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Plenty of punch, and more of a mini-Golf than ever

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Polo

The fifth-generation Volkswagen Polo has junior Golf looks, but is that enough?

11 May 2009
Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI 105

What is it?

It's the fifth-generation Polo, now virtually as big as a Mk3 Golf and the first Volkswagen to be designed entirely under the direction of Walter de'Silva. Revealed at the Geneva motor show, and due on sale in Europe next month and in the UK in September, the new Polo has a visual attitude wholly lacking in the previous version, a car which had almost entirely fallen off UK buyers' radar.

Volkswagen makes much of the new Polo's eco-credentials, with very low CO2 figures (and some pretty conservative power outputs) from new or revised engines. Two 1.2-litre three-cylinder engines of 59bhp and 69bhp produce 128g/km apiece, while a four-cylinder 1.4 manages 84bhp and 139g/km. A new 1.6-litre common-rail diesel comes in 74bhp, 89bhp and 104bhp forms, all emitting 109g/km, so it's hard to see the attraction of the puniest version. All of these TDIs have a stop-start system.

The eco-stars, though, are the Bluemotion (on sale next year), with its 1.2-litre 75bhp three-cylinder turbodiesel plus long gearing, optimised aerodynamics, regenerative braking and an extraordinary 87g/km CO2 score, and the petrol 1.2 TSI with a turbocharger, 104bhp and a 129g/km CO2 count. At the other extreme, a Polo GTI is promised for next year with a 168bhp version of Volkswagen's 1.4-litre Twincharger engine featuring both a supercharger and a turbo.

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What's it like?

Volkswagen is pitching the Polo as a 'mature, high-end' car, yet also one described by R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberger as, yes, emotional and sporty.

It's true that the Polo looks good in a typically simple, stark, age-proof VW way, with a wedgy, big-wheeled side view, crisp edges and a wide, Golf-like face, and the interior fittings feel they will last forever. Precision and finish are generally superb, but the hard plastic door trims are disappointing when set next to the expensively padded dashboard.

There's proper space for a family and the boot has a removable false floor to match its level to the folded rear seats. But the contrast between the Polo's restrained, understated cabin design and a Ford Fiesta's Nokia-on-wheels approach couldn't be greater.

We concentrated on the 1.2 TSI for this first encounter, specced-up with optional 17in wheels (normal rubber is 15in, or 14in for base models) and a trim level equating to the UK's top SEL model (others will be S, SE and Mode). It comes with a six-speed gearbox, but a seven-speed DSG (the first in a supermini) is optional with this and some other engines.

It's a smooth, gutsy engine whose turbocharger is betrayed only by a soft initial throttle response. Thereafter it feels like a normal 1.6, but there's little point in revving it hard; its best work comes in the midrange. Cruising is relaxed in sixth, and this Polo is a quiet car.

That refinement comes partly from an extremely rigid structure, which – unlike the test car's low-profile tyres – also helps the ride's smoothness. The electro-hydraulic steering feels more natural than some rival all-electric systems, and the Polo threads tidily through curves with plenty of grip, tight body control but not a lot in the way of interactive entertainment. The brakes have too much servo assistance and are hard to feather at first. ESP and hill-start assist are standard on all new Polos.

Should I buy one?

The new Polo is more than ever the mini-Golf, and for many that will be enough to clinch the deal. It should be super-safe, with a five-star score predicted in the revised, tougher EuroNCAP test, and it will be very cheap to run. It will last well and shouldn't date, and all these things suit it well to the current economic climate. This 1.2 TSI is punchy enough to entertain a little, too.

But you can guess what's coming: a Fiesta looks more fun, and it is. The Polo has an air of detail quality not found in the Ford, but the playful Fiesta will lift your mood more.

Join the debate


12 May 2009

It's almost a shame that VW are carrying the old 1.2 and 1.4 engines over into this model - I know they will be the cheap option, but they do little to enhance the ground up redesign.

I now also await the barrage of criticism Autocar gets on here every time it mentions a Ford is better to drive at the end of its articles. Perhaps this could be avoided by publishing proper group tests here rather than just individual drives with a throwaway comment strapped to the end of articles "but the xxx is better" to give a more balanced view.

12 May 2009

I think this could be the personification of the term 'Grown up small car'

Think it looks great and this TSI engine looks like a brilliant choice, its just a shame they have released the extreme low power versions as they stretch the term anaemic...

Anyway a superb step forward over the current model.

12 May 2009

A somewhat predictable outcome then. Great build, classy, understated, not as good to drive as the Fiesta. Is this really competing with the likes of the Fiesta though? The UK pricing structure will probably prove otherwise.

In my opinion the Fiesta is a great looking car and has received rave reviews for it's ride and handling. However, if you were to compare the two cars over a 'typical' 10 year, 120,000 miles life cycle I am confident the depth of quality and engineering in the Polo would become apparent. As a long-term ownership proposition it's probably the better package.

12 May 2009

More beautiful than the Golf (MPV?).

12 May 2009

Looks good and probably satisfying to own. I'd guess that the 1.2 TSI will have a pretty hefty price tag attached, making it a rare car on UK roads.

Sensible money would go on a Fabia me thinks, especially if it gets the new diesels available here.

12 May 2009

Glad to see VW hasn't pulled off the same con with the new Polo by simply facelifting the previous model and claiming it to be an all-new model as it has done with the Golf 'Mk 6'.

12 May 2009

Looks good?? It looks dull as ditch water and totally predictable. Im sure this will be fine for many, but not for me. I had run a Passat as a company car, and while it was comfortable, well built, reliable, and all the other VW traits, it bored the pants off me with all its sensibleness. The golf and polo do the same. Fiesta for me please! If i had to choose that is. Actually, sack that idea, Mazda 2 would be my choice of the class. In that bright green colour to cheer me up on a miserable scottish winters day!

12 May 2009

The car looks good, my mum was thinking of getting a new Fiesta in the scrappage scheme,but she may prefer the more grown up feel of the Polo- I will definitly recommend she has a look at the 1.2 TSI version. Really looks likes its moving into Golf territory, with front centre armrests, DSG gearboxes and such.

12 May 2009

I like the way they have designed this car, very smart looking. The TSI engine sounds like a gem, and hopefully it will make an appearence in other VAG cars to replace the ancient 102PS 1.6 N/A engine. I suspect this car will end up costing less than the Fiesta, much like the current Polo does. Fords list prices are currently extremely high, and its not hard to undercut them. Certainly VW have managed it with the Golf SE TDI 110 which costs less than the worse-equipped Focus Zetec TDCI 110.

As a car, again like comparing a Golf vs Focus, the Fiesta will drive better than the Polo but the Polo will have a better quality build and ultimately out last the Ford. I am talking from years of experience here, not just making things up.

12 May 2009

"What is it?

It's the fifth-generation Polo, now virtually as big as a Mk3 Golf"

I would rather buy a 1997 VR6 - that would lift my mood more than a superhugemini Polo or Fiesta.


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