THE Polo has never been the sharpest driving tool in the locker because its makers have always prioritised comfort and security and easy driving characteristics over drifting around corners. The public clearly endorses this approach given the enviable sales figures racked up by various derivatives of VW’s supermini or compact hatchback, whichever terminology suits your agenda.
Now in its sixth generation, this latest Polo, now sitting on the group’s MQB platform, is altogether bigger, slicker and more sophisticated yet it’s still very obviously a Polo, albeit one with sharper lines and chiselled flanks which collectively make for a most eye-pleasing if relatively conservative shape.
Built at VW’s Uitenhage plant in the Eastern Cape for local and export markets, this Polo is notable for the truly exceptional levels of interior and exterior finishing detail on offer. The test unit, clad in a distinctive but daring shade of metallic energetic orange, positively glowed and attracted covetous glances wherever it was driven.
Perhaps the colour itself acted as something of a visual magnet but I suspect the aforementioned shine, further enhanced by the deep bodywork creases, was mostly responsible. And given that all traffic lights are invariably red, onlookers had plenty of time to admire the narrow and precise panel gaps that set the Polo apart from virtually any car including those that command eye-watering price tags.
I may be in a minority here, but for me there’s an instant feel-good factor at play when a mechanical device is the beneficiary of such exceptional attention to detail, especially at this price level. It’s almost a case of feeling smug, truth be known, and opening a door does nothing to dull that smugness.
For starters, the doors fit perfectly and there’s a solid feel to the chunky, body-colour handles as they are pulled to gain access to what is a notably more spacious cabin than before. We’re talking Golf 4 space here — maybe more in terms of rear kneeroom — such that there’s no need, even for adults, to compromise front seat position for those in the rear. Luggage area too is much more generous at 350 litres, expandable.
In this range-topping Highline model, the comfy, generously-padded sports seats are swathed in a high-quality duo-tone cloth that really lifts the cabin ambience as the mix of greys alleviates the otherwise slightly pervasive blackness. The upper and lower rolls of the revamped dash which surround a gloss dash pad insert in iron metallic, are slush-moulded so the tactile quality is unquestionable but all other trim materials, armrests excepted, are hard to the touch.
For the record, the folding centre armrest is set a tad too low, a criticism that could also be directed at the door armrests which sit atop very generous, moulded pockets that lack the flock lining of the Goif. Thanks to generous glazing, visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent in all directions.
The overall appearance of the interior escapes looking cheap thanks to the use of matt, heavily grained surfacing allied to the exceptional fit of all panels, but in this application, it’s the frameless touch-screen and the beautifully clear analogue-look yet digital instrument cluster that truly stand out.
All Polos in the range consisting of Trendline, Comfortline and Highline — supplemented by Beats and upcoming R-Line derivatives and soon, a GTI — feature either 6.5 or 8.0-inch display screens that are mounted in line of sight and slightly angled towards the driver. In this instance, an 8-inch Composition Media unit is employed in a frameless “glass” presentation that looks really classy and works a treat through six speakers. Add in Bluetooth, SD card slot, 2 X USB ports, AUX-IN and CD drive and you have a sophisticated infotainment package that was further enhanced in this case with optional App Connect.
On the subject of connectivity, if you own an Apple phone, I can thoroughly recommend the App Connect package which activates Apple Car Play and incorporates among many other features, seamless mapping with full voice-over support. Sadly, and for reasons that remain as distant as ever, Android Auto is still not cleared for use in RSA but should Google change its mind, this package is also compatible with the VW system. Should you not be iPhone-equipped, a Discover Media VW infotainment unit with full nav capability is available as an option.
In terms of standard equipment, Volkswagen has grown more generous than in the past which means the Highline package includes remote central locking, air con, electric windows and mirrors, leather steering wheel with controls, sports seats, multi-function display, cruise control with speed limiter, Auto Post-Collision Braking, alloy wheels, Driver Alert, LED running lights and ambient interior lighting …. plus more. (See www.vw.co.za for detail)
The test unit also featured Climatronic automated air con, Light and Sight package, Blind Spot and Parallel Park Assist and RearView Camera, all items that lift the new Polo to unprecedented levels of sophistication in the compact hatch class.
