While we get what VW is trying to achieve, the Beats treatment seems a little at odds with what is otherwise a commendably grown-up and fuss-free small car. The double bonnet stripe certainly won’t be to all tastes and, for some strange reason, the larger of the two stripes takes the Polo’s existing body colour and is therefore barely visible unless you look from an angle in bright sunlight.
Yet, personal views on the looks aside, there’s more appeal to be found inside. The Beats system offers plenty of punch and is bass-heavy even before you’ve fiddled with the equaliser, so that's certain to please the car’s target audience. It pairs nicely with VW’s excellent touchscreen infotainment system, offering all the connectivity a twentysomething user is likely to need.
The rest of the cabin still sets the standard for both fit and finish and ergonomics among the Polo’s mainstream competitors. There’s plenty of space for four adults and a useful boot, but other than the more appealing seat trim and lighter plastics there’s little internally to distinguish it from a regular SE model.
VW is only offering the Polo Beats with the smallest engines in the range — again, reflective of the young, insurance-conscious buyers it's hoping to attract. The lion’s share of sales will come from the 1.0-litre petrol, available in 64bhp, 74bhp and (turbocharged) 94bhp forms. But we’re testing what’s likely to be a niche seller in the UK, the 79bhp 1.6-litre diesel variant.
It’ll be a rare sight, not least because diesel is hardly flavour of the month, and oil-burning superminis haven’t historically sold in great numbers. It deserves to be, too — there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but the peppy petrols fit in best with the Polo’s town-biased identity.
The four-pot 1.6 TDI replaces the ageing three-pot 1.4 version used in the previous Polo and fares considerably better in matters of refinement. There’s much less vibration through the controls, while the traditional diesel grumble is only noticeable when you extend it beyond 3000rpm.
With a 14bhp and 10lb ft deficit compared with the more powerful 1.6 diesel we tested last week, this 79bhp unit offers nothing more than adequate performance. The 0-62mph sprint takes a yawning 12.9sec; although it doesn’t feel quite that slow due to its torquey mid-range, those often engaging in out-of-town activities will find themselves stirring the positive five-speed gearbox frequently to make progress.
Still, there’s no arguing with the impressive (and not totally unrealistic) economy claims, meaning higher-mileage drivers will continue to struggle to justify the petrols. But it’s disappointing that the claimed figures for the 79bhp version are exactly the same as the more powerful diesel.
With no suspension changes for the Beats edition, the rest of the driving experience is unchanged. The Polo reflects the dynamic qualities of its bigger brother, the Golf, in being an utterly sure-footed, composed and predictable steer. It corners with decent agility, while light controls make it a doddle to thread around town. It’s also commendably refined and mature-feeling on a motorway.
However, it still lacks the engagement and general driver appeal of the Ford Fiesta and even its Spanish sibling, the Seat Ibiza, drawing the line at competence and rarely putting a smile on your face. The normally comfortable and controlled ride is affected by the optional 17in wheels of our test car, too, transmitting more surface imperfections and road roar into the cabin than we'd like.