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Top Polo on test

2004-02-04 07:01

Wilmer Muller

Since the new Polo's introduction, in hatch and sedan form, it has been an immediate hit with the South African car buying public.

The inclusion of the 1.4 TDI model in the range also made turbo-diesel technology available in the lower end of the market.

Although the three-cylinder 1.4 TDI Polo has enough grunt, VWSA decided to equip the Polo with a more potent 1.9-litre turbo-diesel unit. The 1.9 TDI was added to the range as a sporty top model.

Its sporty character is further enhanced by the fact that this model is only available as a two-door, with all the other models in the range being four-door.

VW's 1.9 TDI engine reached almost iconic status in the Golf and Jetta, where it proved to be a popular choice. Basically the Polo's engine is the same as the one in the Golf/Jetta, but it has less power.

The Polo 1.9 TDI produces 74 kW at 4 000 r/min and a maximum torque of 240 Nm. Power is transferred to the front wheels via a slick five-speed manual gearbox.

This engine is rather punchy and isbacked-up by loads of torque, making this two-door a swift mover.

The Polo diesel sprints from 0-100km/h in 9.6 seconds and reaches a top speed of 194k m/h.

Driving it

The Polo's diesel engine offers genuine pace in this small car, making it fun to drive and nip around town.

When you pull away the Polo's power is immediate and it propels eagerly forward with a familiar turbo urge. Enough torque is available all over the rev range, and there is a nice sporty feeling to its overall performance.

The engine sounds good, too, with a familiar diesel growl which isn't too rough on the ear.

In city driving the Polo is lively and very easy to handle. Thanks to its light and precise power steering and the car's small dimensions it is easy to park - but you must first get used to the sloping nose design, which makes the front extremities almost invisible for the driver.

On the open road is seems as if the Polo just want to go - there is no stopping it. It tackles long distances with ease and it cruises happily at higher speeds.

The car also rides well on all surfaces and goes calmly over bumps. It doesn't bounce around on the road.

When pushing the car through corners you first feel a bit of understeer, with the tail coming out at the end as the rear wheels help the little hatch around the bend.

The overall driving experience is enhanced by progressive ABS brakes with EBD.

The running gear features suspension struts and wishbones at the front with a toe-correcting torsion beam and trailing arm axle at the rear.

Road grip is good thanks to the 16-inch wheels with low profile 205/45 R 16 tyres. And by the way, the Barcelone alloy wheels are very attractive, complimenting the Polo's sporty image.


Although the car's two-door configuration limits its practicality the car has a funky and youthful image.

As with the four-door models the Polo's overall design is distinctive and modern. It also appears sporty and trendy.

However, on the inside there is no trace of the 1.9 TDI's sporty image. The interior is bland and mostly in different shades of grey and black. We would have liked a more suped-up look for this model.

The car's dash layout is good and practical with neat dials. All switches are logical and easy to operate.

One small snag is that it is sometimes difficult to see if the air conditioning switch is on, especially when the sun shines on the switch.

Although modern day VWs are renowned for their quality, solid feeling and good fit and finish, our test Polo disappointed us. With only about 8 000 km on the clock the car had quite a few rattles and irritating squeaks.

Despite its two-door configuration the car offers acceptable cabin space. It is also easy to access the rear seats thanks to the big side doors and VW's "Easy Entry" sports seats.

The car also comes very well equipped for its price and standard features include air conditioning, electric windows and side mirrors, remote central locking and a Gamma radio/tape with a 6-disc front-loading CD-changer.

Standard passive safety features include dual airbags in front with pyrotechnic pre-tensioner safety belts.


The 1.9 TDI model is a welcome addition to the Polo range. This is a car with a lekker diesel engine with an eagerness that surprises.

The diesel Polo's excellent fuel economy, which sees an average of 5.6-litres/100 km, is also worth noting. A minor downside is that an oil change is necessary every 7 500km.

One worry, which applies to all VWs, is a lack of professional service from certain VW dealerships.

We have received numerous complaints from readers (and colleagues) about backup service and a general lack of perceived interest from some dealership personnel.

It seems as if some dealerships don't care about after market service - which can be frustrating to VW owners having problems with their vehicles.

The sad thing is that bad experiences at a dealership influence a car buyer's overall rating of the vehicle, no matter how good the car. Next time they are due to buy new wheels they may just look on the other side of the fence.

But back to the Polo 1.9 TDI. After spending almost a month with the car, we were sad to see it go. Despite the few quality problems it is a fun and spunky vehicle.

At about R155 000 this flagship model also offers good value for money. It also has a lot of standard comfort and safety features adding to its overall appeal.

The Polo 1.9 TDI has loads of attitude and style. And what I have heard is that it is a popular model with a waiting list of a few months.

I can tell you it is worth the wait!


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