Car reviews - Volkswagen - Polo - 85TSI Launch Edition
Space, refinement, safety, performance, economy, handling, ease of operation, savvy multimedia, high-tech feel
Room for improvement
Design a backward step, terrific 1.0-litre turbo hasn’t the old 1.2-litre’s creaminess, short warranty, not as supple as class best
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22 May 2018
HOW do you define value? If it’s on low price alone, then the base Polo 85TSI Launch Edition may not be for you, since it costs more than most equivalent superminis.
But then the Volkswagen is big, roomy and solid, with an undeniable Euro quality and refinement that is its own.
And that’s before taking into account the triple turbo’s outstanding performance and efficiency, or the sparkling dynamics or quiet ride….
Price and equipment
In the supermini stakes, the Volkswagen Polo is a veteran player, spanning six generations over 43 years. Did you know the original was adapted from the short-lived Audi 50? None came to Australia until the Mk3 in 1996 though.
Beautiful nearly nine years on, the previous iteration proved a hit when it landed here in 2010, elevating the series to the top of the light-car class critically – a position it held until the latest model launched in March this year.
Can this all-new version, with somewhat bloated styling and a box-fresh MQB-A0 modular architecture, maintain the esteem? To find out, we’re taking a look at the automatic 85TSI Launch Edition, from $22,990 plus on-road costs.
Perhaps the biggest change in the eyes of consumers is the downsized all-turbo engine range, but what the newcomer loses in capacity and cylinder count (all non-GTIs are powered by a fresh 1.0-litre turbo petrol of varying outputs), it makes up in size, space, practicality, performance, economy, safety, refinement and equipment levels.
That weight is up by only 61kg is testimony to Wolfsburg’s engineering knowhow, especially considering how much torsionally rigid the new body is.
Above the $19,490 Comfortline’s autonomous emergency braking (AEB), driver fatigue detector, low tyre-pressure monitor, reversing camera, central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, cruise control, air-conditioning, power windows, electric and heated exterior mirrors, auto on/off headlights and wipers, centre armrest, extra chrome trim, ‘comfort’ cloth upholstery, and 15-inch alloys with a full-sized spare, the Launch Edition adds an inch-larger wheels, wireless phone charging, front foglights, and tint for the rear windows and tail-lights for $1000 on top.
Here we look at the $22,990 DSG variant with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission – or $24,890 as tested, since it also features metallic paint and a Driver’s Assistance Pack with power-folding mirrors, adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic parking, sensors all-round, manoeuvre braking that applies the stoppers to avoid hitting objects when parking, and pro-active occupant protection that ‘preps’ the safety systems for an imminent collision for faster responses.
Very grown up. That’s what the Polo is all about. Especially inside.
So… why the hell does Volkswagen charge a premium for its South African-assembled Polo anyway? It all depends how much you value all the extras thrown in.
Along with the aforementioned AEB, every Polo includes driver fatigue warning, turbo technology, reach as well as tilt steering convenience, a front passenger as well as driver’s side seat-height adjustment, all-round one-touch up/down electric windows with remote actuation from the key fob, auto on/off headlights, heated electric mirrors, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with up-to-date app connectivity, a digital speedo, leather steering wheel that looks like it came out of a GTI, and smart metallic trim. It’s big on details. Even the base Trendline.
Additionally, that’s on top of the built-in no-nonsense practical stuff that highlights the five decades experience that making the Polo has brought, such as good all-round vision, an agreeable and flexible driving position, firm but very comfortable seating, a large glovebox, bottle-friendly door bins, and an all-pervasive quality ambience that is second-to-none in this class.
Most surfaces have a lovely tactility to them, the aroma is invitingly rich and there’s an air-tight isolation from the outside environment.
They’re all enough to forgive the missing flocked door bins, as well as the general Teutonic angularness of the dash itself, which won’t win any beauty awards.
Note, though, that the AWOL overhead grab handles are more than made up by excellent door pulls that achieve the same effect.
Size-wise, the cabin is also the roomiest yet – the upshot of stretching the wheelbase, length and width by 94mm, 81mm and 63mm respectively.
Result? Five large people can be transported in sufficient space and comfort (due in no small part by a shapely back bench), backed up by a cargo area that is bigger than some hatches from the next segment up, such as a Subaru Impreza’s. Impressive.
