1 Oct 1996
VW took a punt marketing a $20,000-plus Holden Barina-sized baby in Australia.
The Mk3 Polo – already two years old in Europe and a platform sharer with the Seat Ibiza and Cordoba of the same era – featured an unheard of combination of standard features for the light-car segment, including dual front airbags, power steering, CD player, central locking, seat-height adjuster, powered heated mirrors, rear headrests and front electric windows.
The sassy five-door hatchback styling, solid build quality and an aspiring German badge also appealed.
But keen drivers were less enthused by the low 55kW power output of the 1.6-litre engine (the Toyota Starlet 1.3’s was 55kW), hard ride and roly-poly cornering, while rear legroom was tight for adults.
The responsive four-speed automatic Polo from March ’97 suited the Polo’s mini-Mercedes persona more than the five-speed manual.
New trim and instrumentation arrived unheralded in mid-’97 while a massive sunroof marked the Polo “Open Air” model from July ’98. Alloy wheels were also included from October ’99.
The limited edition Polo Trek from September ’98 included a roof-mounted mountain bicycle.