First DriveNew convenience and safety gadgets, plus a great new TSI engine, help keep the Polo close to the top of the class
First DriveClever tech makes the Polo more economical, cleaner and safer, while new engines offer greater refinement but no more driving involvement
What is it?
This is the first Polo to be equipped with VW’s optional seven-speed DSG gearbox, which is currently only available when mated to the 84bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine. This is also the most powerful petrol in the Polo range until the turbocharged 1.2 TSI and 1.4-powered GTI arrive next year.
The seven-speed ‘box uses a pair of dry clutches, which don’t require any cooling. Its compact (weighing 79kg and measuring 369mm in length) and it uses 75 per cent less oil than the wet clutches of the six-speed DSG ‘box. At present, the seven-speed ‘box can only be used on cars with a maximum torque output of 184lb ft (the test car’s is 97lb ft) compared to the 258lb ft the six-speeder can handle.
The inclusion of DSG in our test car boosts combined fuel economy from 47.9mpg to 48.7mpg over the non DSG-equipped model, while CO2 emissions are also cut from 139g/km to 135g/km. VW has been able to improve these figures with the seven-speed DSG ‘box by lengthening the ratio of seventh gear, while first has been shortened to improve off the line acceleration.
What’s it like?
Fantastic. VW don’t try and hide the fact the car is heavily influenced by the sixth-generation Golf and it shows - this is a mature car that oozes quality.
This is best seen in the DSG ‘box. It can be placed in either standard auto’ mode, a semi-auto’ mode, which allows the driver to change gear using the lever, (there are no wheel-mounted paddles) or sport mode.
The three modes all have their own distinct personalities, although the semi-auto’ mode is best left alone as the shift is counter intuitive – you push forward to change up and pull back to change down. This means gear changes require extra thought, which shouldn’t be needed and it’s therefore best to leave the DSG to its own devices.
Standard auto’ mode is perfect for everyday driving, be it in town or on the motorway. It responds well to gentle inputs on the throttle and both up and down shifts are carried out unnoticed. The seventh speed is welcome on the motorway and it drops the engine revs considerably to make cruising at speed a relaxed and quiet experience.
It does tend to stay in a gear higher than you’d normally be if driving a manual, which can make pulling away from corners or junctions a slower than normal process. But this isn’t a quick car – 0-62mph takes 11.9 seconds.
Sport mode sufficiently transforms the car into one you can push on with and it does live up to its name. In this mode, the DSG ‘box will respond to how hard you want to push. Keep your foot flat on the accelerator and it will hold on to the red line before changing, but if you’re more hesitant (stuck behind traffic, for example) it changes at more conventional revs.
You have the confidence in the ‘box in sport mode that it will always find the right gear. Brake hard for a corner and it changes down efficiently and will always being the right gear when you accelerate out, meaning you can push on with confidence and not lose time waiting for the gearbox to select the right gear.
The basic suspension setup remains the same in this Polo, meaning the ride is soft and accomplished and doesn’t deteriorate when being pushed on B-roads. The steering however feels artificial and doesn’t give the driver any significant feedback, which is a shame given the extra character the Polo has with the DSG.
Should I buy one?
Take the high price of our SEL-trimmed test car out of it, and suddenly the DSG seems an attractive and affordable proposition. VW predicts only around four per cent of all Polos sold will be in this top-spec SEL trim, and our test car was also loaded with pricey options including sat-nav, 17-inch alloys and climate control.
The big seller is going to be in SE trim, and at the time of writing, the DSG-equipped 1.4 SE costs around £13,500. The comparable 1.4-litre auto’ petrol Ford Fiesta costs a similar amount, but its ‘box is a more dated four-speed unit compared to the Polo’s seven.
The Fiesta arguably has the better ride and handling, but VW’s trump car is the DSG ‘box. The styling may be reserved, but this is a grown up car with generous equipment levels and impressive, advanced technology.