Author: John Oxley
VW has launched its new Polo. It is a completely new model from the wheels up, VW's hot small car is now totally German, with none of the Spanish "mix and match" that made the outgoing Polo Playa unique to this country.
It's also more spacious, stronger, and has new engines, while its feature list puts a different dimension into the bottom end of the new car market.
Standard features across the range include dual airbags - driver and front passenger - ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Force distribution, disc brakes all round (the fronts ventilated), electro-hydraulic speed sensitive power steering, central locking with immobiliser, height adjustable steering, tinted windows, bee sting aerial, 60/40 split rear seat, high level brake light, front and rear head restraints, rear window wiper, cupholders, and a full size spare wheel.
The new Polo, which is bigger in all dimensions than the Polo Playa, and offers a lot more room inside, especially in the back seat, is at the same time very well priced, and is obviously aimed right at the new Opel Corsa, as well as the bottom end of the Toyota Corolla lineup.
For the first time a super-economical 55 kW 1.4-litre turbo diesel is on offer, combining frugality with plentiful power, while the petrol engine on the entry level Polo 1.4 is now an advanced 60 kW 16-valve double overhead camshaft fuel injected version with more than its fair share of get up and go.
Another first for South Africa is that satellite navigation is now available as an option in all the new Polos - the "base" version as available in some Audi models, but with the difference that there are two navigation displays, one directly in front of the driver, and the other in the centre of the dash where it can be seen by the front passenger. Cost is R12 500 extra.
The lineup and pricing is as follows:
Polo 1.4i R102 450
Polo 1.6i R118 342
Polo 1.6i Comfortline R131 269
Polo 1.4 TDI R139 878.
For the time being the new Polo will be available only in five-door hatch configuration, the old-shape Polo Playa Classic sedan continuing in production.
It is expected that a new Polo sedan will be available only at the end of next year, or even later than that.
Setting the Polo 1.4 apart from its stablemates are black insert strips on the colour coded bumpers and black side mouldings. It also has 14 inch steel rims as standard with wheel covers on 165/70 tyres. Options include air conditioning system, radio/tape, front-loading CD changers, satellite navigation and alloy wheels.
Standard features include those mentioned above, as well as instrumentation that includes a rev counter, digital clock and trip recorder, along with vanity mirrors both sides, and a built-in pollen filter in the passenger cooling system.
The 1.4 litre four-cylinder engine delivers 60 kW of power through a 5-speed manual gearbox at 5 000 r/min with maximum torque of 125 Nm available at 3 800 r/min.
VW claims overall average fuel consumption figure of 8.8 litres/100 km in town, sinking to a lowly 5.2 litres/100 km at cruising speeds. The top speed of the Polo 1.4 is 172 km/h, and it accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 12.7 seconds.
Polo 1.6i Standard & Comfortline
In addition to those features found on the 1.4i the standard Polo 1.6 has colour-coded mirrors and side mouldings, remote central locking, an alarm system, electric front windows and electrically adjustable side mirrors, and a multi-function onboard computer.
Alloy wheels, air conditioner, radio/tape, satellite navigation and front-loading CD are optional.
Additional standard features on the Polo 1.6 Comfortline include air conditioner, electric windows all round, height adjustable seats with storage trays underneath, radio/tape and 14 inch alloy wheels shod with 185/60 tyres.
Optional enhancements on the Comfortline model are a front-loading CD changer, 15 inch alloy wheels and satellite navigation system.
Satellite navigation is standard, and it's similar to that used on the Audi Avant
This 1.6 litre power plant delivers 74 kW of power at 5 500 r/min with maximum torque of 140 Nm available at 3 250 r/min. It is no slouch in the speed department and is capable of a thoroughly illegal 184 km/h and reaching 0-100 km/h in 10.9 seconds. Its fuel consumption on the urban cycle is 9.2 litres per 100 km whilst on the quiet, country roads it is capable of 5.3 litres per 100 km.
