VOLKSWAGEN has a habit of producing cars that endure. One day in the future, observant South African motorists will comment on the number of Polos on our roads in much the same way as we see CitiGolfs today, which, in turn, took over the "people's car" mantle from the ubiquitous Beetle.
The Polo first appeared in South Africa as a Classic saloon in 1996 followed by the hatchback Playa version in 1998, then a new model was launched in 2002. In total, some 330 000 units have been sold locally, which is a LOT of cars in a relatively short period of time, and it is little wonder that earlier this year VW created a cut-price Vivo version of the outgoing Polo to replace the Citi as the entry-level Volksie. Clearly the Polo name is here to stay.
For sure, Vivo will outsell the new Polo but the latter is doing very nicely, thank you, with over 8 000 sold between launch at the beginning of the year and May, in the process claiming a regular top three spot in the country's monthly best-sellers list. It provides owners with a stepping stone from Vivo to models further up the VW Group hierarchy and what we have here is the only turbodiesel model on offer, a 1,6-litre that is equipped in middling Comfortline trim spec. As such it ranks as the most expensive Polo, breaking through the – ouch! – R200 000 barrier. Oh, and a service plan is optional, which adds to the bottom line…
Globally, this is the fifth-generation Polo (SA missed out on the first two) and it has done for light cars what Golf 5 did for compacts a few years back – set a new class benchmark. There is a level of build quality and integrity that surpasses anything else in its class and creates a standard that most rivals can only aspire to.
Owners will feel safe and secure within the new Polo's still-familiar shape, confident that – like its forebears – it will provide long-lasting service and maintain a value in society. But what is lacking is a dash of panache. CAR's test team comprises a mixed bunch of individuals and all, including the younger members, commented on the lack of youthful appeal of new Polo. Why? Because it is all rather Teutonically sombre. Come on VW, add a dash of flash!
Quality-wise, there are no complaints, though. The facia is neatly laid out, and the instrument cluster includes a gear shift indicator. Air-con is standard and audio comprises radio/ CD/MP3/aux-in. Window and mirror adjustments are electric.
The cloth-covered seats offer reasonable support and both front chairs have cushion height adjustment, but the lowest setting is still too high for taller occupants. At the back there is plenty of headroom and reasonable legroom. The rear seat has a 60:40 split backrest that when folded increases luggage space from 216 to 808 dm3.
Over time, VW's turbodiesels have earned a strong following, the old 1,9 in particular being one of the most driveable oilburners around, but economy and emissions legislation have forced a degree of down-sizing to take place, resulting in this 1,6-litre common-rail directinjection unit replacing the 1,9.
Peak power and (especially) torque outputs are near-classleading, offering 77 kW at a high-ish 4 400 r/min with a commendable 250 N.m of torque between 1 500 and 2 500 r/min. However, it is not the most refined of units – vibrations can be felt and it is a bit clattery at idle.
The motor needs revs to get off the mark smoothly and the clutch action is on the heavy side: everyone stalled the test car more than once despite warnings being passed on. Hill hold control is a neat feature.
Once in its stride, the TDI will run from zero to 100 km/h in 11,01 seconds and tops out at 189 km/h. The kilometre sprint takes 32,37 seconds at 162,3 km/h. The shift action of the five-speed gearbox is slick and, for overtaking purposes, dropping down to third will see 60-120 km/h despatched in just over 11 seconds: in fourth it takes a more leisurely 14 seconds.
Gearing is well spaced, with top being overdriven to the benefit of fuel consumption. CAR's fuel index is an admirable 5,04 litres/100 km, which equates to a range of nearly 900 km from a single 45-litre tankful.
Another highlight of the test was the braking performance, the all-disc full ABS system delivering an excellent average of 2,88 seconds for our 10-stopsfrom- 100 km/h routine. Wheels are 15-inchers with sensible 185/60 tyres.
The electrically-assisted steering is a bit numb but precise and the Polo's overall ride and handling is near fool-proof, with ESP as back-up. On the move, noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) are well subdued, the suspension competently soaks up bumps and ruts, there is an expected trace of body roll when cornering hard, but without an abundance of power to stretch limits the Polo benignly goes where you point it. Simply put: fail safe. Dual front and side airbags are standard.
You have to be a diesel devotee to really appreciate the 1,6 TDI because its petrol-fuelled siblings are also thrifty and do not demand the diesel's high price premium.
Having said that, the vehicle is a front-running performer and providing you get to grips with the engine's abrupt pullaway characteristics, is a rewarding drive.
Polo is classyconservative, which may not win over the more fashion-conscious buyers but will appeal to those with a slightly more mature outlook.