Volkswagen Polo sales are on the march, defying the downward trend for the city-car segment and every one of its rivals.
After supply constraints and a range that wasn’t complete until mid-year stifled the market performance of the sixth-generation Polo released early last year, VW’s smallest car is up 21 per cent at the three-quarter stage of 2019.
Strong demand for higher-specced models has driven the growth, prompting VW Australia to introduce a new variant: the Polo Style.
The 2020 Volkswagen Polo Style 85TSI ushers in a new line-up name sitting below the hot-hatch GTI, but above the base Trendline and mid-range Comfortline. It essentially replaces the Polo Beats model, though is a more permanent fixture than that 500-unit model that sold out in a few months (and was aimed at a younger demographic).
The Style’s $24,990 price tag is identical when comparing DSG autos (the Beats was available with a manual for $22,490). There’s a similarly high equipment level, too, helping justify VW’s claim that the Style offers about $4000 worth of extra features over the Comfortline for just a little over half the cost ($2200).
On the outside, these count 16-inch alloy wheels (instead of 15s), LED tail-lights, and tinting for the rear-side and rear glass.
Inside, the Style adds Sports comfort front seats with lumbar adjustment, dual-zone climate control, carpet mats, Deep Iron metallic trim inserts, black headlining, wireless smartphone charging, 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation, a digital driver display and, despite the name change, the 300-watt Beats audio system remains.
The Style is the only Polo to feature the fancy tech as standard. Forget finding a Kia Rio, Mazda 2 or even the stablemate Skoda Fabia to match the sophisticated features. Even the more expensive $31,990 Polo GTI asks another $1900 if you want it all.
Features shared with the Comfortline cover rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming interior mirror, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, fatigue warning, tyre-pressure monitoring, leather steering wheel, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration.
For an extra $1500, a driver-aid package brings adaptive cruise control, blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, semi-automatic parking system, electrically folding side mirrors, and a proactive occupant protection system.
Metallic/pearl paint is the only other option at $600.
The Polo’s mission in life has always seemed to be to offer a smarter cabin than your average city car, and the latest, sixth-generation model naturally evolves this approach.
While still clearly built to a budget as necessitated by this price-sensitive segment – and as not to upset Golf owners – the Polo presents a benchmark interior.
The execution and texture of the harder plastics helps, while there’s a soft dash top and the Style’s multi-material, multi-pattern seats look great, too. Then there’s the premium look and feel of the steering wheel with its smooth leather rim and gloss-black spokes, and nicely presented controls.
However, it’s likely to be the Polo Style’s array of technology that will convince most buyers to trade down from a small car that may be similar in price, but is lower in specification.
The Active Info Display digital instrument cluster presents key driver information such as speedo and tacho in a digital format, with a central info panel providing more detail that can be controlled via steering wheel controls. Its biggest party trick is with navigation engaged, when you can shrink the two dials for a wider-format route/map display – while the central touchscreen then switches from a map to more detailed route instructions. Clever.
There’s a similar slickness to the operation of the infotainment display, which is graphically excellent, quick to respond to selections, and simple to use – complete with shortcut touch buttons either side of the screen. The display smudges easily, though, and gets hot on sunny days.
As for the Beats system, we’re not sure you can find a better audio in a car listed at around $25,000. Its bass is particularly brilliant, providing a bigger kick than we experienced from two other audios we tried the same week in cars costing twice the money: the 515-watt Focal in the Peugeot 508 GT and the 231-watt Bose in the Mazda 6 Atenza.
Storage aside from the wireless phone tray includes huge door pockets, glovebox, small console bin, and a centre console featuring two hexagonal cupholders and a small square tray.
The rear doors also have useful pockets that will comfortably take a bottle, and there are two seatback pockets. Two USB ports sit on the rear of the centre console, though no vents.
The Polo’s outer rear seats feel nicely supportive with their pronounced torso and thigh bolstering and deep bench cushioning. A centre armrest is the one obvious omission.
With the baby VW continuing to grow in size, and with more distance between the front and rear wheels than a Golf of the late ’80s/early ’90s, there’s good leg room behind the driving position of an average-height adult and heaps of foot space and head room.
Boot space is now up to 351L, not much less than the 380L load compartment of the (outgoing) Golf, and a much bigger volume than you’ll find in most rival city cars. That expands via 60-40 split-fold rear seats.
Keyless start isn’t part of the Polo Style’s tech repertoire, but Park Pilot is available as part of an option pack for those who need help steering into parking spaces. The system works well enough, though it seems to prefer wider spaces, refusing to engage for gaps between parked cars that a competent driver could easily manage. The rear-view camera provides good image quality.
A piece of technology we would recommend switching off is the stop-start system. As we experienced with the 85TSI Comfortline last year, there’s a frustrating wait between the time you take your foot off the brake and the engine starts back into life.
The Polo’s DSG calibration doesn’t always help progress, either. The twin-clutch-style auto is biased towards economy driving with a penchant for high gears at low speed, causing the engine to occasionally sound laboured and slowing throttle response. Gearbox hesitation when rolling off and back onto the accelerator, such as on approaches to roundabouts, is an improvement on DSGs of old.
And there is strong performance from the little 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo once you get stuck into an engine that produces 85kW at 5000rpm and 200Nm between 2000–3500rpm.
However, the Polo is at its best in traffic when you flick the gear lever to the side and instead use its steering-wheel-mounted paddle-shifters. Small but in perfect position with the driver’s hands at the quarter-to-three position, the levers bring the best out of the engine as you pick the gear that keeps the engine in a sweeter spot than the auto – i.e. above 2500rpm.
This approach doesn’t seem to be to the detriment of fuel economy, and certainly not refinement. Using a mixture of auto and paddles, we recorded an average of 5.8 litres per 100km during our suburban-focused testing – not that far above its official 5.0L/100km.
The Polo isn’t as sublimely compliant over regular roads as the even-smaller Up! that Volkswagen used to sell here. It feels firmer and occasionally a touch brittle, though it cushions occupants well from bigger and sharper surface dents/imperfections.
Smooth steering with nicely judged weighting makes a big contribution to making the Polo a pleasure to pilot around.
Volkswagen servicing costs just remain among the highest in the industry, if improved. Maintenance over three years is $1272 or $2411 over five. To use the most pertinent model for comparison, the Skoda Fabia powered by the same engine, the Czech brand charges $750 and $1350 for the respective periods.
If you can look past that, what you have here is a city car that’s well and truly capable of catering to buyers who want to downsize without necessarily going downmarket. And that extends to potentially shunning an entry-level Golf of similar money.
If not perfect in gearbox response or ride quality, the VW Polo Style is a tech-laden city car with few major downsides and many upsides. It’s also arguably the pick of the entire Polo range.