Car reviews - Volkswagen - Polo - 77TSI Comfortline 5-dr hatch
Class-leading refinement, economy and performance of 1.2-litre turbo engine, sweet manual gearbox, comfort, quality, dash presentation, low emissions, practicality, grown-up look and feel
Room for improvement
Pricey, premium unleaded preference, some cheap rear-of-cabin materials, slightly dowdy interior, conservative styling, firm ride on rougher surfaces
2 Sep 2010
“ESPANA” may have won the 2010 FIFA soccer World Cup, but when it comes to Polo, South Africa beats the Spaniards hands down.
Let us explain.
Volkswagen’s fifth-generation Polo, current World Car of the Year and darling of the advertising agency brigade, comes in two quite distinct models – the three-door Trendline from Spain, and the South African-built five-door Comfortline.
Frankly we’d forget about the Trendline – for the money it has too few doors, too little engine, and too much price. Buy a Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, or Honda Jazz GLi instead.
Of course, you could always save up for the extra $3290 and buy what is now the best all round light-car available... the Polo 77TSI Comfortline, tested here in base six-speed manual guise.
South Africa 1, Spain 0.
“Aha!” you might exclaim: Doesn’t that car come with just 1.2 litres, and cost $19,850 plus on-roads, against the Trendline’s 1.4 litres and $16,690?
Indeed, but that $3K is the difference between a dull and austere light car and a veritable little limo. After a week behind the wheel ‘bargain’ even springs to mind. And that terrific 1200cc literally blows the 1400cc out of the water, thanks in no small part to a turbo.
VW has managed this by: making the Polo’s appearance ‘Golf-lite’ engineering the body to feel beefy swathing the cabin in a conservative sheen of smooth surfaces and applying heaps of sound-deadening material to shut out sounds.
The badge may bring supermini punters into Polo dealerships, but it is the interior that will help persuade sign on the dotted line.
Hefty doors open wide, revealing firm but cosseting front seats that feel immediately familiar.
Blocky and surprisingly bereft of busy detail, the dash is reminiscent of the previous-gen Golf’s, and so is very grown up as a result. What other baby fascia includes a rubberised top skin, smooth matt finishes, chromed ringed dials, and white-on-black LED display?
As comprehensive as it is classy, the latter consists of an electronic fuel gauge, trip computer, digital speedo, gearshift indicator, outside temperature and odometer readouts, among other data.
Did you know that people will often open and shut the glovebox on test-drives to ascertain quality? Here the Polo’s sizeable item will win them over with its usability, weighty lid, large aperture, clever hidden service book compartment, and pen/lipstick tray. We could write a review on that alone!
Polos also come with a pair of under-seat drawers, a very Audi-esque felt-lined centre armrest-cum-cubby compartment, and a quartet of door pockets, with front ones big enough for a bottle of Shiraz.
More gifts from the Golf include the stereo header that’s splendidly illuminated in blue and red, with the latter also lighting up the remote audio controls on the steering wheel spokes and simple yet effective heater/vent/air-con controls.
Comfort comes quick and easy here due to the wide range of front-seat adjustment, augmented by a dashing little steering wheel that telescopes as well as tilts (unlike the latest Fiesta’s), while cruise control, ‘theatre’ interior light dimming, a rear set of reading lights, damped grab handles, illuminated vanity mirrors, lane-change indicators and four one-touch power windows further push the Polo’s posh disposition.
The rear can fit two comfortably and three at a squeeze. Legroom isn’t generous, but then which supermini’s is? There are head restraints for all, a pair of map pockets, and a crafty little cupholder. That extra window in the C-pillar adds a feeling of airiness as well.
Again, unlike a Fiesta, the rear cushion can tip forward for a flat load area (increasing volume from 261 litres to a sufficient 952L), while the deep boot has a false floor to meet up with the seat backs, as well as provide some extra hidden storage. A (steel) full-sized spare lives underneath.
Even the luggage area has quality details others could learn from, like the VW roundel that doubles up as the hatch latch, a 12-volt outlet, and child anchor mounts directly behind the rear seats to keep tether straps from fouling luggage space.
Only the exposed seat cushion innards when tipped forward (it looks like exposed flesh), the lack of standard Bluetooth connectivity (Fiesta’s got it), and some rough craftsmanship around the rear-seat carpet area grate.
Chillingly for the competition, the Polo’s packaging is impressively complete.
And that premium feel flows right into the oily bits up front as well.
Under the pert bonnet of the 77TSI is a pearler of a powerplant that punches well above its 1197cc capacity rating.
The 77kW/175Nm 1.2-litre four-pot turbo is a tornado in a teacup, with a raspy exhaust note, a longing for the 6000rpm redline, terrific mid-range delivery and flexibility, and a smooth overall demeanour.
Fire it up when cold and there’s an almost diesel-like rattle to the 77TSI, and a boot full of revs is required to overcome the turbo lag. But before you know it, the Polo pulls forward with surprising elasticity – certainly eclipsing some normally aspirated 1.8L or even 2.0L engines for response – yet with linearity and control.
Keep the turbo on song in the torque band and the Polo flies. We filled it with 400kg of human cargo (but obviously not everybody’s luggage because that wouldn’t fit), and the Vee Dub took on the extra mass in its stride. Thus laden, the suspension coped particularly well with the inner-city speed humps and potholes.
Fuel economy ranged from low-sixes to high-sevens depending on whether we were driving on freeways or around town. Please note though that a 95 RON premium unleaded petrol appetite is the price you must pay for such efficiency. But we think it’s worthwhile.
Most Polo buyers will choose the slick seven-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox that seems to work better on the open road than about town due to some low-speed jerkiness. However, we are sold on the six-speed manual – fast, light, satisfying – it’s the cream poured all over the top of a very peachy little powerplant.
Slot the manual into sixth gear and the Polo will cruise happily all day long, with less road and wind noise than you might expect from a car at this price point. This is where the mini-Golf label really comes to the fore.
Like every light car barring the expensive Mini, a torsion beam is in place of the more grown-up multi-link rear suspension system, so the Polo doesn’t quite have the poise or suppleness of the Golf.
Yet is will corner flatly, grip the road gamely, understeer safely, and offers four wheel disc brakes as well as an alphabet soup of driver aids like ESP, ABS and EBD for superb control. And the Hill Start Assist feature (that leaves on the brakes for a moment longer to keep the car from rolling on inclines) is an absolute boon. We cannot think of a better baby to put our loved ones in.
However, the VW trails the fab Fiesta for sheer fun.
Yes, the steering is light and direct, nicely weighty at speed, utterly secure when throwing it through a corner, and simplicity itself to assist in parking (helped by good vision all round).
But the helm lacks the Ford’s addictive feedback and luscious linearity. Composure is fine but where is the feel?
Speaking of feeling, the VW’s ride on the standard wheel/tyre package is perfectly acceptable on smooth roads, a tad firm on rougher ones, but always isolated and hushed. Again, this is a pint-sized Prada of a car in more ways than one.
So the all-new A05 Polo finally delivers on the promise the A03 model made almost 14 years ago.
Back in late 1996 the first version to come to Australia looked great inside and out, but steered and drove disappointingly its 2002 successor was much better dynamically but looked and felt drab as well as overpriced.
No such fate befalls the 2010 Polo – in 77TSI Comfortline guise anyway.
Outweighing the high price is a sense of completion and maturity that no light-car rival can quite match.
And even with a $3K-plus disadvantage, the five-door Polo from Pretoria comprehensively outplays the cheaper three-door from Spain.
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