Undoubtedly one of the most successful hatchbacks in South Africa (at least according to Naamsa's monthly new vehicle sales figures), the Volkswagen Polo has received a midlife update, and it’s a little bit more than just a nip and tuck. This is what the updated Polo has to offer:
Exterior changes include larger headlamps, a resculpted front bumper, lower air intake and more chrome detailing round the foglamps, all of which bring it in line with its bigger Golf sibling. There are small changes at the back, but if you have a keen eye for all things Polo, you may notice that there’s a cleaner layout, a wider cutout for the number plate and redesigned rear lights. The interior is typically Volkswagen with a neat layout throughout. The new steering wheel looks good and adds a classier touch to the cabin with tidily laid out audio and cruise control buttons.
On the road
The new 1,2-litre TSI unit (replacing the 1,6-litre) comes in two states of tune. There are 66- and an 81 kW versions and I got best acquainted with the latter at the launch. Even though this engine produces 175 N.m, there’s no bottom-end torque because of the small capacity of the engine. Therefore you have to stir the six gears of the slightly notchy manual ‘box to make the most of the available boost. Other than that, it’s an impressive set-up and the downsizing/turbocharging means that efficiency has improved and now stands at 5,1 L/100 km.
I wouldn’t exactly call the Polo's handling dynamic, but should you feel the need to push on – this VW hatch offers excellent roadholding. The biggest gripe I have with the handling is the newcomer's somewhat light steering, but the ride is comfortable and the damping compliant. We covered more than 550 km in the new Polo at the launch and, whether as driver or passenger I was always very comfortable in the car.
New tech and features
My biggest complaint about the pre-facelift Polo was that, when compared with its main rivals, it clearly lacked in onboard technology and creature comforts. Volkswagen has fixed that with this freshened model and added various multimedia systems (depending on the model and which option boxes are ticked). The entry-level infotainment setup on the Trendline is what VW calls the Composition Touch unit and features a five-inch monochrome screen with four speakers, an SD card slot and auxiliary inputs. Move up a level and you get the more connected: Composition Colour with a five-inch colour display, six speakers, an SD card slot and USB (finally, Volkswagen) and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s also an optional system that offers a larger screen and is available on all except the Trendline versions. While not the best multimedia system in its class, this new unit is certainly an improvement on the previous audio system and brings the Polo nicely up to date.
Other new features include an updated climate control system, a driver alert system (Highline versions) and an automatic post-collision braking system is standard. The latter system, according to VW, “automatically initiates braking of the vehicle that has had an accident in order to prevent a subsequent collision”.
For now, there’s only the 1,2 TSI engine, which is mated with a six-speed manual ‘box on both versions of the powerplant. The 88 kW unit has the option of a seven-speed DSG transmission, however. The new Polo is available in three equipment levels: Trendline, Comfortline and Highline. There’s also the 1,2 CrossPolo for those who want something a bit more crossover-like. The range will expand early in 2015.
It’s clear that VW took a look at the Polo's competition and realised that the brand would have to raise its game in the light car segment. It's not that sales were slowing down, South Africa is the third biggest Polo (including Polo Vivo) market in the world, but it’s been obvious that Volkswagen's competition is keen to make inroads into the Uitenhage-based company's market leadership in the supermini market.
I believe the Polo has raised the bar in its segment. It now offers the best of the B-segment with some features that can only be found in larger, much more expensive vehicles. And with the 1,4 TDI and a GTI joining the ranks in the near future, not forgetting the now standard 3-year/45 000 km service plan on each model, next year’s Top 12 Best Buy winner in this segment will only be decided after protracted debate. Well, played, Volkswagen.