Archive | Road tests

18 October 2017 ~ 0 Comments

First drive: all-new 2017 Volkswagen Polo

With an all-new platform, the sixth-generation Polo marks the biggest change for the model since the switch from the second to third-generation car twenty-three years ago. The largest and most technologically advanced Polo ever, Rich Gooding finds that the car’s traditional strengths haven’t been forgotten

2017 Volkswagen Polo

Over 14 million Polos have been sold over the past 42 years, so the sixth-generation model is big news for Volkswagen. The second biggest-selling VW in the UK, the fifth-generation car has remained popular throughout its eight-year life with a staggering 4.2 million examples sold. The new model has a very tough act to follow, but with a state-of-the-art chassis, a raft of technical changes, and armed with a vibrant and contemporary colour palette, the latest version of VW’s small car has been equipped with some of the best tools for the job.

Longest and largest Polo yet
First things first. The latest SEAT Ibiza may have debuted it, but the sixth-generation Polo finally gets the Volkswagen Group’s Modular Transverse Matrix (‘MQB’) platform in its smallest ‘A0’ size. That means an increase in wheelbase by 94mm (now 2,564mm), while at just over four metres, the newest Polo is the longest and largest yet.

The new Polo has a very tough act to follow, but with a state-of-the-art chassis, a raft of technical changes, and armed with a vibrant and contemporary colour palette, the latest small Volkswagen has been equipped with the best tools for the job

Width is up by 69mm to 1,751mm, while wider 1,525m front and 1,505mm rear tracks give the new car a four-square stance. Arguably the most impressive figure is the increase in luggage space: now 351 litres, an amazing 25 per cent (70 litres) larger than before, and only 29 litres down on big brother Golf. Indeed, much has been made of the fact that the latest Polo is a big as the fourth-generation version of VW’s biggest-selling model.

The MQB platform brings many benefits – not least the technology, which we’ll come on to later – including an improved silhouette and a more dynamic look. In our eyes, there was little wrong with the neat looks of the outgoing car, and although the new model follows the well-trodden ‘evolution not revolution’ path, it does manage to look both refreshed and rejuvenated, as well as more youthful, which reflects Volkswagen’s new focus on style and technology to lure in younger buyers.

2017 Volkswagen Polo

Confident stance
We were fans of the broad ‘shoulders’ of the fifth-generation Polo, and on the new car they are even more defined. That’s thanks in part to Volkswagen’s new ‘Tornado’ line which starts on the front wing and extends the whole length of the car, finishing at the new tail lights. In profile, the new Polo’s overall look is similar to what went before, but shorter overhangs give the car a confident and more dynamic stance. It’s up front where perhaps the biggest changes occur.

The bonnet is more curved than on the fifth-generation Polo, and the four creases extend down to the bonnet ‘brow’, a body-coloured ‘extension’ which sits in-between the headlights spanning the front grille. We’re not quite sold on this feature yet, but like the way the chrome strip (red on the GTI) extends into the headlights. When optioned, this becomes the LED headlamp, also doubling as the turn signal – very clever and a high-class, ‘big car’ touch. At the rear, the tail lights are similar to before in overall shape, but sharper graphics ensure they are more distinctive under the cover of darkness.

Second generation of Active Info Display
Thanks to the MQB underpinnings, there are more ‘big car’ features, too. A whole suite of safety systems, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection and Front Assist monitoring systems. The new Polo also debuts the second generation of Volkswagen’s ‘Active Info Display’ colour digital instrument panel.

The 10.5-inch high-resolution 133dpi/1,280 x 480-pixel display really does look stunning and adds a luxurious touch to what is – despite the well-documented dimension increases – let’s not forget, still a small car. It can be configured in various views to prioritise driving information, navigation or assistance functions. Infotainment system data can also be displayed, and, although it’s not standard kit on lower-rung cars, it’s only a £325-£475 option on selected models. It’s a proper ‘big car’ option and a small car segment first.

2017 Volkswagen Polo Beats

Also impressive is the range of full-colour infotainment touchscreen systems which are arranged in the same horizontal sight line as the instrument panel. This sounds a very minor change, however, by grouping all the displays in a horizontal axis rather than a vertical one, it means the driver needs less time to view the required information.

