Issue 001 New Polo first drive
Impressive new Polo sets the supermini standard
‹ New Polo range first drives
‹ Three trims, four engines
‹ Improved, high-quality interior
02 | New Polo first drive
eeply impressive.’ Those are the first two words I jotted down in my notepad this morning at the press launch of the new Polo range. A guest of the Volkswagen UK Press Office, I attended a ‘Regional Driving Event’ where Volkswagen arranges for invitied journalists to drive the latest models from the German company at selected country club-type locations around the UK. I was at the Leicestershire day, which this time around, was an opportunity to drive the latest incarnations of the Golf GTI and GTD, but more importantly, the new Polo. Allison, Angus, Kate, Louise, Nicki and Paul had put on a good spread of new Polos to try, from the 1.2 Moda through to the 1.4 SEL DSG, currently top of the new Polo tree. Arranged in different colours for the varying models, the rows of parked newcomers looked striking, and after a welcome cup of tea and a catch-up, it was down to business. The new fifth-generation Polo is the latest in a 34-year long line, and it appears to uphold the traditional Volkswagen small car virtues of class, quality and refinement. It’s true, the Polo has never been an ‘enthusiasts’ car from a driver’s point of view, but it has never pretended to be. And with over 10 million examples sold since its introduction, does it really need to be?
Unveiled at the Geneva motor show The new Polo was unveiled at the Geneva motor show way back in March, launched on the continent in June, and will finally hit these shores on 16 October. Three-doors arrive in January, and eco BlueMotion versions follow in spring 2010. It’s seemingly been a long time coming then and although the first road tests were largely encouraging, is the new Polo really devoid of any character and just a mini-me Golf? First things first. It’s true, there is a similar look to a Mk 6 Golf, but the Polo does have a character of its own. Volkswagen has chosen the subtle but confident route when it comes to styling, and the new model has a graceful and mature air. No, it’s not as avantgarde as a Ford Fiesta (its main rival and class benchmark), but it is handsome and attractive. The Ford may look dated in a few years’ time due to its fussy and overstyled lines, but the Polo will age gracefully, exuding a classy look. Viewed from the front, the new car wears the latest version of the updated Volkswagen corporate face, which debuted on the Scirocco. A slim grille opens up to large, darkened headlamps, while the large lower bumper grille stretches the width of the car and is trimmed in
The new Polo ‘ wears the latest VW corporate face, which debuted on the Scirocco.
Story | Rich Gooding Photography | Rich Gooding and Volkswagen UK Press Office october 2009 | polodriver.com
New Polo first drive | 03 chrome on Moda models and above. The rear features large almost square tail lights and an integrated rear spoiler. One particularly pleasing line is the sharp crease that runs from the top of the headlamp through the body side, ending up at the tail light. A strong and folded shoulder line, it gives the car real presence, and together with the large wheel arches, instils a subtle dynamism to the look. Volkswagen, like many other car manufacturers, has been very selective about which wheels the new Polo wear in the press photographs. In most of the released pictures, cars are fitted with 17-inch ‘Boavista’ alloys but we’re pleased to report that even on the standard 15-inch ‘Cadiz’ and ‘Castille’ wheels which form part of the Moda and SE trim packages respectively, the new model looks good. Restrained but elegant Step inside, and it’s a similar restrained but elegant story. Again, the Mk 6 Golf similarities cannot be denied, but once more, the Polo has a character all its own. For the first time, the dashboard centre console and controls are slightly angled towards the driver, and while some initial drive reports suggested that the quality wasn’t quite as Volkswagen would have you believe the further you move down towards the floor, there’s little to complain about. The plastics in the cabin are a cut above the competition, and the chrome-trimmed surrounds on the air vents that appear on Moda models and above lends the interior even more of an upmarket air. The standard RCD 210 radio and CD/MP3 player fitted to most models has a high-gloss black finish and a full-width display, further enchancing the impression that the new Polo is a premium supermini. It’s all very ergonomic, too. But, the most important question, what’s the new Polo like to drive? There were three models to try, with four different engines, so, starting at the most basic version and working up the range, the 1.2 Moda was
shoulder ‘Alinestrong gives the
new Polo real presence, and together with the large wheel arches, instils a subtle dynamism.
