The new light car benchmark
- 2010 Volkswagen Polo 77TSI; 1.2 litre, four cylinder, turbocharged petrol; six-speed manual; five door hatch: $19,850*
- Metallic Paint $500; Comfort package $500;
When the pricing was published for the new Volkswagen Polo, we blinked a few times and re-read the numbers. Typically, a car with such quality would be a lot more expensive than its Japanese or Korean counterparts. So when it was positioned smack bang in the middle of everything, we figured there had to be something missing. The typical cynics that we are, we looked for a catch.
Thing is, there wasn't one. Or if there was, it's not really a deal breaker (more on that later).
If ever you wanted a yardstick for the light car class, then the Volkswagen Polo is it. The price is right in the thick of the competition, with the range kicking off at $16,690 for the three door Trendline, which has a 1.4-litre, naturally aspirated engine mated to a five-speed manual. This week we tested the middle-spec 77TSI Trendline, a turbo-charged 1.2-litre with a six-speed manual.
Like so many light cars, the Polo is cute. Not cute in an ugly but interesting sort of way, but more a Miranda Kerr sort of cute. You know that she's got a wide, frog mouth, but somehow she's still damn attractive.
It's probably how cohesive the design is, with its mini-Golf styling. Get it? Mini-golf. Small car that goes putt putt.....oh, never mind. Lame jokes aside, the Polo drives brilliantly.
Step inside and all the driving controls fall within easy reach, and the driving position is spot on. The footwell may be a bit narrow for those with big shoes, but my size tens never presented any problems, even as a manual and having to move my left foot off the clutch and onto the footrest.
The gearshift is quick and positive with a satisfying click every time it lands each gear. The steering is light but accurate and the clutch isn't overly soft, either, unlike some competitors. To drive, the Polo is simple and fun. It has decent handling, too, with a neutral stance and an understeery tendency when pushed too far. The Polo's ride is nigh on perfect, too, with good compliance when strutting the rough stuff, but also a degree of firmness to keep the Polo feeling planted.
Inside the Polo feels a lot more expensive than it is. Our test car came with the Comfortline package, which for $500 adds climate control, self-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers and a tyre pressure monitor - an option which is well worth it. The whole dash is fitted with a soft-touch plastic, and mimics its larger Golf sibling. There are chrome surrounds for the airvents, the steering wheel is lifted straight from the Golf, and even the crease which runs from behind the instruments around and down past the passenger-side of the centre stack borrows its inspiration from the larger car.
It makes sense, too, as the exterior styling looks every bit the shrunk Mk VI Golf with its tapered and chamfered headlights and bonnet which follows the curve of the VW logo on the grille.
Hard creaselines along the bonnet and flanks give the Polo more character than the previous generation, while the tail-lights are about the only thing that looks slightly awkward on this car. If they had have extended into the hatch a little, or were a little shorter, they might not look so square.
Under the shapely bonnet, you'll find a turbocharged 1.2 litre petrol engine making 77kW and a tidy 175Nm. It's a cracker of an engine with a truly engaging and rorty sound. It seems hard to believe, but this diminuitive powerplant actually sounds better than the Volkswagen Golf GTI's 155kW 2.0 litre.
It may only be a small engine, but it manages to punch out a respectable 9.7 seconds from 0-100km/h. There's slight turbo lag, but it's barely noticable, and it's torquey for its size, too. Peak torque is delivered at a low 1500rpm - unusual for such a small engine - and it's happy to pull from even lower than that without complaining.
It's a pleasure to hear it rev out and combined with the involving gearshift, this is a genuinely fun car to drive. You can even heel and toe when downshifting, proving that the GTI version of the Polo is going to be a cracker - it has an awesome platform to launch from.
Fuel economy's not bad, too. 5.5 litres/100km is perfectly achievable, however in our week of testing we saw 6.5 litres/100km; not bad for mixed driving with a few fairly hard stints. The one and only catch is it requires premium unleaded. Sure, it's not going to be an issue with most people (they understand you'll get your best fuel consumption from the higher octane juice), but in a car where economy is key, paying extra for fuel can be a little annoying.
The Polo is, however, extremely comfortable to sit in. While you'd never pretend it's a sports car, and therefore doesn't have deep bucket seats, the fronts have some shape to them, with a ribbed pattern in the material which gives plenty of support, yet allows you to sink in at the same time. The real beauty of the seats is the squab is angled upwards, giving you excellent under-thigh support.
The back seats are angled even more, so your knees sit higher, effectively bringing your feet closer to you. It's a very clever design which gives the impression of plenty of legroom, while maximising the available space.
The boot also contains a full-size steel spare wheel, while there is a false floor above it, for reasons I'm not quite sure of. Remove that carpeted panel and you get a full appreciation for the depth of the boot. For example, the Suzuki Swift has a luggage capacity of 201 litres. The Polo counters with a not insubstantial 280 litres. Space records won't be broken, but there's certainly enough room for day-to-day life.
And for those looking at a tiny car and wondering if they'll be safe, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) recently rated the Polo as a five star car for safety.
The more you analyse the various aspects of the Polo, the more you realise how damn competent it is. In fact in April of this year, it beat off 30 other cars to be crowned World Car of the Year 2010. Having spent the last week with it, it's not a surprise.
The crux of it is simple: here's a car that's priced well for its quality, drives nicely, is comfortable, has enough space, sounds good, handles well, rides excellently, has enough mod-cons so you don't feel like you're in the eighties, is economical, extremely safe and looks fantastic.
Simply put, folks, you're looking at the new light car benchmark.
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*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.