Like the idea of a hot hatchback but not the cost of running one? Well the Volkswagen Polo R line offers sporty looks with a range of sensible engines. These include the 1.0-litre TSI unit that offers respectable performance with low running costs. The experts at Car and Driving investigate.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen Polo has long been the classy choice for those after a supermini. With its shrunken Golf looks and high quality interior, you can see why. We look at the eager 1.0-litre turbocharged version in racy R-Line trim.
Introduced in 1975, the Volkswagen Polo was originally little more than a re-badged version of the Audi 50. Due to it being more basic and therefore cheaper, the little Volkswagen outsold the Audi version. The decision was therefore soon made to axe the 50 to allow Audi to concentrate on larger, more prestigious cars. Since then, the Polo name has stood the test of time, with the fifth generation car receiving a facelift towards the end of 2014. While the styling was tweaked and the interior made to feel even more upmarket, the big news was under the bonnet. The 1.0-litre three cylinder engine that had been originally engineered for Volkswagen's up! citycar now made an appearance in a Polo in both naturally aspirated and turbocharged forms. The turbo version of that unit in R-Line trim makes for a tempting 'warm' hatch. Is it worth over £17,000 though?
Although the Polo is available with a wide variety of petrol and diesel engines, it's the 1.0-litre, three cylinder TSI motor we're looking at here. While it's small in capacity, a turbocharger lifts power to 110PS and torque to 199Nm. Coupled to a six speed manual gearbox, this engine can propel the Polo from 0-62mph in a reasonably brisk 9.3 seconds. Top speed is 122mph. While that isn't going to set any speed records, it'll be enough to surprise quite a few people away from the lights. More to the point, the Polo is unlikely to feel out of its depth on motorways or dual carriageways, even when loaded up. Those expecting a diesel-like experience will be disappointed though. It may have plenty of power but it does need revs to fully access it. We suspect the extra ratio of the dual clutch automatic gearbox may do a better job of keeping the little engine on the boil. As for the handling, Polos tend to feel like a larger car with good ride comfort and none of the edginess at motorway speeds that some rivals suffer from. The penalty is handling which is safe and secure but not particularly exciting.
Design and Build
Sitting on a platform shared with the SEAT Ibiza and the Audi A1, the Polo is entirely conventional in its construction. Weighing in at 1135kg, it's no heavyweight but it is undercut in bulk by a number of rivals - the penalty for filling the car with soft touch plastics. We shouldn't complain too much though: this MK5 version's still larger but lighter than the fourth generation car. R-Line models receive a unique styling pack consisting of special bumpers, an R-Line grille badge and natty alloy wheels. While it's all just supposed to ape the Polo GTI, you could argue the R-Line front bumper is actually a bit more aggressive. Inside is 'Race' cloth trim and a flat-bottomed R-Line steering wheel to set the scene. It isn't quite as sporty as the GTI and the seats could offer more lateral support. Saying that, it's unlikely R-Line owners with be driving hard enough for this to be an issue. As for boot space, 280-litres isn't bad but that is 10-litres less than that offered by arch rival the Ford Fiesta.
Market and Model
If you're sticking with R-Line trim and the 110PS TSI engine, there's only really a couple of big decisions to make. How many doors do you need and do you want to shift your own gears? The cheapest option is the three-door manual at just shy of £17,000, with the dual clutch automatic gearbox almost £1,400 extra. As stirring the gearbox is quite a pleasant job, we'd be tempted to save the money. At least choosing the five-door brings a much smaller financial penalty of just over £600. Regardless of doors or gearbox, R-Line trim does come well equipped - as you'd hope for around £17,000. On top of the bodykit, racy seats and sporty steering wheel, you get manual air-con, front fog lights, a touch screen infotainment system, cruise control and parking sensors front and rear. You can spend another £500 or so on metallic paint, nearly £1,000 on Alcantara seats, while sat-nav is around £700. While you get a selection of airbags and auto post-collision braking as standard, side curtain airbags are optional. Sadly, autonomous braking isn't available.
Cost of Ownership
Even with a decent amount of poke under the bonnet, CO2 levels still creep under the crucial 100g/km mark, if only by 1g/km for the manual model. With this gearbox, you'll be looking at combined fuel consumption of just 65.7mpg too. The DSG isn't quite as green producing 102g/km of carbon while returning 64.2mpg on the combined cycle. Yes, one of the diesels will be more economical but they'll also be significantly slower. Volkswagens are renowned for holding onto their value, although traditionally the frugal diesels have performed best. Regardless of engine type, resist the temptation to cram the car full of options. Just because you've spent well over £20,000 on your Polo doesn't mean you're going to get any more money when it comes time to sell it on. The warranty is for three years or 60,000 miles. However, this can be extended for a fee.
As sporty as the Polo R-Line might look, you can't ignore that the Ford Fiesta Ecoboost is cheaper to buy and handles better. Is this reason enough to pick the Ford? We're not so sure. The Polo has always impressed with its big-car feel and high quality interiors. There's no doubt the Volkswagen will hold onto more value when you come to sell, plus it arguably has a classier image too. Where the Polo really scores is that it does nothing badly. While it may not be class leading in any particular area, it is high enough up the rankings to score consistently well, making for a very attractive little car. R-Line trim adds some visual aggression, while the 110PS TSI engine strikes a good balance between economy and performance. If we're being sensible however, SE trim will probably give you most of the equipment you'll really need for a much nicer price.