If this new model impresses with its levels of comfort, finish and classy execution, the positive theme most definitely extends to its dynamic virtues. Many have decried the engine down-sizing trend encouraged by the need to reduce emissions and fuel consumption but the 1.2TSI motor in the last generation model put paid to any negative perceptions, particularly as it performed with untainted vigour even at Joburg altitudes.
Now we have a three-cylinder1.0TSI but fear not — this is a gem of an engine that in 85kW form at least, performs beautifully and displays an effortless disposition that is truly remarkable for one so small. Its secret lies partly in the generous 200Nm torque peak that’s on tap from just 2 000 rpm and which permits regular operation with the rev counter sitting in the lower reaches.
The test unit was equipped with the optional 7-speed DSG transmission that proved to be astonishingly effective in this application. Uncannily smooth shifts are achieved with amazing rapidity but sadly, there are no paddle shifters on hand to make the most of the versatility of this automated manual gearbox.
Truth is, DSG is programmed to make early upshifts that can create a slight drone from the engine as well as rather lethargic throttle responses at around 1 500 rpm, but new Polo has that covered as well with the Highline standard-fit Driving Profile Selection. This offers Normal, Eco, Sport and Individual modes. Sport not only communicates with DSG to hold onto the gears longer but also advises the dampers to stiffen up and prepare for sportier driving. And, in Eco mode, there’s even a freewheel facility and control of the air con output to help with fuel economy which over a week’s varied use amounted to 7.1l/100km (lots of short runs included) and a very parsimonious 4.9l/100km on a 50 km rural run at speeds up to 100km/h.
In terms of refinement, those three cylinders are very discreet in everyday use, only making themselves heard with a rather pleasant thrum that rises in volume beyond 4 000 rpm, an engine speed that’s rarely needed anyway. Thanks also to exceptional isolation of wind commotion and very good suppression of road noise, other than on coarse chippings, the hush inside the Polo is truly remarkable and sets the class standard by a country mile.
For those keen to demonstrate their skills in the traffic light Grand Prix, the 1.0TSI will scoot to a hundred in just 9.5s and go on to 200km/h when PC Plod isn’t around. Who would ever have thought that possible with just 999ccs driving a spacious if relatively compact vehicle?
Steering assistance is electrically-activated and tuned to provide easy wheel-twirling at low speeds with a measure more resistance on offer at higher velocities. Truth is there isn’t that much feel evident through the wheel but the sheer ease of driving is what most buyers want and to this end, the Polo is spot on.
Suspension is provided courtesy of MacPherson struts up front and VW’s long-running torsion beam down the back. The result is a nicely-cushioned, comfortable ride on 16-inch rubber that feels more like what you’d expect from a much bigger, heavier car. Only on sharply rutted surfaces tackled in an unladen state does the state of equilibrium get disturbed. In these conditions, the rear hops slightly and lacks the outright composure of the multi-link rear end that ties down most Golfs in the Mk7 range, but by the standards of the class, the Polo’s ability to isolate occupants from real-world nasties is truly very, very good.
In brief, the driving characteristics are set-up for ease of control and comfort. In a way, you could say that this hatch is endowed with an element of what I call “waftability”, an attribute normally reserved for bigger machinery. If you prefer sharper responses and greater roll control, wait for the GTI version.
The brakes, all-disc in the 85kW version, feel a tad too sharp at low speeds but they do a flawless job in scrubbing off speed with little pedal effort. On the safety front, a comprehensive array of air bags is on board along with ISOFIX seat mountings for the little ones.
If you’ve read this far, you will have worked out that the new Polo, especially in Highline guise with DSG, is a remarkably well-sorted car that offers refinement levels never before achieved in this class. It’s all very soothing, and therefore satisfying, but be aware that such qualities don’t come cheap. Top spec Polos are treading in lower level Golf 7 territory which suggests to me that the 70kW Comfortline model will the one to please the masses while the Highline will titivate true aficianados.
Whatever your choice may be, you’ll find much to savour in terms of fit, finish, overall quality and easy drivability plus the satisfaction of knowing that a South African manufacturing plant has put it all together to such good effect.
(CFAO Volkswagen are the official importers for the brand in Zimbabwe)