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Polo to fill Volkswagen’s small SUV void

Match game: Buyers looking for a small SUV might also consider the new-gen Polo, according to Volkswagen.

New Volkswagen Polo described as ‘segment buster’ to tackle SUVs

14 Feb 2018

VOLKSWAGEN Group Australia (VGA) will take its new-generation Polo upmarket in the light-car segment, and the company will attempt to convince buyers to cross-shop it against small SUV models when it launches next month.

Next month the sixth-generation Polo will launch in what VGA general manager of product and marketing Ben Wilks has called the most significant shift for the model yet.

As reported, the new Polo is priced from $17,990 plus on-road costs for the 70TSI manual, but the auto-equipped version from $20,490 – expected to be the favoured transmission choice – has pushed entry for an auto Volkswagen beyond ‘teen’ pricing for the first time since 2003, making it the costliest model to lob in 15 years.

Speaking with GoAuto at the national media launch of the Golf GTI Original in the New South Wales Southern Highlands last week, Mr Wilks insisted that the new Polo should be seen as a full class larger than other light cars.

“I think what’s interesting with the new Polo is actually this idea of it being a segment buster,” he said.

“Let’s take a competitor price and look at how Polo lines up. If you think about Mazda2 and Mazda3, it’s got a bigger boot and it’s got more interior – so that’s more front headroom, rear headroom, shoulder room – than a Mazda2, but also across most of those measures than a Mazda3, and also compared to a CX-3.

“It’s got a bigger boot than all of those cars, a bigger boot than a Ford Focus. So the Polo really sits in a new and different segment, and that’s why this idea of really bringing the strength of the MQB platform … in a slightly different recipe for prices, that’s where we can succeed with Polo.”

The new Polo’s 351-litre boot is substantially larger than the 210L Mazda2, 264L CX-3 and 308L Mazda3, and comfortably exceeds the 280L of the previous generation Polo. Dimensionally, the new model is larger than the Mark IV Golf that ended production in 2004.

Asked whether buyers would have difficulty seeing the Polo as something beyond a light car given its heritage, however, Mr Wilks replied: “I think anyone who experiences the new Polo will pretty quickly be able to feel the space, and I think that in terms of driveline it will be understood pretty quickly too.

“So I think it’s a story that will tell itself to some extent. The product that we’ll be offering is an extremely safe offering as well. With Polo we’ll introduce standard Front Assist AEB (autonomous emergency braking) essentially across the entire passenger vehicle range as standard.

“So it’s a great safety story, it’s a fantastic driveability story, it’s a great space story. I see Polo as being able to kind of work up against a lot of light cars and small cars, and to some extent small SUV.”

Mr Wilks confirmed that Volkswagen would not have its own small SUV offering in the market until mid-to-late next year, when the yet-to-be revealed T-Cross was expected to make its debut in what he admitted was “obviously an enormous segment”.

The sportier T-Roc, however, was still unlikely primarily due to production limitations that would result in very restricted supply locally.

“T-Cross we think there’s actually a real opportunity with that vehicle,” he added.

“This market we reckon the packaging is just right for Australia. We reckon the positioning is just right. So I’d like to be able to have that vehicle here, it won’t be in 2018, but we’re certainly still working on it, and as soon as we can have it would be great.

“What part of 2019 remains to be seen, but 2019’s a fair assumption.”

Until then, the Polo must play both roles – light car and small SUV. But Mr Wilks reiterated that it will do so on merit, and not through mere marketing promise.

“I think there’s an argument to say that if you have interior space and the drivability that can exceed a small SUV, then there’s a potential for customers to come from there as well,” he continued.

“I think we are bringing a different offer to the market, so you have to assess how the market responds there, but I think there’s a big opportunity for us.

And certainly there’s an opportunity for Volkswagen as distinct from the segment by offering something in that size and that price that we haven’t had access to.

“We are always looking for opportunities to make sure that we can offer something within our brand that ensures customers stay with our brand, and so being able to move into a Polo if a customer doesn’t want to move up to a Golf, then that’s a pretty good option really to hold that customer. So I think having the ability to have that size means that we have a bigger chance of that.”

In 2017 the light-car segment slumped by 10.7 per cent to 79,861 units or fewer than half the number of small cars (204,079) sold. The fifth-gen Polo, released in 2010 and in the final full year of its lifecycle, fell by 20.4 per cent to 6516 for sixth place in the class, down from fifth in 2016 and overtaken by Honda’s Jazz.

Mr Wilks would not reveal if the Polo was expected to substantially turn the tide on the declining sales volume of that Volkswagen, however he reiterated that the chance to move the Polo into a bigger league was “actually really exciting”.

“We might not be able to bring that entry Golf to play below $20,000 – it has a 110kW engine, and all the features that that car has – but Polo, we can actually bring into that market, and there’s a really nice European safe, stylish, fantastic light car.

“Having the chance to have the Polo in there, I think it just helps us to address a part on the market that we can’t address with just the Golf alone.”

The fifth-gen Polo Urban is currently in run-out from $16,990 driveaway for the manual or $19,490 driveaway for the auto.

The $1000-pricier new model, even before on-road costs are added, also loses alloy wheels that were previously standard on the 66kW/160Nm 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder model. However, the powered-up 70kW/175Nm 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder replacement also adds AEB for the first time.

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