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Driven: Volkswagen’s mid-life Polo update

Revised: The new Polo looks scarcely different to before, but the changes under skin verge on the substantial.

VW’s revised Polo gets hints of Golf as part of an update due here in September


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1 May 2014


05/05/2014VOLKSWAGEN’S updated Polo will arrive in Australia this September with upgraded all-turbo engines, an improved multimedia interface, higher specification levels and advanced safety systems that significantly push light-car boundaries.

But the mid-life update, which we’ve driven this week in its home market of Germany, will also spell the end for diesel engine availability in Australia, while the headline three-cylinder turbo petrol miser known as the 70TSI will also skip our shores.

The Polo range will also continue to be a five-door only proposition for now, as the Australian arm strives to detangle model complexity in the name of better customer service and response.

Furthermore, prices are expected to rise by hundreds of dollars above the outgoing base Trendline’s $16,990 (plus on-road costs) figure to cover what is a more sophisticated offering.

“With the extra technology and higher specification, it is inevitable that there will be small price rises,” Volkswagen Group Australia general manager of communications Karl Gehling said.

To offset this, we understand that a reverse camera will be offered across the range (optional on entry versions), while cruise control and idle-stop tech will also be standardised.

Whether the latter also makes it on the 141kW Polo GTI due to be unveiled by the Paris motor show in October in new six-speed manual as well as seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission guise ahead of a quarter-one 2015 Australian debut is unknown.

With no sheet-metal changes to the crisp five-year old design by former Alfa Romeo stylist Walter De Silva, the facelift seems to have been kept deliberately subtle in typical Volkswagen fashion.

Polo trainspotters might pick the revamped front and rear bumpers that add 2mm to the car’s overall length of 3972mm while sporting a larger front air intake, wider rear numberplate valance and repositioned back-end reflectors.

New-look headlights (with LED availability on top versions likely) and tail-light lenses, a different grille, more chrome inserts, fresh colours and restyled alloys complete what is a very minor exterior visual makeover.

Save for a redesigned steering wheel, a centre console with its larger display interface (from the latest Golf), simplified climate-control layout on up-spec models and updated material trimmings, the same applies inside the new Polo, underlining the fact that there wasn’t much wrong at all with the light car’s overall interior architecture and functionality.

Indeed the latter is the buzzword here, due to a new touchscreen with proximity sensor technology, bringing a greater array of now fully integrated vehicle functionality, trip computer, Bluetooth telephony with music streaming and audio sourcing (including available digital radio) capabilities.

Volkswagen’s desire to purge the current model’s outdated audio and communications unit for the Golf 7’s sophisticated multimedia layout necessitated a costly and complex overhaul of the Polo’s electrical CANBUS system.

This is important because it involved transplanting elements of the company’s vaunted new MQB transverse engine vehicle architecture on to the decade-plus old PQ26 platform.

In turn, it opened up the door for the Polo to offer the advanced driver-aiding safety systems like radar-based adaptive cruise control, automatic low-speed emergency braking, low-speed traffic monitoring warning, driver-fatigue alert and a reverse camera installation.

Details are still being finalised but VGA will most likely bundle most or all of these in a ‘Tech Pack’ similar to the latest Golf’s $1300 option of the same name, elevating the five-star ANCAP safety rated Polo to new heights in terms of active protection systems for a car in this class.

The CANBUS overhaul has had additional knock-on effects too, namely the adoption of an electro-mechanical powered rack-and-pinion steering system (with Auto Parking as an option).

Dumping the old PQ26’s electro-hydraulic set-up, it results in a completely revised steering program, including the adoption of the current GTI’s quicker rack and ratios.

These changes are part of a 2.5-year chassis re-engineering program that has also seen thicker springs for the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension system, different shock absorbers and – again for the first time – adaptive damper availability.

One senior Volkswagen engineer said that the Ford Fiesta was used as the dynamic and comfort benchmark, while Renault’s Clio was also studied.

Finally, the new Polo Trendline’s base engine goes from the old 1390cc 63kW/132Nm 1.4-litre single-cam 16-valve naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, to a lower-tune version of the current (and range best-selling) 77TSI Comfortline’s 1197cc 1.2-litre direct-injection four-cylinder turbo.

To be dubbed the 66TSI Trendline, and matched to a five-speed manual or seven-speed DSG, it produces 66kW of power at 4800rpm, 160Nm of torque from 1400-4000rpm, and figures of 10.8 seconds for the 0-100km/h acceleration time, a 184km/h top speed, 4.7 litres per 100km and 107 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions on the Euro cycle and running on the required 95 RON fuel.

These are improvements in the region of 20 per cent on the current Trendline 1.4L, with the base Polo’s newfound performance turn in particular impressing us on the international launch from Munich out to the Austrian border and back again.

Swifter initial acceleration is one thing, but the palpably stronger mid-range urge once the engine’s turbo is spinning is what sets the 66TSI apart from most entry-level rivals as well as its Trendline predecessor.

In fact, so sprightly and spirited is this drivetrain, that it brings into question the wisdom of stumping up the expected $2K-plus premium for the new midrange 81TSI Comfortline delivering 81kW and 175Nm (via a six-speed manual or 7DSG transmission).

The latter variant – which sadly was not available for us to sample – might remain the most popular Polo mantle anyway, since it is measurably quicker on paper (9.3s to 100km/h on the way to a 196km/h V-max) while returning exactly the same brilliantly low consumption and pollution ratings (helped out by a seamless idle-stop system).

But for most Aussies, it no longer makes the Comfortline the most compelling non-GTI Polo by default of the old Trendline’s lacklustre base engine.

While undemanding smooth German roads meant it was difficult to obtain a definitive measure of the overhauled steering system’s true nature, the Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 215/145 R16-shod 66TSI’s helm as tested is defined by its beautifully measured responses, displaying a fine balance between feedback and control.

However, while the same also applies to the 66TDI Sportline diesel fitted with larger 215/40 R17 tyres and the new adjustable damper system (destined only for the next GTI in Australia since they promise to take the edge off the hot hatch’s hard suspension), the ride quality deteriorates due to a noticeably lumpier absorption and increased road-noise intrusion – especially in Sport mode.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the new Polo is now within striking distance of overhauling the Fiesta as the most enjoyable driver’s car in the baby class, since it combines sharper handling with even more refinement on the standard wheel and tyre package.

While still on driveability, a brief run in the 66TDI – which offers an astounding 3.4L/100km and 88g/km of CO2 emissions from its all-new 66kW/230Nm 1422cc 1.4-litre common-rail turbo-diesel – revealed a car of two distinct personalities.

Around urban speeds the diesel/three-pot combination made for a surprisingly raucous pairing that is at odds with the Polo’s premium refinement pretentions, and for that reason we understand why the VGA has passed on it. Aussies just aren’t keen on small diesels.

On the other hand, at speeds over about 70km/h, the 66TDI came into its own, quietening down the din while still delivering a torquey punch for effortless overtaking.

Sadly, VGA also confirmed that the upcoming 70kW 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol (known as the 70TSI) won’t be coming to Australia any time in the near future.

Strangely, in the face of the baby SUV invasion defined by the Nissan Juke and Holden Trax, nor will the Subaru XV-esque CrossPolo – basically a jumped up Polo with more ground clearance, the de rigueur additional body cladding and no all-wheel drive.

Still, with a significantly stronger base engine, new-to-segment safety and driver-enhancing technologies on offer and a thoroughly updated multimedia system all now part of a more dynamic overall package, it won’t be surprising if the 2015 Polo retains its lauded predecessor’s position as the light-car benchmark.

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