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16 August 2017 ~ 0 Comments

A sound proposition? Road test: Volkswagen Polo Beats 1.2 TSI 90

Distinctive inside and out, the Polo Beats is a more recent edition to the Volkswagen’s small car range. With upgraded kit and a 300W music system, it sounds like a tempting package. editor Rich Gooding takes this special version of the fifth-generation Polo for a final fling and sees if it’s a sound proposition

2017 Volkswagen Polo Beats (UK)

Red mirrors and special graphics: what’s this Polo all about then?
Introduced in May 2016, the Polo Beats started its life as a special edition model, but has become a mainstay of the current Polo range. And yes, its distinct from its siblings by way of (pun intended) loud – for a Polo – body graphics, ‘Beats’ b-pillar branding, a gloss black front grille, darkened rear lights, 16-inch ‘Knight’ alloy wheels, and those red mirrors (which, can actually be also had in black if a mis-matched look is to be avoided).

But, the main attraction of the Polo Beats is its 300W audio system. Yep, as the name suggests, the Polo Beats is a ‘collaboration’ between Volkswagen and Beats Electronics of California.

Volkswagen states that a lower-spec Polo Match comes with an 80-watt sound system as standard, but along with the upgraded output, the Polo Beats also features a digital sound processor, an eight-channel amplifier, seven ‘high-end’ speakers, and unique ‘Beats’-trimmed seats with quilted silver-grey centre sections and alcantara side bolsters. 

There are also red-edged seatbelts, red-edged carpet mats, LED footwell lighting and ‘Isaac Silver’ dashboard trim. A range of four engines power the Polo Beats, with prices starting at £14,355 ‘on the road’ for the 59bhp 1.0-litre three-door. A tempting proposition, does the sound-focused Polo offer much more for its near-£1,000 premium, or is it more a case of the extra kit distorting the appeal?

The current Polo is now eight years old, so how does it drive?
Despite its age, the fifth-generation Polo is still a decent drive. Our test car was fitted with the 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine developing 89bhp, and although it’s been around a while, it’s still a powertrain highlight of the soon-to-be-discontinued Polo range.

Nippy and very tractable with 118lb ft of torque coming in from 1,400-4,000rpm, it scoots the 1,107kg small VW along at a decent lick, and only loses some performance towards the top of its rev range. It sounds nice, too, slightly reminiscent of the thrum belonging to lesser Polos’ turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit. If we’re talking figures, Volkswagen quotes a 0-62mph time of 10.8 seconds, and a top speed of 114mph.

As has been the way with Polos since the introduction of the third-generation model of 1994, the latest version has a very grown-up feel, with sure-footed and safe handling. The Polo Beats can be cornered with moderate verve, and while we won’t pretend it’s the ultimate in small car fun, it offers a good compromise of mildly involving handling with good grip, a largely comfortable ride, and refined road manners.

The power-assisted steering feels naturally-weighted and not overly light, the manual gearbox has a nice slick ‘mechanical’ action, while the brakes are strong and the car is very hushed when cruising. Not that that is too much of a concern when you have a 300-watt sound system at your disposal…

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06 October 2016 ~ 0 Comments

The great pretender? Road test: Volkswagen Polo R-Line 1.0 TSI

The Polo R-Line is the latest in a string of models to tempt the sports-focused driver, but with no direct link to the Polo R WRC rally car and a small displacement engine, does it deserve its performance-orientated badge?

2016 Volkswagen Polo R-Line 1.0 TSI

The Volkswagen Polo R WRC is the most successful rally car in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) when it comes to win ratios (40 wins from 49 events), but there has never been a mainstream production model to capitalise on its success. Yes, the Polo R WRC Street of 2013 celebrated its motorsport relative’s first year of success, but a very limited continental market-only production run of just 2500 left-hand drive examples meant it was never going to be widely seen.

And while Audi produces a four-wheel drive version of its Polo-based small car, the S1 slots nearly into the Ingolstadt company’s Quattro range of cars. Four-wheel drive Polo prototypes have been built – and driven – but they remain just that: prototypes. A high-specification, high-power Polo R is seen as expensive to produce and therefore expensive to sell, and like the the R WRC Street before it, would be produced in such small numbers to make it unfeasible.

Enthusiasts’ machine
With road-going versions of current World Rally cars no longer needed to be produced to satisfy homologation requirements, a Polo R will most likely never materialise. That’s a shame, as with no correlation between its rally (and rallycross) counterparts, the Polo road car will never be seen as enthusiasts’ machine.

The 189bhp GTI currently sits at the top of the Polo tree and even with that there’s the debate about whether it is reined in to not clash with arguably one of Volkswagen’s crown jewels, the Golf GTI, which itself celebrates four decades of success in 2016.

So where does that leave the Polo driver who admires the motorsport style of the WRC car but also, like many traditional buyers, has one eye on economy and comfort? Enter the Polo R-Line. With a sporty external appearance, a high specification and a choice of economical petrol and diesel engines, the R-Line might not be the mythical full fat R, but is arguably the nearest buyers of the current car will get.

