Cheap and cheerful. It’s a well-worn cliché thrown about with abandon when discussing all manner of reasonably priced, pint-sized things. Cars are no different, especially in this light-car segment, where the majority of players come in at under the $25K mark and a healthy smattering under the psychological $20K barrier.
And that includes the car we have on test, the Volkswagen Polo 70TSI Trendline, which can be yours in manual trim for just $17,990. That makes it not just the entry-level Polo in this country, but also the cheapest entrée into Volkswagen ownership.
But, before we get too carried away with sub-$20K pricing, the car we have on test is fitted with the $2500 optional DSG transmission as well as $500 worth of metallic paint, lifting its sticker price to $20,990 plus on-road costs. We reviewed the manual 70TSI earlier this year, so if you prefer your Polo to feature three pedals, you can check out what we thought here.
Now, though, our focus is on the dual-clutch auto iteration to see if the Polo can live up to the cheap and cheerful tag, despite breaking through the $20K barrier.
Volkswagen launched this, the sixth-generation Polo (appropriately and officially Mk6), to the world in late 2017. Australia had to wait a bit longer, though, our first Mk6s not appearing until early 2018.
It’s a mercifully simple range, just four variants, starting with the 70TSI Trendline on test here, before stepping up to the 85TSI Comfortline ($19,490 in manual guise). Then there’s the urban-focussed Polo Beats that starts at $22,490 for the manual variant, before the range tops out with the GTI with its 147kW 2.0-litre turbo four at $30,990 and only available with the brand’s six-speed DSG transmission.
That cheap and cheerful approach doesn’t mean Volkswagen has scrimped on the Polo. Even at this, the entry point to the range, the Polo is well equipped. Sure, it rides on steel wheels with old-school wheel covers, but they look okay wearing 185/65R15 rubber.
Inside, the Polo Trendline scores an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although there is no inbuilt sat-nav. Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity is also standard, while the rear-view camera is decent enough. There’s city-speed AEB and tyre pressure monitoring to complement the six airbags tucked away inside its carcass. Cruise control is of the non-adaptive variety, while you’ll have to make do with old-fashioned manual air-conditioning to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the cabin.
The cabin itself is pretty basic, but its lines are clean and it is reasonably functional. There’s no centre armrest (you’ll need the next variant in the range, the Comfortline, to score that creature comfort), but it still offers a decent experience. The seats are trimmed in cloth, but that doesn’t detract from the overall ambience of the cabin. And they are comfortable enough with good support and bolstering.
The flat-bottomed steering wheel, trimmed in leather, adds a sporty air to a city hatch that is anything but, certainly not in this 70kW spec. Still, it’s nice to pretend sometimes. The switches on the wheel control some of the car’s functions, such as audio, telephone and cruise control, while also scrolling through the small but practical multifunction display nestled between the speedo and tacho. It’s all easy enough and intuitive.
There’s a smattering of storage options, although they aren’t huge. A pair of cupholders nestle inside the centre console, while a small, smartphone-sized cubby sits in front of the gear lever. There are bottle holders tucked away in the door panels, while the glovebox is small, but adequate, and hides a CD player – great for those retro tunes that haven’t made their way to Spotify yet… Yeah right.
The back row is spacious for a car of this size, with decent enough head, leg and knee room. Three across is a stretch, though. There are two ISOFIX points on the outboard seats, while all three possies have top-tether points. That back row folds in 60:40 split fashion to liberate boot space, which comes in at a pretty decent 1125 litres. That shrinks to a still reasonable 351L with the back row in play.
None of this should come as a surprise really. The new Polo has a 78mm longer wheelbase than the Mk5, and overall length of 4053mm. That’s VW Golf size from just a couple of generations ago.
The Golf comparisons don’t end there. There has always been a familial relationship between the Polo and its larger sibling, but this Mk6 Polo takes the transference of VW DNA to another level. From just about every angle, the Polo looks like a smaller version of its Golf stablemate. Sure, there are key differences – size notwithstanding – but the new Polo is unmistakably a Volkswagen and arguably a smaller-sized Golf. It’s handsome, yes, with sharp edges and creases that accentuate its proportions, but it does lack a little funk factor that one could expect from this segment.
But that’s all window dressing. The real test of the Polo is in how it drives, and how it serves its purpose as an urban-focussed hatch. And the news is good. Even in this, the least powerful of tunes, the Polo works admirably to provide a satisfying driving experience.
It’s no pocket rocket. The 70kW and 175Nm extracted from the 1.0-litre (999cc, to be precise) in-line turbo three-cylinder found under the bonnet is adequate, if not breathtaking.
Around town, the Polo performs with aplomb. It’s peppy enough to navigate most situations, the Polo darting along reasonably effortlessly. There’s the odd bit of hesitation from the seven-speed DSG, but like we’ve found in other VW product, it’s an occasional issue. Throwing the gear shifter into Sport mode mitigates that hesitation, although it comes at a cost to your wallet: those longer-held revs sipping at fuel like a thirsty dog on a hot summer’s day.
Look, this iteration of the Polo is no warm hatch. Tepid hatch? Maybe. Volkswagen claims a 0–100km/h time of 10.8 seconds, and that should tell you everything you need to know. Not that buyers of the Polo in this spec will even remotely care. What it does do, and do well, is zip in and out of city streets and laneways, is a cinch to park, and pretty miserly on fuel, too. Out on the highway, the three-pot isn’t overly stressed either, thrumming along nicely at 100km/h.
The ride is typically Volkswagen fare, neither hard nor soft, but just about right. There’s minimal tyre roar – thanks to chubby tyres – and the Polo deals with bumps and lumps on the road with aplomb. Bigger hits don’t unsettle it either, the little hatch settling straight back down to business.
The steering remains light, as it should in this segment, affording the Polo an easy manoeuvrability, especially around town. Brakes? Well, there are discs up front and drums out back – a little bit archaic and a little bit cheap. But, in a typical-use scenario, you’re not going to notice.
That cheap and cheerful demeanour extends to fuel consumption, with the Polo in this DSG iteration slurping around 6.8L/100km during our almost entirely urban week with the car. And considering some of that time was spent in Sport mode, that’s an entirely reasonable number sitting next to Volkswagen’s 5.9L/100km claim.
The Polo 70TSI needs a visit to the service centre every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, and will set you back $307, $549, $357, $834 and $357 for the first 75,000km or five years’ ownership. That’s probably a touch on the expensive side for a city car. And Volkswagen’s standard three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty continues to be below par in today’s new-car climate.
Still, as an overall package, the Polo 70TSI presents well. It’s perky enough around town to be fun without being manic, making light work of city snarls and the grind of traffic. With its well-presented albeit minimalist interior, the Polo is a nice place to spend time.
Does it feel ‘special’? Probably not. Not in the sense of, say, a fully loaded Tiguan. But it doesn’t feel cheap either, and when combined with its excellent around-town manners, the Polo makes a compelling case for buyers looking for an affordable hatch.