Polo 1.4 TDI
The range-topping Polo 1.4 TDI model has specification levels on a par with the Polo 1.6 Comfortline except that 15 inch alloy wheels shod with 195/55 R15 tyres are standard.
These features include fog lights in the front airdam, electrically operated mirrors, colour-coded mirrors and side mouldings, all-round electric windows, remote central locking, radio/tape, air conditioning and an alarm system. Options at this level include front-loading CD changer and satellite navigation.
Under the bonnet the direct injection three-cylinder TDI engine - with a capacity of 1 422 cm3 and using pump-injector technology - has a power output of 55 kW.
But with that the TDI also packs a punch of 195 Nm of torque at only 2 200 r/min, propelling the Polo to a top speed of 170 km/h. It accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 13.6 seconds and on average uses 5.5 litres of diesel per 100 km on the urban cycle.
Out of town the consumption falls as low as the 3.9-litre mark.
All Volkswagen Polos have a 3-year or 120 000km warranty as well as a 12-Year anti-corrosion warranty. Service intervals are 15 000km although the Polo 1.4 TDI needs an oil change every 7 500km.
On the road
The proof of the pudding is always in the eating. And the new Polo offers a feast of delights.
The car is noticeably longer - by 69 mm - and taller (by 40 mm) as well as being 10 mm wider, and having 17 mm longer wheelbase, and wider front track (6 mm) and rear track (11 mm).
This translates into a lot more interior space, especially in the back where there is 52 mm more legroom.
Elbow room is also significantly increased.
The car currently has around 10% local content (by value), while modifications to suit local conditions included better dust sealing and additional underbody protection to cater for dirt road driving.
The car is very good looking, with a front view that sees separate large and small headlamps and a bold black grille.
The side profile sees an aerodynamic shape, with an integrated spoiler that helps the car achieve a drag factor of Cd=0.32, while at the rear there are big and bold "jewelled" tail lights with integrated reversing lights. There's also a high level brake light.
Inside trim is clean, with patterned cloth on all the seat surfaces, and black finish to the centre console and dashboard.
If there's anything we could criticise, it's that this is a bit austere - but VW owners seem to willingly accept it!
There are two things that stand out about these cars. The first is that the engines are very willing. With 60 kW, and only 65 kg more weight than the outgoing cars, the Polo 1.4i is a willing performer, and easily cruises at the legal limit.
Overtaking is very safe, with abundant power in reserve.
However, the biggest plus factor is the handling. We drove the cars extensively, but the eye opener was the infamous Bains Kloof Pass, which I last drove as a rally special stage back in the '70s.
And if I had had this car then, I would have won the stage hands down!
The car is very solid, and not only does this translate into an absence of rattles or squeaks, but more importantly, into very crisp handling.
Strut suspension - with the coils and shocks separated - handles the front end, while the rear has a torsion beam setup. Couple that to the stiff body, and the superb steering - light when parking, heavier when driving - with extremely crisp turn-in, and you have a winner.
I didn't feel any of the wheels lightening up as we pressed on hard through the Kloof - and at times the roads were quite bumpy - while the odd tail slide helped get us around some of the tighter corners.
The brakes did not fade at all despite a modicum of abuse, and at the end only a feeling of complete exhilaration ended the exercise.
The 1.4 TDI offers the same sort of excitement as the 1.4 petrol unit, with a surprising amount of grunt, albeit at lower rev limits.
Inside the car the only indication that this one is NOT a petrol engine is a becoming growl under hard acceleration - there is no diesel "rattle" at all.
In fact, the interior quietness impressed in all the cars.
Volkswagen has stayed with two-valves-per-cylinder and single overhead camshafts for the diesel and the 1.6-litre units, and this gives a benefit of more bottom end torque as well as simpler maintenance.
The cars are very driveable, and obviously benefit from even more power.
Boot space is as expected for a car of the Polo's relatively compact dimensions, with 270 litres with all seats up, extending to a voluminous 1 030 litres with the backseat rests down.
Fuel tank capacity is 45 litres.
POlo photo gallery