It may not look dramatically different, but the 2015 Volkswagen Polo has received a number of important changes.
Perhaps the most crucial one is that the updated version is now cheaper than ever, with the base model 66TSI manual kicking off from just $16,290 (or $15,990 driveaway, for a limited time).
That positions the starting point for the 2015 Polo hatch range squarely in the mix among competitor five-door models such as the Kia Rio (from $16,290), Hyundai Accent (from $16,990), Honda Jazz (from $14,990), soon-to-be-updated Toyota Yaris (currently from $15,690) and Mazda 2 (now priced at $15,790 – new version coming in November).
The Polo is available in two trim levels – the base model 66TSI Trendline and the top-end 81TSI Comfortline. Both are powered by a new 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine in varied states of tune, with the choice of manual or dual-clutch automatic transmissions available – more on that later.
Despite a reduction in prices ($750 for the base model, $900 for the top-spec version), the Polo now comes better equipped. Standard is a 5.0-inch colour touchscreen media system that replaces the basic analogue unit in the previous version, with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming standard for all variants.
Aside from the new touchscreen, the model range has seen little in the way of major equipment differences – the base car still has 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, and the top-spec comes with 15-inch alloys, for instance. See full details of the 2015 Volkswagen Polo pricing and specifications here.
The previous Polo was a benchmark model in the class in terms of its powertrain, and there’s no suggestion that the new version has strayed from that source of praise.
With the new base model packing 66kW of power from 4400-5400rpm and 160Nm at 1400rpm, the engine is entirely more bolshy, refined and usable than the 1.4-litre naturally aspirated unit it replaces (which had 63kW at 5000rpm and 132Nm at 3800rpm).
We tested this version with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and found it at its most impressive around town. The low-level response allows for swift progress from traffic lights. There’s some slight slurring from a standstill from the DSG ‘box, but otherwise the shifts through the gears are smooth and precise.
On the open road, the 66TSI can feel a little sluggish, particularly up steep hills. Where the torque is quite usable around town, it is harder to access at higher speeds, as the engine prefers to drop gears and rev higher.
As its name suggests, the range-topping 81TSI has 81kW of power between 4600-5600rpm (up from 77kW at 5000rpm) and peak torque is 175Nm from 1400rpm (was 1500rpm in the 77TSI).
Without driving the 77TSI and 81TSI back-to-back you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference, but that’s more representative of how good the old engine was. The 81TSI, on the other hand, is a cracking little turbo powerplant, with excellent response from low in the rev-range that comes on cleanly and progressively. It feels more raucous and peppy under hard acceleration than the 66TSI, and again offered quick, clean shifts with only a slight stop-start lag from the DSG transmission.
Fuel use for both engines has dropped, with the claimed consumption of the 66TSI pegged at 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres for both the manual and auto versions (a drop of 1.3L/1.2L over the previous base car), while the 81TSI uses the same 4.8L in auto guise and 4.9L with the manual gearbox (down 0.6L/0.7L over the existing 77TSI. On our test loop through the mountains behind Brisbane, we saw 6.8L/100km in the 66TSI and 7.9L/100km in the 81TSI. Both require 95 Octane premium unleaded fuel, and both have quick-thinking, relatively unobtrusive stop-start systems.
Aiding those fuel savings, the new Polo adopts an electronic steering system that replaces the existing electro-hydraulic unit. The result is a system with a nice amount of feel and good directness through corners, while on the highway it doesn’t have the vague on-centre patch so commonly found with these types of steering systems. Around town, the steering is light and quick, making parking simple.
Both cars handle corners and bumps sweetly, with decent balance and excellent ride quality. Comfortable and composed is the best way to describe the ride, which excelled in the urban loop we drove and surprised over rough, pockmarked back roads.
The same can’t be said when the Sport pack option is chosen. It rides on lowered suspension and features 17-inch alloy wheels with lower profile tyres, which decimate the quality of the ride considerably. It does look better and feel a little sharper at the front, but we’d suggest perhaps the better bet would be to wait for the new GTI if you really want a sportier Polo.
While there is reasonably good grip available from the 15-inch Continental tyres, the rubber can get squealy in hard cornering, and we did notice some understeer – where the car wants to keep pushing forward through a bend – at pace.
Inside, changes to the dashboard and centre console include the addition of the aforementioned touchscreen media system. The unit is simple and intuitive, and features an easy Bluetooth phone and audio streaming system that took mere seconds to connect, even while on the move.
There is an SD card input, as well as an auxiliary jack, and while the USB plug is hidden neatly in the lower centre console within cord-stretching distance of a handy stowage caddy, it can only charge your device rather than read data or music from it. The company says the system isn’t capable of reading from USB, and it certainly failed on both the iPhones we tried, and it has no plans to offer a capable cable for the job. Instead, owners will have to stream music from their device and charge it up while doing so.
Another issue is the lack of satellite-navigation, which is unavailable with this new media screen, even as an option. It is expected to be available on the GTI version due in 2015, as that car will likely adopt a larger, more sophisticated 6.5-inch media unit.
It’s worth noting, too, that buyers who like the assistance of a reverse-view camera must choose the more expensive 81TSI version, and then tick a $1500 option box in the form of the Driver Comfort pack. Rear parking sensors are a dealer-fit option on both variants.
Other issues with the interior include the hard plastics that still adorn the front and rear door skins in the Trendline model (the Comfortline gets fabric-trimmed sections), and while there’s a thick, soft-touch dashboard, the glovebox and lower plastic areas appear at odds with the more premium material.
The interior does score a few points back in terms of its storage options, with a chillable glovebox, deep door pockets up front, decent cup holders between the front seats and reasonable rear door caddies. The boot, too, is above average, with a dual-floor system and a full-size steel spare wheel hidden underneath.
Back seat space is tight for taller bodies, though, with this six-foot-tall tester unable to squish in comfortably. With the driver’s seat set to my own driving position, my knees were hard up against the back-rest, and while toe-room is good, head-room is on the tight side. Taller people may also find the front passenger seat in the entry-level model to be quite perch-like, and there’s no passenger-seat height adjustment in the base car (the 81TSI Comfortline does offer it, though).
On the ownership front, the Polo is covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and Volkswagen offers a competitive six-year capped price servicing program every 12 months or 15,000km. It averages out dearer than most rivals, though, at $490 per year.
There’s no denying that with the new Polo, Volkswagen has taken a good thing and made it even better, particularly the 81TSI which impressed us most.
Admittedly there are still some issues – including the lack of sat-nav availability and the tight rear seat – but its lower pricing, including sharp driveaway deals, reaffirms the Polo as one of the best in the business in its class. It also sounds a warning to other brands in this tough-fought segment of the market.