Compared to the previous Polo, boot volume extends by around 25 per cent, making this one of the largest in its class. A bi-level boot floor means smaller items like laptops can be hidden, while a full-sized spare wheel lurks underneath.
Loading is easy thanks to a large aperture and low lip, further underlining the thoughtfulness that’s gone into this latest sixth-gen Polo. There just isn’t a roomier or more refined cabin experience in the supermini sector.
Engine and transmission
Less size but more speed and efficiency. That’s what the 1.0-litre turbo triple is all about on paper.
And out in the real world too, it’s such an accomplished and unflappable performer, thanks to an energetic power delivery from very low revs, aided by intelligent tuning that allows the utterly slick DSG to rifle between the available seven gears for the required ratio.
Responses are instant, hearty and smooth.
With extra bodies on board, a more determined right foot is necessary to maintain speed or execute an overtaking manoeuvre safely, but – again – the punchy zest of the turbo-triple powertrain makes it an unexpectedly rousing all-round performer.
Indeed, the 85TSI is geared for relaxed highway cruising, reducing fatigue and aiding efficiency.
Commendable fuel economy – on premium unleaded petrol – highlights the advantages of downsizing, with mid-sixes (litres per 100km) even after a fair degree of thrashing.
More considerate driving will bring that figure closer to the 5.0L/100km combined average claim, aided by a fast-acting stop/start system.
We do have a couple of concerns, however.
First is that owners of the previous, sweet 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo might miss its creamy smoothness that did much to elevate the Polo as a premium city car.
And, second is the DSG’s momentary hesitation if you mash the pedal – an inevitable lag endemic with this sort of transmission.
It can be frustratingly tardy (as well as jerky) around town if you want to dart into small traffic gaps and have to wait for clutches and turbos to spool up.
There is a neat and money saving solution to this, however, thanks to Volkswagen’s faith in Australian consumer’s preference for choice… save $2500 and go the manual!
We also tested the base 70TSI Trendline with a five-speed gearbox. Yep, three instead of two pedals. What a joy, for it sidesteps the DSG’s aforementioned annoyances.
Not only is it light and easy, the ‘stick’ allows the driver to visit the red line in each gear to make the most of the limited output on offer. At higher revs, the engine does sound thrummy but not strained or raucous.
Less is more with Polo!
Ride and handling
Driven sedately at inner-urban speeds, the electric rack and pinion steering is defined by its light, if slightly remote, nature, which is ideal for tight spots.
It’s as Teflon slick and easy as the rest of the Polo’s driving abilities, to the point of being a bit boring if a razor-sharp helm is more your thing.
But don’t be deceived. Floor the accelerator through a set of twisty bends, and the front end comes alive, weighing up progressively while ushering in a lot more feel and feedback, for pin-point cornering accuracy.
Through really fast turns, the Volkswagen will hang on gamely, with the nose eventually running wide but the electronics keeping everything in line and on the level.
The Polo handling is best described as mature, assured and balanced, as well as fun and inclusive when you’re really in the mood to hustle along.
Isolation from evil road surfaces is yet another feather in this German’s cap. Even with what is utterly run-of-the-mill MacPherson-style struts up front and a torsion beam rear end, there’s a level of control, finesse and filtration to the suspension that takes the thump out of most bumps and ruts, whether zig-zagging up a mountain pass or crawling through city traffic.
That said, the ride isn’t quite as supple or cushy as the class best (that’s the great new Citroen C3), but in the smallest-wheeled Polo, it remains comfy.
Safety and servicing
The Polo scores a five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating.
The warranty period is for three-years/unlimited kilometres, with service intervals fixed at every 12 months or 15,000km, while owners will be able to see the cost of standard scheduled work for up to five years and over 75,000 kilometres.
The latest Polo may not be as elegant as its classy predecessor, but it is certainly better in almost every single aspect, and an impressive evolutionary step forward.
In 85TSI Launch Edition with Driver Assistance Package, there’s a level of safety and technology that brings everything most people could want in a city-savvy package that is also very open-road friendly.
The longer and harder that the Polo is driven, the clearer its talents become. As a result, the smallest Volkswagen represents intelligent value.
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