Don’t be swayed by the new moniker – the 2017 Volkswagen Polo Urban is essentially a hug goodbye to the current-generation model of the German brand’s compact hatchback.
It’s not one of those hugs that lingers too long, either. There’ll only be a Polo Urban for a matter of months before the all-new Volkswagen Polo arrives in Australia in March 2018. Read the 2018 Volkswagen Polo international drive review.
The new-generation car will be bigger, more mature and arguably not as cute as this version, which first went on sale back in 2010. In city car terms, then, this was like a hug from a grandma – most city cars have life-cycles of about five or six years.
So, what is this Polo Urban business all about, then?
Well, there are two spec levels to choose from – the Urban, as you see here, which replaces the existing base model Trendline, and the Urban+, which takes the spot of the Comfortline model.
We’ve got the most affordable Polo you can buy – the Urban manual, which costs just $16,990 drive-away. The list price, officially, is $17,490 plus on-roads, which is $300 more than the existing Trendline, but VW claims there’s an extra $1500 of value in the Urban.
My head is spinning from the numbers, but it’s simple – don’t pay more than $17k for a base manual Polo Urban, and this is the extra stuff you’ll get that the Trendline missed out on:
- 15-inch Tosca alloy wheels – previously steel wheels with hubcaps
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and gear shift knob – was plastic for all
- A new multi-function display for the driver with digital speedometer
- Illuminated vanity mirrors – previously you’d be doing your make-up in the dark
- Urban badges
Those Urban badges are naffer than naff. But everything else is a welcome addition to the little Polo, which still has plenty of other highlights when it comes to standard equipment.
The car’s 6.5-inch touchscreen media system is excellent. It features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, has Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and auxiliary connectivity, FM/AM radio, CD player and an SD card slot.
It is arguably the easiest media system to use in the class – the menu systems and buttons are all logical, it jumps between screens without much hesitation, re-pairs with connected devices quickly, and the smartphone-mirroring tech is excellent – but the Urban misses out on steering wheel audio controls, which is annoying. There are no auto wipers or auto headlights, either, but at least the headlights will turn off when you turn the car off, rather than beep at you to turn the knob.
You get cruise control (operated by stalk), that flat-bottomed steering wheel is a delight in the hand, and the cloth seat trim is nice, as are the plastics used across the dash and on the doors – it feels more premium than plenty of its competitors in terms of the finishes used, but it isn’t perfect: some of the buttons on our test car were a bit crooked – you mightn’t notice it first time around, but it will stick out like the proverbial when you do.
But, it isn’t the most practical little hatch in the class – buy a Honda Jazz if you want that. The back seat space isn’t overly well-suited to moving adults around, particularly if they’re tall and/or broad, with limited legroom (knees hard against the back-rest for six-footers sat tandem) and not a lot of headroom, either.
Three adults across the back won’t happen unless they’re slimmer than toothpicks, but if you’ve got kids there are dual ISOFIX hooks and three top-tether points, as well.
The back seat has hard fabric armrests, where the fronts get squishy fabric bits that are much more elbow-friendly, and the back also lacks useful storage: there are no map pockets, there’s only one cupholder, and there are only slim door pockets. At least there are grab handles and jacket hooks in the back.
Up front the storage situation is better, with big door pockets including bottle holders, cupholders in front of the shifter and a nice little smartphone slot near the USB port. The glovebox is fine, but there’s no covered centre console storage.
The Polo’s boot is a handy size at 280 litres – not enormous, but there’s a second-tier stowage area beneath the boot floor. There’s a steel full-size spare beneath that, and the Polo has tyre pressure monitoring, too.
There are other things that make the Polo a nice place to be – the windows are all auto up/down, and the screen doubles as the display for the standard rear-view camera.
Unlike the Urban+ model, the Polo Urban can’t be optioned with the Driver Assistance Package ($1800) that includes forward collision warning with emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, satellite navigation integrated into the media system, and front and rear parking sensors. That pack would be welcome in this grade, but VW clearly wants you to spend up to the Urban+ to then spend even more… the brand isn’t on its own, there.
The entry-level Polo Urban model is powered by the less powerful version of the German company’s four-cylinder turbocharged 1.2-litre engines. In this spec it has 66kW of power (at 4400-5400rpm) and 160Nm of torque (from 1400-3500rpm), where the Urban+ has 81kW/175Nm.
It’s a fairly charming little drivetrain, but it’s not what I’d label zesty. It offers honest response when the revs are right – above 2000rpm is when it finds its perkiness, as it can be affected by some lag from the turbo, particularly up steep hills at lower speeds.
The five-speed manual gearbox has a fairly sweet action to it, and the clutch is light with a good take-up point – this is a really easy car to drive, although because of the way the gearing is, you do need to give it a bit of throttle before thinking of grabbing the next gear.
Fuel use for the Polo is rated at 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres in this spec. Over our test loop including highway, urban and stop-start traffic, we saw 5.7L/100km.
The Polo Urban is also – unsurprisingly – great around town. Only really sharp bumps upset the car’s progress, because the suspension offers a beautiful balance of comfort and control, dealing with road joins and speed humps nicely.
The steering, too, is city-friendly, light but with enough feel to it that you know what’s happening up front, making it extremely easy to park. At highway speed the steering is assured, giving the Polo a solidity that belies its size.
While Volkswagen might lure you in with budget-friendly buy-in, owning the car might be a little bit harder to factor in to your expenses. It has a five-year/75,000km capped-price servicing program, but it is one of the most expensive cars in the segment to maintain, with an average service cost of $554. That’s pretty exorbitant.
There is no denying the Volkswagen Polo is – even after so long – still one of the best city car options you can get. In 2017 Urban spec it is attractively priced and perfectly suited to the moniker the German company brandished it with.
If this thing is this good so far into its life-cycle, we can’t wait for the new-generation Polo to arrive.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images by Sam Venn.