Prices start at £16,455 for the 89bhp 1.2-litre TSI three-door, and rise to £19,190 for the five-door 108bhp 1.0 TSI DSG. Our test car, a five-door six-speed manual fitted with the smaller capacity turbocharged petrol engine weighed in at £17,815, although a handful of extras (more of which later) nudged that price to a near-GTI £19,440.

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27 February 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Exclusively enjoyable: road test – Volkswagen Polo R-Line

2013 Volkswagen Polo R-Line: looks like the £4135 more expensive GTI

The current Polo has been with us since 2009. Four years is a lifetime for some automotive models, but with the latest version of Volkswagen’s evergreen small car, it seems we’re still in the infancy of its lifecycle. Deliveries of the eco-warm hatch Polo BlueGT are just starting to trickle in, as well as the first examples of another new addition to the Polo range – the Polo R-Line. Not to be confused with the limited edition 217bhp Polo R WRC ‘street’ car which takes styling cues from Volkswagen’s Polo R WRC competition car, the R-Line marries a punchy engine with some welcome visual add-ons.

For a not inconsiderable yet competitive £15,295 for the three-door (two extra doors are available for an additional £620), the Polo R-Line takes the 1.2-litre turbocharged engine from the Polo SEL and adds some much-needed aggression, in the form of an R-Line styling kit. R-Line flourishes include restyled front and rear bumpers, a larger rear roof spoiler, deeper side skirts, gloss back grille, 16-inch ‘Mallory’ alloy wheels (similar to the larger rims fitted to the full-fat Golf and Scirocco R models), as well as 65 per cent tinted rear windows and a smattering of ‘R-Line’ badges. It’s a purposeful yet subtle makeover, but one that certainly makes the Polo R-Line look the part.

It’s a similar understated story in the cabin, too, but everything you could wish for is included. Unique sports seats trimmed in Titan Black ‘Kyalami’ cloth with Crystal Grey ‘San Remo’ (a long-standing Volkswagen tradition of using racing circuit names continues) microfibre bolsters carry R-Line-embossed headrests; a flat-bottomed, three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel is borrowed from the Polo GTI; and there are aluminium pedals and sill kickplates. Technical kit includes a tyre pressure monitor.

All Polos now receive a DAB radio as standard, and Bluetooth is now fitted to S models and above. The R-Line also gets black headlining – which really does contribute to the cocooning and sporty feel of the interior – and a gloss black centre console and air vent surrounds. It all adds up to a genuinely go-faster feeling and is unbelievably available for less cash than the SEL, from which the R-Line borrows so much.

The standard chassis settings are from the SEL, too, which is an indication that even Volkswagen doesn’t see this car as an out-and-out performance model. Even sports suspension isn’t part of the R-Line’s gene pool, which could be a good thing – the R-Line rides and soaks up the bumps in the usual calm and no-nonsense Polo manner. Sadly, the Polo R-Line keeps the SEL’s minimum steering feel, too, but it’s pleasant enough, with a nice degree of weighting from the speed-sensitive rack. The 215/45 R16 tyres grip well and the R-Line scoots around corners with the minimum of fuss.

The six-speed gearbox is lovely to use, with a short and precise action, while the brakes are equally responsive. The 1.2 TSI engine must rate as one of VW’s best, with strong performance (even from low revs), and a willingness to rev, accompanied with a welcome aural rortiness as the engine reaches it upper revolutions. Volkswagen quotes a 0-62mph time of 9.7 seconds, and this decent level of performance is married to decent economy, too. Where most cars with a bit of poke may not be so parsimonious, the Polo R-Line scores here – we saw a reading of 42.3mpg over our 200 miles.

Overall, it’s quite a convincing package. The Polo R-Line offers style, performance, practicality and economy, few of which would have bedfellows in the past. It costs less to buy than the Polo SEL on which it’s based, too. With more than a passing resemblance to the £4135 more expensive Polo GTI but with cheaper running costs and enough enjoyable real-world performance, VW’s latest R-Line model is an unexpected range highlight. It may be on the warm side rather than scalding hot, but the Polo R-Line is stylish and spirited enough to be exclusively enjoyable.

Price: £15,295
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Power/torque: 104bhp/129lb ft @ 1550-4100rpm
0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Top speed: 118mph
Economy (combined cycle), CO2: 53.3mpg, 124g/km
Weight: 1088kg
Equipment: 16” ‘Mallory’ alloy wheels, R-Line styling kit, front fog lights, privacy rear windows
On sale: Now
Rivals: Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir, Citroën DS3 VTI, Ford Fiesta EcoBoost, Suzuki Swift Sport
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