first. Finished in black, the new headlamps and slightly hooded bonnet give VW’s new small car a menacing look, and although not ideal for photographs, the contrast of the chrome, lit headlamps and dark body colour is striking. The second step up the Polo ladder, the Moda, is, as its name suggests, aimed at the younger supermini buyer. Starting at £11,385 until the cheaper three-door cars are ushered in, the 1.2 Moda develops 59bhp (another 1.2-litre unit with 69bhp is available on the Moda and higher-specification SE) from its carried over three-cylinder engine. The same unit as its predeccessor, it still has its own character, the thrummy sound escaping when revved hard. And although it needs to be pushed to get the most out of it, it delivers adequate performance. Motorways aren’t a stretch either; although no ball of fire, it thraps along at a decent pace. The overall impression though, is one of refinement. Even though the engine can be vocal at times, it sounds a distance away, such is the attention to detail that Volkswagen has paid to sound deadening and making the new Polo the most refined car in its class. Has the German giant focused too much on the refinement at the expense of handling brio, though? The good news is no, but as we haven’t driven the latest incarnation of Ford’s Fiesta, we’ll have to withold any comparisons to the reported best steer in its class. What we can say though, is that the new Polo is more dynamic than its outgoing predecessor, feeling both more agile and sharp at a stroke when the going gets decidely twisty. With the cabin cocooning the driver more than before, it reminded us of driving the 1990-1994 second-generation Polos, due to the higher height of the dasboard and a closer windscreen than its predecessor. A snick-snick positive-feeling gearbox and strong brakes also make for an enjoyable driving experience. If the new Polo gives away the best-handling and most fun prizes to the small Ford, it keeps the best riding trophies for itself. Refinement It’s all in the details: new Polo has sharp and strong body creases; SE 15” ‘Castille’ alloy wheels similar in style to ‘Cadiz’ rims fitted to Moda; 1.4-litre engine develops 84bhp in SE and SEL trim, and can also be specified with VW’s DSG seven-speed auto gearbox
‘ polodriver.com | october 2009
04 | New Polo first drive
Impressive standard kit Standard kit on the Moda is impressive: front and rear electric windows, RCD 310 radio/MP3 CD player with six speakers and AUX-IN socket and glovebox-mounted Multi Device Interface (MDI) with USB and iPod connection all feature to woo the not-quite-so-old Polo buyer. Additional equipment the Moda features over the S includes body-coloured door handles and mirrors, chrome-trimmed grille louvre, front foglights and dark-tinted rear windows from the B pillar back. A 1.2 Moda variant with air-conditioning (Moda A/C) is also available for £11,985. Volkswagen UK expects the mid-range 1.2 SEs to be the best-seller in this country, so the next model available we drove around the leafy lanes of Leicestershire was the 69bhp version. Sandwiched between the Moda and the top-flight SEL, the SE offers a good compromise between its lower and higher-specification siblings, although at first glance, appears to be very similarly specced to the Moda. Dark-tinted rear windows aside, the only external differences appear to be the ‘Castille’ alloy wheels and even they look very similar, but are fitted with slightly less sporty 185/60 R15 tyres. Price? The 1.2-litre 69bhp SE costs £11,995. The higher-output 1198cc engine obviously isn’t that different to its lower-powered relative, but the extra 10bhp makes it presence felt, especially on motorways and dual carrigeways, where overtaking is easier. Similarly-equipped to the Moda, the 1092kg 1198cc SE drives much the same, too. We also tried a 1.4 SE and at a stroke the car feels faster. And so it should; developing 84bhp, it has a more than useful 15bhp over the 1.2, and 97lbs ft of torque developed at 3800rpm – the lower-powered unit pulls 83lbs ft of torque at 3000rpm, and a whole two seconds are shaved off by choosing the 1.4 (0-62mph in 11.9). The 1390cc unit feels and sounds sportier, too, and can also be specified with Volkswagen’s double-clutch DSG automatic gearbox. Which is exactly what we tried next, with the engine and gearbox combination fitted to the Polo SEL.
Until the turbocharged 104bhp 1.2-litre TSI arrives early next year, the 1.4 SEL is the most powerful new Polo. It looks the same, though, as the TSI will only be available as an SEL, and in this trim, the fifth-generation really looks the part. Looks can be deceptive, though; the test car was fitted with almost £3000-worth of extra kit, including 17-inch ‘Boavista’ alloys and 215/40 R17 tyres (replacing the standard 16” ‘Navarre’ rims), a touch-screen satellite navigation/radio unit and multifunction steering wheel. The leather trimmings inside the cabin are standard, however, and together with the magic carpet ride and hushed noise, really make the new Polo feel like the little limo VW wants it to be. The DSG gives the SEL a sporty edge, and as well as leaving it in fully automatic mode, normal and sports modes are available. Manual control is available, too – pull back to change down and push forward to change up. DSG also hangs on to the gears for longer, and in Sport mode, might fill the Polo GTI-sized for now.
The fifth-generation model is the most ‘refined, luxurious and capable incarnation
of the Polo to date, and may at last get the recognition it has been deserving of.
is the trump card played here, too, and to great effect. Long a Polo tradition, road imperfections are barely felt at all and even though the 15-inch wheels and 195/15 R15 tyres are close to what would grace a hot hatch ten years ago, here they cope well with bumps and ruts, and although body roll is predictably on the agenda, it’s well-judged. The electrically-assisted speed-sensitive steering is accurate enough for most drivers, if not offering the last word in feedback. Safety systems fitted as standard on the new Polo include ABS, Electronic Differential Lock, ESP, Hydraulic Brake Assist and Traction Control.
The last drive of the day was of the 74bhp 1.6 TDI SE. To be honest, we may have to reserve judgement on this one for now, as the test car was the most inconsistent of the day. It had enjoyed appearances in the motoring magazines very recently, seemingly being the only new Polo press car available, and we suspect was not quite the blemish-free, fresh out of the box car it could have been. It was good enough to get a first impression of the new family of 1.6 common-rail diesel engines, though. A little rough around the edges, but with 144lbs ft of torque available between 1500 and 2500rpm, it is plenty fast enough. It should be popular in SE trim, but a nasty pedal vibration from the engine detracted from the refined new Polo driving experience. Conclusions? The new Polo can be descibed as a mini-Golf (we wish it wasn’t), but it does feel individual enough from its bigger brother to have a personality of its own. VW has made good use of advanced technology to make the latest model both lighter yet safer, offering more ‘big car’ kit in the process. It’s the most refined, luxurious and capable incarnation of the model to date, and may at last get the recognition it has been deserving of. Improved interior: new Polo has high-quality Mk 6 Golf-inspired cabin with chrome accents on Moda and above. Full-width RCD 210 radio display gives a premium feel, while high-spec and optional RCD 510 touch-screen unit controls phone, MP3s and sat-nav
october 2009 | polodriver.com