Launched at almost the same time with the Volkswagen Golf Mark I, in 1974, the Audi 50 was one of the cars which originally defined the small hatchback car concept. What does this have to do with the Volkswagen Polo we tested, you might ask? Well, just a year after the launch of the petite Audi 50, Volkswagen introduced its very own rebadged version of the model, the VW Polo.
The two almost identical cars were both built on the Volkswagen production lines in Wolfsburg, with the VW version having a much broader range of engines and options available. After three years of building them side by side, the Polo won the overall sales contest and consequently the right to continue production, .
In about five generations, which spanned for over 34 years, Volkswagen's second ever front wheel drive model became one of the best sold in its class. Still, its second to last reiteration somehow managed to lose its best-in-class nickname and fall off the sales ladder. Of course, this made the Wolfsburg people jump out of their seats.
Volkswagen seems to be having a serious go at re-inventing itself these days, with models like the Passat CC, Scirocco and the Golf VI (OK, V and a half) working hard to move away from the slightly kitschy image almost all "I love chrome" Volkswagens have had in recent years. With a man like Walter De'Silva at their design department's helm, things could go only up, at least from the design point of view.
The 5th generation of the little Volkswagen Polo seems to have reworked pretty much all of its previous downsides, all with a cleaner design package and somewhat smaller prices than its predecessors. We took an orange/red model in 1.6 TDI
-guise to the test to see how it stacks up against our expectations (which weren't very high, we might add). Our test car was equipped with the top-of-the-line Highline trim level, while the engine was the lowest-powered diesel engine currently on offer, with a "blistering" 75 horsepower on tap.
There were a lot of "ohs" and "uhs" when the latest Polo was presented to the public at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show, a few months back. Almost all of those onomatopoeia words were directed at car's styling, since most voices were saying that it looks just like a shrunken Golf. We must say that some of us thought just about the same, but then a few months since the international launch we kind of digested the whole design idea, especially after experiencing it in person.
As a general design cue, the latest Polo is definitely modern and kind of stylish looking. It's also full of straight and converging lines, giving an overall clean appearance. After first giving in to the Golf VI more-than-obvious resemblance, you can observe quite a big connection with the Polo Mark II and III.
The front looks very much like a smaller and angrier Golf VI, with a lot of horizontal lines which emphasize its width and overall "flatness". Our test car had somewhat of a blood orange color, which also increased the car's cuteness. In this trim level and with this color, the new Polo kind of looks like a Pomeranian on steroids. The front-end is very "butch".
The Polo Mark II and II resemblance is best seen in the side view. Apparently, the man in charge of Volkswagen's brand facelift, Walter De'Silva, is on a "back to the roots" mission with its new VW designs. Before jumping to conclusions you should know that all new Volkswagens won't be mere modernized copies of the ones two or three generation ago, but will have their original designs with both retro and modern cues.
The rear is looks almost like a more flat and modernized Polo III, which is very far from being a bad thing. On the whole, the new Polo is quite a good-looking small hatchback, its overall design being a nice combination of understatement, aggressiveness and cuteness, with the last part very much depending on the chosen exterior color.
The interior is quite a different story from the exterior, presenting an odd combination of both good and bad qualities, depending on the point of view. Let's get on with the bad news first, since otherwise you might get a bad overall impression. Well, the main downside of the new Polo cockpit is obviously its hardcore Teutonic feeling of darkness, which isn't exactly the most inviting type of interior in the world. For most people, that is.
The choice in color combos for the trimming on the seats is both poor and a bit more Germanic than necessary. Basically, you can color your new Polo's interior just about any way you like, as long as it's some shade of black or grey. For now, at least. Also, the overall interior space is probably not the best in its class, especially in the front, where the driver's right foot will constantly bang against the lower part of the somewhat wide center console.
Now, let's see the good sides. For starters, at least in the top Highline trim level we tested, the new Polo's interior is among the best built in its class, if not the actual best. The fit and finish is top notch, and the quality of the plastics on the dash are quite a bit better than average. The center console and door trimmings have their fair share of hard plastics but the rest is pretty touch-friendly.
The driving position can be adjusted very easily and the ergonomics of the controls are just the way they should be, with a few minor downsides. First is the position of the driver hand-rest, which kind of makes using the hand brake a bit harder then it should be. Considering not everyone uses the hand brake when driving, this is not so bad. A worse part of not completely thought out ergonomic is the position of the side rearview mirrors controls, which have a front to back instead of the usual left/right switch.
