Being a light car, urban environments are where our Volkswagen Polo Launch Edition long-termer should excel. Over the past few months, little Ginger has spent a lot of time stuck in traffic and navigating Melbourne’s metropolitan streets.
The Polo has always been praised for its refined and upmarket driving experience, and this latest iteration of the German hatchback is no different.
Little road and wind noise enters the cabin at any speed, and the 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine is barely heard during acceleration – even when you’re really putting your foot down.
Speaking of that little engine, performance is brisk once you’re on the move, thanks to all 200Nm of torque being available between 2000 and 3500rpm.
However, the seven-speed DSG transmission has a tendency to hunt for the highest gear as quickly as possible, meaning you can quite regularly be left waiting for it to shift down a couple of cogs to put you back in the torque band. This can be particularly frustrating when trying to make gaps in traffic or rolling into roundabouts.
Additionally, the feeling of lag can be exacerbated in combination with the engine’s idle stop/start function. It genuinely feels like it takes the transmission 1–2 seconds to engage, which again can make for some nervous moments if you’re trying to make a right turn or head through a roundabout ahead of oncoming traffic if you misjudge the time it takes for the car to get moving again.
Once you’re rolling, though, the DSG shifts so smoothly and quickly that gear changes are almost imperceptible. Adding to that, the fact it gets to the highest gear as quickly as possible means the engine is coasting at whisper-quiet noise levels quite often – which also saves you fuel.
The Polo generally rides pretty well, but we’ve noticed that it can feel a little firm over smaller imperfections. It’s obviously tuned a little on the firmer side, which no doubt limits body roll in corners and helps it to feel almost ‘sporty’, though pothole-ridden Melbourne streets can feel quite jittery.
We wouldn’t call it uncomfortable, however, and the Polo makes up for it with its great absorption of larger bumps like speed humps.
The steering, meanwhile, is just really ‘nice’. It’s not the last word on feedback, but the electrically assisted rack turns with precision and predictability. It’s also light enough to make negotiating car parks and tight streets a breeze, while also being firm enough to not feel vague when you’re on the highway or tackling higher-speed bends.
Our tester’s optional Driver Assistance Package ($1400) includes helpful features like blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors front and rear, electric folding and dipping side mirrors, along with a semi-autonomous parking assistant. There’s also adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go for the highway.
Those extra features come in handy, and are a point of difference compared to the Polo’s competitors. While some will look down their nose on anyone who even makes the suggestion that these systems have a place in such a small car, Volkswagen needs to be commended for offering these high-end technologies on its most affordable model (if you exclude the Up! available overseas).
Blind-spot monitoring comes in handy when changing/merging lanes in traffic, while the front/rear sensors and automated parking assistant mean you don’t always need to have a panic attack if you’re afraid of parallel manoeuvres – the latter can do 90-degree parks as well.
So, the Polo passes the urban driving component with general competence all round, though there’s still some room for improvement.