The improved Volkswagen Polo BlueGT demonstrates that fast and fun can still be frugal. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen Polo BlueGT is one of those rare cars that shows you can have your cake and eat it. Now with 150PS under the hood, 62mph appearing in 7.6 seconds and, thanks to clever cylinder deactivations, up to 60.1mpg available on the combined fuel economy cycle, it's a very clever piece of engineering indeed.
Buying a car is all about weighing up compromises, especially if you're looking for one with a bit of poke. The old adage of 'cheap, fast, reliable: choose two from three' has usually applied. Volkswagen contends that this needn't be so with its Polo BlueGT. Okay, so 'fast' is relative, but with 150PS under its bonnet, it's far from sluggish. Where this car excels is in managing those essential compromises. It's quick enough to satisfy most, it's well built and it's extremely cheap to run. How it manages this is down to some fiendishly clever technology with genuine real world benefits. It's a pragmatic car, the Polo BlueGT, but one that hasn't forgotten that it's prime purpose is to entertain.
Key to the appeal of the Polo BlueGT is a little understanding of how its clever turbocharged 1.4-litre engine works. Under light and medium loads, the second and third cylinders are automatically shut down to reduce fuel consumption. Cylinder deactivation occurs at engine speeds of between 1,250 and 4,000 rpm, and at torque outputs of 25 to 100Nm. If the driver presses the accelerator pedal, the two cylinders are imperceptibly reactivated, so you don't need to worry about swinging round a dawdling caravan only to find you've only got two cylinders to call upon. The mechanical switchovers occur within 13 to 36 milliseconds, depending on engine speed. The multifunction display in the instrument binnacle lets the driver know when cylinders are deactivated. Flat out, the Polo BlueGT will accelerate to 62mph in just 7.8 seconds and run on to a top speed of 130mph. Customers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission (which is fitted to other Polo models and isn't the last word in tactility), or there's the excellent seven-speed DSG twin-clutch sequential 'box that offers lightning quick shifts and also helps improve economy and emissions figures a bit. An XDS electronic differential lock is standard to help get the power down through the corners.
Design and Build
The Polo BlueGT is easily identified by dint of its multi-spoke 17-inch alloys and GT badges front and rear. The suspension is lowered by around 15mm. Added to this are some features borrowed from the Polo GTI (the rear spoiler, rear bumper with diffuser, plus front bumper with LED daytime running lights) and some features borrowed from the Polo BlueMotion (side sills and front windscreen rain channels). A black-painted front grille and black door mirror caps complete the look. Exterior changes to this revised model are ultra-subtle, with sharper creases on the redesigned front bumper and grille and the addition of a chrome line that separates the front fog lights. Move round to the back and you'll spot revised tail lights and a smarter rear bumper. Drop inside and the instrument panel has been redesigned, as has the steering wheel design. The centre console has also been given a mild makeover with heating and ventilation controls now easier to operate. Soft touch plastics and subtle aluminium detailing are the order of the day alongside some more overt GT styling touches and the cabin is a little less austere than before. There's a 280-litre boot which increases to 952-litres when the rear seats are folded down.
Market and Model
Expect to budget somewhere in the £18,000 to £20,000 bracket for this Polo BlueGT, so maybe we should partially qualify the bit about 'cheap motoring'. Still, that's not bad in relation to similarly quick rivals and there's quite a few goodies in the cabin. As in the Polo GTI, the roof lining is in black, while the instruments are also from the GTI. Both driver and passenger sit on bespoke BlueGT sports seats and there is a leather-trimmed steering wheel with BlueGT emblem. Otherwise the kit list is fairly generous, including an RCD 310 radio/CD player with six speakers and an interface for plugging in an iPod or similar devices. Semi-automatic air conditioning, a multifunction trip computer, electric windows (including in the rear on five-door models), height-adjustable front seats, a split-folding rear-seat backrest, electrically operated and heated door mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, front and rear reading lights, a tyre pressure monitor and remote central locking are all standard fit items. So are 17-inch Montani alloy wheels, cruise control, sports suspension lowered by 15mm and a body styling kit.
Cost of Ownership
Volkswagen is looking to keep insurance bills in check by the modest engine capacity and economy and emissions for the BlueGT 1.4 TSI ACT model aren't anything to get too worried about either. 'ACT' in Volkswagen-speak means 'Cylinder Deactivation', which in turn designates a system where, for greater efficiency, only two of the four cylinders come into play at light to medium throttle speeds. As long as you aren't continually pressing the turbocharger into action, you might well approach the 58.9mpg fuel consumption figure quoted for what is now a Euro6-compatible unit. Specify the DSG gearbox and that goes up to 60.1mpg, a key target for small car manufacturers, because it equates to 4.5 litres per 100km. Emissions are rated at just 109g/km, which drops to just 107g/km if you choose the DSG gearbox. The fact that we're talking about a turbocharged petrol sports hatchback that's nearly dipping below 100g/km is quite remarkable. It'll come too and I wouldn't bank against Volkswagen being the people to bring it to us. Residuals are bound to hold up extremely well.
The Polo BlueGT is a very interesting car. It's also a bit of a game changer in its own quiet way. Perhaps efficiency isn't as sexy as a headline performance figure but right now, it's efficiency measures that are selling cars and if you can get a bit of sneaky power thrown in, then that has to be an appealing package for customers. That value proposition is perhaps a little tempered by fairly high pricing, but the overall cost of ownership figure is going to be extremely good for the BlueGT when its beefy residual values are taken into account alongside the 60mpg fuel economy and low emissions. Look beyond all that and you have very solid fundamentals. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that the once stolid Polo is now a really sharp steer. Is this the car that does it all? It just might be.