Apart from everything we mentioned, there's a more than decent amount of storage spaces everywhere in the car. The Highline trim we tested was also equipped with under-seat storage trays in the front and a refrigerated glove compartment. The 280 liters (9.9 cu ft) of luggage space makes the new Polo's trunk one of the most spacious in its class. It also has a small underfloor storage space where you can probably deposit smellier or contraband items.
Although the latest Polo is larger even than the first generation of the Volkswagen Golf, and about as long as a Golf Mark II, it's still a snappy little car around town. The overall length is just 3970 mm (156.3 inches), which allows the little bugger to squeeze into both a lot of proper or improper parking spaces and in busy city traffic. Although our test car wasn't equipped with neither front nor rear parking sensors, lateral parking is a breeze thanks to the petite size and the rather low-steering ratio.
Overall visibility would have been almost perfect if it wasn't for those gorgeous-looking mirrors, but with a shape and size which would be more appropriate on a five year old's electric toy car instead of the Polo. Yes, they look cute, funky, sporty, etc. whatever you want to call them, but they're simply atrocious to be used by someone who doesn't posses a nice pair of eagle eyes.
Although we only managed to test the lowest powered version of the brand spanking new 1.6-liter TDI engine in the VW Polo range, the little bugger actually managed to really impress us. And we mean that in the good way. The 75 horsepower only have to do with 195 Nm (143.8 lb ft) of torque, which aren't exactly the greatest numbers when it comes to modern oil burners of this displacement (1598 cc).
However, the maximum torque figures are available from as low as 1500 rpm all the way to 2500 rpm, which translates into a mighty long torque curve, helping you in both squeezing the maximum amount of power from it and achieving a rather low fuel consumption versus performance. Considering the above data, we achieved a medium fuel consumption of around 6.5-7 liters per 100 kilometers (US 33.6 – 36.2 mpg) in a city with highly congested traffic.
Taking into account our test car only had a little over 2000 kilometers (about 1200 miles) on board, and the fact we didn't drive it like a bus driver, these figures would surely drop much closer to the official 5.1 liters per 100 kilometers (US 46.1 mpg) in another time and circumstances. In other words, the VW Polo 1.6 TDI with 75 horsepower won't meet a lot of gas stations along its trips.
After carefully reading through the specs and some of the mumbo jumbo we've already covered so far, some of you might have gotten the idea that the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 TDI is somewhat of a slouch, only fit for cruising around town with errands and the likes. Well, as surprising as it may seem, this is probably the sportiest 75 horsepower car we have ever driven. Apart from the extremely wide torque band (for a diesel), there's absolutely nothing going in Polo's favor when it comes to performance.
Only 75 horsepower and 195 Nm (143.8 lb ft) on a 1200-something kilograms (2700 pounds) car shouldn't make miracles. And like we said, at least on paper, they don't. The naught to 100 km/h (62 mph) acceleration takes a never-ending 14 seconds, but the the truth is a little different than that. Although it has a transmission with only five gears, the Polo 1.6 TDI is snappy to say the least. The "snappiness feeling" should have ended when we left the city's limits behind us but, remarkably, it didn't.
The direct steering, the perfect setup of the suspension, the low weight and the aforementioned wide torque range all contribute to a much sportier feeling than what the numbers are actually telling you. Don't think that this is a low-cost supercar or anything, but we have to say we were quite a bit surprised. Despite its low power, the Common Rail TDI under the hood doesn't give you shivers when overtaking, while the excellent fuel consumption we experienced in the city drops even lower.
How do four-four and a half liters of fuel per 100 kilometers (US 52.3 - 58.8 mpg) sound to you? We failed to achieve the advertised 3.6 liters per 100 kilometers (US 65.3 mpg), but that's only because we didn't actually drive it by the book. Still, the numbers we achieved are more than satisfying for anyone with either Scottish or Jewish blood in them.
On the whole, the new Volkswagen Polo 1.6 TDI should be less of a "rara avis" on highways than its name might suggest. Sure, the 90 or 105 horsepower versions of the new TDI under the hood might be the better options when looking for an appropriate all-rounder, but the little 75 hp midget should be nothing to be ashamed of.