Are headphones and compact city cars a marketing match made in heaven, or is Volkswagen pushing its luck with the Polo Beats?
Even if you've been living under a rock, it's been impossible to ignore the Beats brand over the past decade. It's a pop-culture icon, beloved by the music industry and brand-conscious teenagers, making it a prime target for savvy marketeers in search of a tie-up.
Given they're often aimed at young buyers, compact cars are right in that hitting zone – which is why the Volkswagen Polo, arguably the most grown-up, buttoned-down city runabout going around, has been given a pop-culture-ready makeover.
It's got stripes, special badges, a punchy stereo, and a tri-colour interior. Is the Polo 85TSI Beats a marketing match made in heaven, or a bridge too far?
Priced from $22,490 before on-road costs as a manual, jumping to $24,490 with the DSG fitted to our tester, you get a handful of extras over the regular Polo 85TSI.
The main draw is a 10.25-inch Active Info Display, a first for the Polo in Australia, but you also get a 300W premium audio system, satellite navigation, black door mirrors, unique 16-inch alloy wheels and black mirror caps. And there's 'velvet' matte-red dashboard trim, contrasting with the white and black theme underpinning the cabin.
Gone are the standard seats, replaced by 'Comfort Sport' units, and there are racy decals across the bonnet, roof and boot. Apparently, they recall the legendary Beats Studio racer of the 1950s, which famously beat the Bose NC V8 in a hard-fought Le Mans battle. Not really.
Our tester wasn't fitted with the $1400 Driver Assistance pack, which adds adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and automated parking assist to the mix.
Of course, no Polo is poorly equipped. Those niceties come atop the autonomous-emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear-view camera, 8.0-inch infotainment display, smartphone mirroring and LED tail-lights.
Those pretty LED headlamps you've been drooling over? Only the GTI gets them in Australia at the moment.
The car's interior fundamentals are still fantastic. You sit low, in seats with plenty of bolstering and a huge window of adjustment, and the steering wheel telescopes far enough to accommodate long-legged drivers. The wheel itself feels lovely in the hand, and most of the materials you touch are suitably 'premium for the people'.
While we're talking premium, the Active Info Display is absolutely brilliant in the Polo. The unit's physical layout is slightly different to that offered in the Golf and Arteon, but it still offers myriad data and layout options. Navigation in the middle, analogue-styled dials on the outside, with gear position and digital speed in the middle of the dials, is absolutely perfect.
It's taken a while to arrive in the Polo, but the digital readout is a brilliant point of difference for Volkswagen in the compact class, especially among tech-savvy first-car buyers.
With all those nice things, though, came a few niggles. There were a few mismatching trim pieces on our review car – most notably on the plastic transmission tunnel shroud, where it looked like there were clips missing. Realistically, a gap in the plastic down the side of the seats isn't the end of the world, but it bears mention nonetheless.
Boot space is the same 351L you get elsewhere in the Polo line-up, expanding to the same 1125L with the second row folded flat. We managed to fit a six-drawer IKEA dresser with the seats down, although the drawers themselves wouldn't fit at the same time as the frame. Also, you're welcome for the moving help, Issy.
Rear seat space is par for the class, with enough room to house tall teenagers if required. Given there's no sunroof, head room is excellent. Shorter passengers could probably get away with wearing a full top hat, while taller occupants might need to limit their headwear to a more modest Pork Pie. Google it.
By now, you've probably decided whether you like the red, white and black interior treatment in the Beats. Even so, here's my opinion... It's fine. The velvet red dashboard trim is really cool, but the white lower dash and centre console trim doesn't do it for me.
It's a similar story outside. The stripes and unique badges will likely appeal to the sort of person who owns a set of Beats, but my music is playing through a set of Bose QC35 headphones right now.
Speaking of audio, the Beats gets a 300W sound system with, you guessed it, Beats branding. It's a definite improvement on the standard system, with stronger bass and a clearer sound with the volume cranked up. Beats is more than just a lifestyle brand, after all.
PSA: Take those style (and audio) impressions with a grain of salt, given my wardrobe. Okay, onto the oily bits.
Power comes from the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine offered in the 85TSI, making the same 85kW and 200Nm. It's put to the front wheels exclusively through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in the case of our tester. Volkswagen claims 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle, while we saw 7.1L/100km with a heavy skew to urban driving.
As we've opined in previous reviews, the engine is a ripping little unit. It's impressively refined at low speeds, thrumming away earnestly in the background, but also emits a characterful grumble when the throttle is buried. It'll sprint to 100km/h in 9.5 seconds, not that the majority of owners are likely to care.
It's perfectly matched by the quick-shifting DSG on the move. It rushes to the tallest gear possible under light throttle openings, aggressively chasing miserly fuel-use figures, but kicks down promptly when you demand more go. It also actually listens to the driver when manual mode is selected, which isn't always a given.
As noted in our long-term review, though, there's still some low-speed hesitation from the transmission – especially when the auto start/stop system is involved. Although there's only a brief pause as the engine starts, the transmission engages and you drive away, it can feel like an eternity when cars ahead have already started moving from the lights.
Yes, start/stop can be turned off, and you're able to adapt your driving style to suit the transmission. Regardless, the Polo doesn't feel quite as effortless as maybe it could in the urban jungle, which is a shame.
The little Polo isn't quite as fun with the DSG as the manual, either. Fans of three-pedal cars are few and far between in 2018, though, and the sales split will likely reflect that.
As is typical of Volkswagen products, the Polo Beats strikes a good balance between compliance and a planted, sporty demeanour. Tyre roar is well suppressed, and the car generally deals with lumps, bumps and potholes in a single movement. Bigger hits don't unsettle it either. We've said it before, but we'll say it again: this is one seriously grown-up little hatchback.
The steering is light, as is expected of a city car, lending the Beats a feeling of easy manoeuvrability around the city. Your grandma could park it with one hand, but it doesn't feel particularly flighty or prone to buffeting on the highway. That's not an easy balance to strike, but it's one Volkswagen seems to have perfected in its small cars.
Servicing in the Polo takes place every 12 months or 15,000km – whichever comes first. Thanks to the new Volkswagen Service Plan, it'll cost you $1152 for three or $2164 for five capped-price services.
Although that's less than you would've paid previously, it's still more than the Skoda Fabia ($2078) and Toyota Yaris ($1400) cost to maintain. Volkswagen has joined the longer warranty party and now offers five years and unlimited kms of surety across its range.
As for the Beats? As we already know, the Polo is a great car. It looks handsome, drives like it's from a class (or two) higher, and offers tech its rivals can't hope to match. Active Info Display, we're looking at you.
It's not cheap, given the same fundamental powertrain and transmission package is available for $21,990, but the Beats offers all the Polo's best assets in a package that'll no doubt appeal strongly to people who want to stand out a bit more than is possible in the Comfortline or R-Line.