The Volkswagen Polo has been refreshed and improved. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the latest version.
Ten Second Review
Class and understatement has done the business for the Polo to date but Volkswagen clearly felt that a little more substance was required. In the face of some formidable rivals, it has attempted to drag the Polo to the top of the supermini pile with some well-chosen updates to engines and equipment.
Why would you buy a Volkswagen Polo? You wouldn't buy it on price, because there are many rival superminis that cost less. Many of these cars will have more equipment inside them. Some will even be nicer to drive. That much-vaunted Volkswagen build quality is, statistically at least, something that the Japanese and Koreans covered off some time ago. So what's the appeal? It's simple. The Polo is all about understated refinement or, to put it another way, conspicuously not trying too hard to impress. Now this is a very hard trick to carry off. Try too hard and this Volkswagen loses its cool. Don't try hard enough and the car looks like a complacent trinket for posers, which is possibly even less desirable. So with this latest and updated Polo, the Wolfsburg brand is looking to land it square in that profitable sweet spot.
The oily bits under the bonnet have come in for some attention with this update to the fifth-generation car. The Polo now features a range of EU6-compliant engines offering fuel efficiency improvements of up to 23 per cent over the old units. Petrol options are two three-cylinder 1.0-litre MPI units with 60 or 75PS, plus a more modern 95PS TSI unit in the BlueMotion version. Further up the petrol range, you'll find a 90PS 1.2-litre four-cylinder TSI unit and a 110PS 1.0-litre TSI powerplant. There's also a 1.4-litre TSI engine with cylinder deactivation (ACT), with power increased by 10PS to 150PS. Should you prefer to go diesel, there are now two three-cylinder 1.4-litre TDI engines, with either 75 and 90PS. Safety has been one area where the Polo scores very highly and all models now get a Hill Hold function and an Automatic Post-Collision Braking System which brakes the vehicle after a collision to reduce kinetic energy significantly, thereby minimising the chance or consequences of a second impact. The suspension and chassis are left largely as was, which means that you can expect safe and predictable handling with ride quality that's a little skewed towards the firm-ish end of things.
Design and Build
So low key is the Polo's styling that the updates to this latest car will be lost on many customers. Exterior changes 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. Optional LED headlamps are a first in the supermini sector and have a distinctive light signature. Move round to the back and you'll spot revised tail lights anda smarter rear bumper, while Volkswagen has introduced no fewer than five fresh designs for the alloy wheels. The Golf-lite styling theme has been retained and the Polo remains a sharp looker. 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 but the cabin is notably 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
Prices start at just over £11,000 for the Polo S. This gets a six-speaker stereo with 5.0-inch colour touch screen, SD card reader, DAB radio and USB and AUX-in connections. There's also a height-adjustable driver's seat, illuminated vanity mirrors, cup holders and stylish 'gloss black' interior highlights. It probably won't surprise you to learn that the S A/C model adds manual air conditioning for an extra £700-odd. Moving up to SE trim brings features like a bigger touch screen, 15-inch alloy wheels and manual air conditioning, while five-door models get electric rear windows. The SE Design model focuses on cosmetics, with 16-inch wheels, a black gloss radiator grille, dark-tints for the tail lights and rear windows, plus ritzier fabrics and illuminations inside. Above that, there are SEL and BlueGT models, the latter getting 17-inch alloy wheels and 15mm lower sport suspension, while it's distinguished visually with its unique body styling kit, sports seats with Alcantara bolsters and a black roof lining. An XDS electronic differential lock for improved traction and handling is standard, as is cruise control and a Driver Alert System. The Polo GTI is available too, offered with a choice of either manual or DSG gearbox. Full-LED headlights will also become available across the range.
Cost of Ownership
The headline-maker here is the Polo BlueMotion model, offered with either 1.0-litre TSI petrol power or a tweaked version of the 75PS 1.4-litre TDI diesel. This delivers 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 94g/km of CO2 in TSI petrol form, or 91.1mpg and 82g/km in TDI guise. As for the maintream Polo line-up, well, somewhat surprisingly, there's only one engine in the whole range that emits less than 100g/km of carbon dioxide and that's the 90PS 1.4-litre TDI diesel, which opens at over £14,500 in SE trim. A better bargain if you can't stretch to a BlueMotion model is the old-tech 1.0-litre MPI petrol engine, which can't match the diesel's 83.1mpg fuel consumption figure but will nevertheless squeeze 60.1 miles out of a gallon of 95 RON. The more powerful 75PS version of this powerplant isn't going to send you to the wall either, recording 58.9mpg. Emissions for these two 1.0-litre units are 106 and 108g/km respectively. The £2,200 difference in price between the petrol and diesel engines means you'd need to do over 100,000 miles before you saw the diesel's price premium back in terms of fuel savings. The 1.2-litre TSI petrol unit is a great compromise between economy and effervescence, with a tiny turbocharger boosting power to 90PS. Even here, you'll get 60.1 miles per gallon, exactly the same as the entry-level 60PS 1.0-litre, with identical 106g/km carbon emissions. If I had to identify the most attractive buy in the Polo range, it would probably be this powerplant, mated to the DSG gearbox if you're not too cash-strapped.
The Volkswagen Polo formula has worked well to date, but competition in the supermini sector has ramped up not by a notch or two but by a great hulking leap. Beating the likes of the Ford Fiesta, the Hyundai i20 and the Mazda2 isn't as easy as it used to be. The Polo previously appealed on classy minimalism but most people these days want slick electronics and a greater feeling of design input inside their small cars. Volkswagen has responded and done so with typical thoroughness. Little about the Polo's dynamics or efficiency are really best in class stuff. But what makes this car so good is that it's there or thereabouts in most categories but doesn't get beaten when it comes to perceived quality. That's key. That reassuring feeling that your second-largest capital purchase is money well spent ought to guarantee this car's place at the top table.