-speed ride, average performance of 1.6-litre version
19 Apr 2001
VOLKSWAGEN'S revised Polo has been bumped upmarket in more ways than one.
The newcomer gains greatly enhanced equipment levels along with styling that draws several cues from its bigger Golf brother.
Accompanying the upgrades is a discernible price hike that pitches the car against the Holden Astra CD and Toyota Corolla Conquest - both of which are less well equipped but appreciably more spacious.
VW is aware the Polo is the smallest contender in its new price segment but says its "big car safety and equipment levels" will ensure its popularity.
The new styling treatment is an undoubted success.
While the outgoing model was beginning to look a bit bland and dated, the newcomer has a fresh, appealing visual presence.
Its revised nose and tail clearly distinguish it from its predecessor and endow it with a strong family resemblance to the Golf.
The new Polo's face is characterised by a prominent VW badge, large clear-lens headlights and a reshaped bumper.
Changes to the rear include a new LED tail-light cluster and revised tailgate - with the number plate now located in a recess in the bumper.
New 15-inch alloy wheels and fog lights - both now standard - further differentiate it from the outgoing model.
The revised Polo also gains a fully galvanised body, air-conditioning, floor mats, heated washer jets and one-touch security locking as standard features.
Dual airbags, central locking, power front windows and mirrors, power steering and a four-speaker radio/cassette were already standard in the superseded model.
At the Polo's heart lies a new 1.4-litre 16-valve engine that generates 55kW at 5000rpm and 126Nm at 3800rpm. These figures are on par with the old 1.6-litre unit's outputs of 55kW at 5200rpm and 128Nm at 2800rpm.
On the road, the new engine delivers adequate performance to make the Polo a zippy performer in traffic.
The relatively low revs at which peak power and torque are generated means it is easy to make the most of the engine's capabilities.
Mated to the powerplant is a smooth-shifting, four-speed automatic transmission.
The auto offers a good spread of ratios and is a responsive unit that enables smart getaways from traffic lights.
Outright performance is quite respectable: VW claims it can accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 14.5 seconds (12.3 seconds for the manual). Top speed is around 170km/h.
Fuel economy is excellent. VW quotes city and highway consumption figures of 8.0L/100km and 5.6L/100km respectively for the automatic Polo.
The engine remains aurally unobtrusive throughout the rev range and wind and tyre noise are also well suppressed, which contribute to the car'?s impressive efinement levels.
Complementing the drivetrain is a well-sorted chassis comprising independent MacPherson struts at the front and torsion beam axle at the rear.
The front axle now has a 20mm wider track to enhance stability, while new strut mountings reduce noise, vibration and harshness.
Hustling the Polo through corners is a not altogether unpleasant exercise as the car?s compact dimensions and tidy handling mean it responds with alacrity.
The standard fitment of 15x6-inch rims shod with 195/45R15 tyres means it hangs on to the tarmac with a lot more tenacity than its predecessor - which rode on 13x5.5-inch wheels wrapped in P175/65 R13 rubber.
Ride quality is compliant even with the low-profile tyres and the majority of road surface undulations are comfortably dealt with.
Stopping power - provided by four-wheel disc brakes - is beyond reproach.
The improvements extend to a revamped interior which features a funky new dash, which houses VW's trademark blue-lit instrumentation.
Facing the driver is an attractive, nice-to-hold three-spoke steering wheel with a promiment VW logo in the centre.
Behind the wheel are two large dials comprising the speedometer and tacho along with fuel and temperature gauges. The centre console is similarly simple and uncluttered in its layout.
The only ergonomic criticism is the low placement of the ventilation controls, which require the driver to bend forward and across. This is rather distracting when on the move.
Nevertheless, the overall layout is exemplary and the plastics used throughout the interior are of a high quality.
Somewhat surprisingly, the plastic trim surrounding the transmission gate worked itself loose in our test car.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive and it is easy to find a comfortable position behind the wheel.
However, rear-seat legroom is tight at best and downright cramped at worst, which means it is fine for children but adults will feel a bit constricted on anything longer than brief trips.
Those who regularly transport more than one passenger would be well advised to opt for a Holden Astra or Toyota Corolla - both of which have decent rear-seat legroom.
Luggage space is also a bit disappointing and even fitting a golf bag and buggy requires the rear seat to be folded down.
Visibility is excellent in all directions, which means the Polo is a breeze to drive in traffic and similarly easy to park.
The only options offered, apart from the four-speed auto, are metallic paint and leather upholstery.
Overall, the Polo is a well-engineered package, best suited to singles or couples without offspring.
The car offers VW?s traditional levels of build quality and safety, along with comprehensive equipment levels and excellent fuel economy.
Polo's new-found style also gives it more youth appeal.
It represents a sound proposition as a city commuter - just as long as you don't use the rear seat too often.
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