The pace at which trends and technological developments sweep through the automotive world is truly astonishing. Environmental pressures, to be cleaner and more eco-friendly, have spawned numerous innovative ways of powering vehicles along.
The way we do things is constantly reaching new levels of digitisation, meaning we need all our devices to work in harmony. And, of course, being the latest means looking the part.
A perennial top seller in South Africa, the Volkswagen Polo has recently undergone a midlife upgrade – benefiting from all of these factors. Is it enough to ward off the onslaught of its newer competitors, though? In an attempt to truly find out, I decided to do a double test: driving the top-of-the-range CrossPolo and the entry-level Polo Trendline back to back.
So, to the first development: finding new ways to power vehicles along. As is the current trend across the automotive landscape, manufacturers are downsizing their petrol engines with, in most cases, the addition of low-pressure turbochargers. The effect of this, in a nutshell, is the fuel economy of a small-capacity engine with the power on tap that one might be accustomed to in a more traditional, larger-capacity version.
Generally the formula works rather well and VW, well, its version is superb. Powering the refreshed Polo range is a 1,2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine – the CrossPolo fitted with the higher-powered version developing 81 kW of power and 175 Nm of torque, and the Trendline with the lower-powered 66 kW, 160 Nm version. These figures are comparable to “traditional” engines ranging from 1,4 to 1,8 litres.
Both versions are strong and free-revving, though the Trendline did exhibit slight lag at low revs. A little more clutch slip solves that problem, though. Performance wise, the CrossPolo will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 9,3 seconds, the Trendline in 10,8, and top out at 196 and 184 km/h, respectively. The CrossPolo drives through a six-speed manual and the Trendline a five-speed, both as smooth as you’d expect from VW.
The Polo (Highline spec)
So, while these little motors will delight you with their “dynamite in small packages” ability on the road, their other party trick – frugal fuel consumption – will really make you do a double-take.
VW claims combined consumption of 5,1 l/100 km for the more powerful version and 4,9 l/100 km for its sibling. I managed 8,6 and 8,0, respectively – but bear in mind that that was mainly town driving with a, um, heavier than average foot … It could definitely be improved upon.
The second factor of interconnectivity between our cars and mobile devices is met head-on by the upgraded Polo. Taking pride of place in the centre console is a new touch-screen infotainment system – the CrossPolo’s colour, the Trendline’s monochrome.
As you would expect, the CrossPolo comes equipped with Bluetooth and USB connectivity (optional on the Trendline at R2 500). It was also equipped with the R3 000 park distance control system that gives a visual representation on the screen as well as audible beeps.
The new audio systems offer fantastic sound (even through the Trendline’s front-only speakers) but one thing absent is the (now optional) CD player … This item is slowly beginning to disappear from our cars.
There is also a “car” function on the system that allows one to pull up pertinent information such as fuel consumption, warning messages and system settings.
Other electronic gadgetry fitted focuses on the safety aspect. The new Polo range is equipped with traction control, hill-hold, ABS anti-lock brakes with BAS brake assist, and is the first car in its segment to feature Automatic Post-Collision Braking.
Finally, the new Polo range comes with a few visual upgrades – they’re subtle, but they are there, mainly in the redesigned front grille and lower valance and new mags (CrossPolo) and wheel covers (Trendline). The CrossPolo takes things a step further, looking rugged with its black plastic trimmings, raised ride height and piano-black grille.
On the inside, the interior is lifted by a silver centre console and CrossPolo-specific seats (not the most comfortable …), while the Trendline takes things down to “rental” level with a sombre all-black interior and rather flat – though a bit more comfy – seats. However, both versions are fitted with leather-covered steering wheels (flat-bottom), gear knobs and handbrakes. The interiors are, again, of typical VW quality – that is, fantastic.
Polo interior (Highline DSG shown)
So, the new range seemingly has these three key aspects comprehensively licked. You may be thinking that, if I were to choose, I would take the CrossPolo home. Well, I wouldn’t …
Yes it looks great, goes, rides and handles well, but I couldn’t find myself comfortable in those seats on extended journeys and, I’m sorry, R245 100 before options is more than I’d be willing to pay for a hatchback in this segment of the market. That doesn’t mean I’d take the Trendline, though – it’s just too “rental-car” and, worse, the ride is far too soft and floaty.
However, at R194 500 (again before options) it is well priced and it does come standard with a decent array of features. VW backs the range with a three-year/120 000 km warranty and three-year/45 000 km service plan.
The new engines really enhance the Polo range, so whichever power rating you choose, you’ll certainly be satisfied. I suspect, however, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle of the range, at either Comfortline (also 66kW) or Highline (also 81 kW) spec level. It’s these that the competition will really have to worry about.