Volkswagen’s latest lifestyle offering, the Polo Dune, reminds me of one of those faux surf dudes you see hanging around the beaches in Cornwall: wannabe Aussie tan, trendy wetsuits and the latest brand of surfboard. All the gear and no idea.
You see, the Dune has been to boot camp and received a heavy dose of plastic body cladding, raised ride height and off-roader detailing. And yet it remains resolutely Polo-based, which makes it a front-wheel-drive supermini in 4x4 drag.
This new breed of faux-SUV minis is growing fast with the arrival of the Rover Streetwise, Citroën C3 XTR and now the Dune. Elsewhere in Europe, the VW is laughably called Polo Fun, hastily changed to Dune in the UK where the marketing bods hope to sell 3000 in a full year to younger buyers.
Such low sales volumes might sound like small fry, but don’t forget the Dune is the new range-topper – with prices to match. We drove the 1.4 TDi which, at £13,470, is the most expensive Polo on sale today. At least you get plenty of toys as standard, including air-con, anti-lock brakes, CD player, electric windows, mirrors and sunroof, and leather detailing.
However, most buyers will be attracted to the more muscular exterior. The ride height has been jacked up by 20mm and the plastic cladding is designed to ape the tough look of off-roaders. And guess what – it works! I clumsily knocked the door in a particularly narrow garage and the protective plastic layer saved a paint chip. Marvellous.
The most appealing parts of the makeover are those standard, and rather gorgeous, 17-inch BBS alloys. Including the anodised chrome roofrails, the whole thing is 62mm higher than the standard Polo and the special effects lend the Dune a surprisingly different style which, judging by the looks from other road users, I wasn’t the only one to find attractive.
Compared to the outside’s extra-strong flavour, the Dune’s cabin is more-regular Polo. Bar the extra kit, leather-trimmed controls and chromed pedals, you could be in any Polo, with its Fort Knox build quality and choice of materials. It’s big, too: we drove four of Autocar’s man-sized scribblers in comfort from the British Motor Show in Birmingham to London without a single complaint.
Drive off and you soon notice the raised ride height, improved visibility and loftier SUV/MPV-style driving position that will appeal to many buyers. Otherwise, it echoes the Polo driving experience, with well-weighted steering and gearshift and easy-to-use controls. Considering the low-profile 215/40 ZR17 tyres, the ride is well damped and comfortable, too.
The 74bhp, 1.4-litre common-rail diesel gurgles and warbles like all three-cylinder engines, and lets you keep up with most traffic, apart from on steep hills where the chubby 1233kg kerb weight takes its toll. Not much happens beneath 2200rpm, where the 144lb ft torque crests, but once you’re in the twist zone the Dune has better performance than its 14.7sec 0-62mph time suggests.
VW’s frugal pumpe düse know-how pays dividends at the pumps, where the firm claims 56.5mpg on the combined cycle. We saw an excellent 50mpg in mixed driving and the engine emits just 135g/km of CO2.We were sceptical of the Dune at first, but won over by its chunky style, excellent build quality and miserly fuel consumption. Never judge a book by its cover.