One of the most familiar names in South African motoring is “Polo”, thanks to the long-standing marketing and sales success of Volkswagen’s sub-compact hatch and sedan ranges. Take a drive round the block and you’re guaranteed to see more than plenty on the road. At the end of 2009, VWSA launched the new Polo hatch, a completely new car, with the aim of taking even more of the market.

Is it working? Well, yes. New-shape Polo hatches are increasingly common, and with their striking design they are not easy to miss. I was given a new 1.6 TDI unit to test, and for the first time in my life, I fell in love with a VW.

That is not to say I didn’t like the brand, or the product, before. But it’s never appealed to me as much as some other brands have. The old Polo was one of my least favourite cars; it just didn’t feel right. But boy has that changed!

There was a reason behind my request to test a diesel rather than a petrol Polo. I wanted to see if VW had finally rid themselves of the tractor sounds that were part and parcel of any TDI-badged Volksie. And I’m smiling, because not only is the new Polo TDI way quieter than its predecessor, but the cloud of black smoke which followed wherever you drove has vanished. And while we’re on the motor; it’s a peach!

The previous 1.9 TDI had tons of torque and became every boy racer’s arch enemy, but the smaller, less powerful engine does a bloody good job as a cost-effective yet still quite potent fuel-saver. Producing 77 kW and 250 Nm, it’s the torque which shoves you back into your seat during full-bore acceleration. Kicking in around the 1600 rpm mark, the surge is endless until about 4500 rpm, and then it’s simply a slick shift up the 5-speed manual gearbox and in to the next wave of ‘umph’.

I have to criticise the clutch though, which feels like the old Polo TDIs; it is too light and over-loaded, so the spring-action tends to over-power your left foot and you stall. And I mean stall a lot!

Fuel economy is ridiculously low, with the 45 litre tank able to take you close to 1000km. Even though that wasn’t achieved while I had the car (I’m sorry, but give me a turbo and I can’t resist the torque!) I have no doubt that VW’s claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 4.2 litres per 100 km is attainable (you’ll probably forget on which side of the car the fuel flap is).

Comfy seats, a well-laid out interior and driving position, coupled with a soft-ish ride and the engine’s dynamic character means you just sit back and relax. If I have to moan, I’d say the ride should be a bit firmer. I didn’t like that dipping feeling when hitting the brakes, and body roll during cornering was a little uninspiring. Perhaps more side bolstering on the fabric-covered seats would ease the mind a little?

The exterior of the new Polo is a bone of contention amongst most people. I for one love it. But there are problems. It’s almost as if the front and rear of the car were designed by two different studios and then simply separated by the doors. The front is aggressive, mean and striking. The rear is more cutesy, more girly – more “safe”. And so the two don’t quite agree with one another. A simple change like adding a fake rear diffuser or even just exposing the exhaust outlet would make a world of difference.

One thing VW got absolutely spot-on with this car, however, is the lighting. The headlights are fabulously designed, and the play on surfaces in the housings at night is awesome. Thankfully there are no daytime-running LED lights – like you find on big-brother Audis of late – as they have been made to look kitsch thanks to aftermarket accessory manufacturers. At the rear, simple but effective red-light elements are beautifully defined and again, at night, simply awesome!

In terms of kit, new Polo doesn’t have much of an options list, especially the 1.6 TDI. The only options include rear park distance control (PDC), curtain airbags (airbags should never be an option!), a smoker’s package and cruise control. Leather isn’t even on the list. Everything else is standard. My test unit was fitted with cruise control (what an absolute joy), the PDC (which uses the sound system to beep its message to you while muting any audio you might be listening to at the time) and a removable tow bar. I liked this in particular; the whole thing is completely hidden behind the bumper, and setting it up is as simple as removing a plastic cover and connecting the relevant bits.

Sporting only three engine derivatives (1.4 petrol, 1.6 petrol and 1.6 TDI) over six model designations, the new range is smaller than before. No doubt, VW will add a few as time goes by, and I am itching to try out the new GTI in a few months’ time.

With good levels of specification and an armour-plated reputation, VW can rest assured of this car’s success. Keen pricing and good trade-in values means both existing and new customers are going to be flocking to dealership floors. At a shadow under R219 000, including the extras I mentioned at the time of testing, the VW Polo 1.6 TDI is a very attractive option.

Competitors including the Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Honda Jazz and Suzuki Swift amongst others, offer strong alternatives to other derivatives, but as a stand-alone model the TDI is tops. If you’ve already bought one, keep smiling. If you’ve got the old one, it’s time to trade. If you haven’t tried one, I strongly suggest you do. And you’ll smile – I sure did!

Get the Mamba Newsletter

Latest Comments
  1. Poodle
    Reply -

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend