Sales figures every month attest to the fact that Volkswagen can do no wrong with its Polo range. Though the bulk of the sales fall to Vivo – the previous generation stalwart – the new Polo, which was introduced in June last year, is having just as much success.
The manufacturer completed the new Polo line-up recently by adding the GTI manual and a new 1.4ℓ TDI diesel engine in two states of tune. Then it pulled the wraps off the 1.0 TSI BlueMotion – a first for VW and, as it turns out, a brilliant sleight of hand.
The BlueMotion concept
BlueMotion is Volkswagen’s cocktail of technologies, an approach that attempts to wring as much efficiency out of a given model as possible. Launched in 2006, it’s a holistic strategy encompassing engines, aerodynamics, ride height, auto stop-start, a programmed battery charging system (so the alternator only runs when necessary), longer gearing and low-rolling-resistance tyres. All of these things combine to make for excellent fuel efficiency, but the down-side has always been that BlueMotion cars were never much fun to drive. Indeed, the previous-model diesel BlueMotion Polo couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding, let alone raise a smile.
But technology moves on. Today, buyers want it all, and Volkswagen’s approach has consequently altered. The company is now prepared to sacrifice a small degree of consumption kudos to lift the enjoyment factor slightly, and the result is the latest generation 1.0 TSI BlueMotion. Instead of a diesel engine, the BlueMotion employs a TSI unit – a three-cylinder, turbocharged, direct-injection petrol tiddler.
A canny move by VW, as it essentially leaves the economy up to the driver. How? The 1.0 turbo (70 kW, 191 km/h, 0–100 km/h in 10.5 seconds) is all things to all people and, depending on your driving style, you can either eco the hell out of it – as the saying goes – or blister the tarmac, as the other saying goes. It is a clever strategy and one the motoring world is increasingly warming to.
So what of the car? In most ways, the new model is the standard Polo. As a car that appeals to a wide range of people, it is classy, conservative, well-made and solid both inside and out. There is a stylish new instrument cluster and an (optional) infotainment system that features a 5.8” touchscreen with a funky proximity sensor (it brings up various menus when your hand gets close to the screen). Things were pretty decent in the first place, though, so there was no need to fix what wasn’t broke.
Where it does mix it up a bit is in the engineering. The BlueMotion adds that lowered ride height improves the aerodynamics over the radiator grille and underbody by smoothing out all protuberances, rejigs the wheel design, and adds low-rolling-resistance tyres (LRRTs), which are a revelation on the road, allowing for extremely satisfying downhill coasting.
Longer gear ratios in fourth and fifth also contribute to this and make for not just an efficient car, but an excellent tourer. In town, the stop-start system reduces fuel use while idling, and the simple but effective regenerative braking system (an electric motor) feeds energy back into the battery every time you apply the brakes.
The little engine that can
On the road, all figures and science fade into insignificance – this is seriously fun! If you have ever driven a bog-standard Polo, you won’t be prepared for the sense of cheeriness in the BlueMotion that is immediately obvious. And it comes from one thing – responsiveness. The secret is the torque – it is available from a very low 1 500 rpm, which means that, from pull-off, the car delivers an eagerness that is infectious. And, once on the go, the turbo makes for spirited acceleration. Those long ratios then come into play and the open road becomes a calm and cruisy experience. It’s sophisticated and quiet too, and the suspension is very compliant and comfortable. A great balance – genuinely a little bit of everything.
By the end of the test period, we were convinced the Polo 1.0 TSI BlueMotion is all the car that most South Africans will ever need – built well, expertly engineered and set to stay the course in terms of longevity and resale value. Truly, VW has a hit on its hands. Stand in line.
Polo through the years
Hard to believe, but Polo celebrated its 40th anniversary in April this year. We didn’t get the first Polo – a smaller version of the VW Golf Mk 1 – which was launched in Europe in 1975. Indeed, South Africa had to wait until October 1996 for its first Polo, launched to plug the gap between the hugely successful, but entirely basic, Citi Golf and the increasingly corpulent Mk 3 Golf. It was a sedan, based on the Córdoba, sold in Europe and made by VW’s sister company, SEAT. The Classic was joined by the hatchback Playa in 1998, based ostensibly on the SEAT Ibiza. In October 2002, South Africa got its first German Polo and things only got better for Volkswagen. Local production of the hatch began, cars sold like hot cakes and by July of this year, international sales had passed the 14 million mark. What’s next? Look out for the all-new Polo Mk 6 towards the end of 2016. It will resemble the latest Golf, but much sharper, and will sport a version of the Virtual Cockpit first seen on the Audi TT.
Polo GTI manual
Volkswagen fully accepts that only five percent of Polo GTI owners will plug for the manual transmission, and that’s fine by them. For us, the six-speed box is a revelation and fantastic fun – clearly the spiritual successor of the cock-a leg Mk 1 Golf GTI. It’s fast and sharp as a street racer, it makes a lovely noise and it will remind you every time you take it out what it meant to own your first car.
The manual GTI uses the same upgraded 1.8ℓ turbocharged engine, but pumps out a markedly increased 320 Nm of torque, compared to the DSG auto version. 0–100 km/h times and top end are much the same, but that torque figure helps with in-gear acceleration and a general sense of ‘I can do anything’.
On launch at Red Star Raceway, the little scamp flew around the track, entirely at home, the Sport button on the dash helping to firm up the steering. The gear change is solid yet fluid and well weighted, as is the clutch. Town driving shouldn’t be too much of a pain. Very covetable.
In a nutshell
Polo 1.0 TSI BlueMotion
Wonderful balance, great three-cylinder engine, brilliant suspension, excellent fun
Everyone will have one soon, the options list is seemingly endless
Polo 1.0 TSI BlueMotion
- Engine: 1.0ℓ, 3-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
- Power: 70 kW @ 5 000 – 5 500 rpm, 160 Nm at 1 500 rpm
- Performance: 0–100 km/h in 10.5 sec, top speed 191 km/h
- Tyres: 19” alloys, 185/60 R15
- Economy: 4.2 ℓ/100 km
- Gearbox: 5-speed manual
- CO2 emission: 97 g/km
- Price: R235 800
Opel Corsa 1.0T Cosmo
There are cheaper three-cylinder Corsas, but the Cosmo is packed with all the kit, a responsive, rorty three-cylinder engine, spacious and great to drive. Gearbox still not up to the competition though. 0–100 km/h in 10.3 sec, top speed 195 km/h, power 85 kW / 170 Nm, R236 300.
Ford Fiesta 1.0T Titanium
The drive is planted and solid. It’s fast, quiet inside, and (in Titanium spec) fully loaded. But the inside materials and infotainment aren’t up to those of the other three. 0–100 km/h in 9.4 sec, top speed 196 km/h, power 92 kW / 170 Nm, R225 900.
Peugeot 208 1.2 Active
Cheapest three-cylinder here (although not turbocharged) and selling well because of it, excellent little runabout, decent specs, chic attitude, but not the tourer the others are. 0–100 km/h in 12.2 sec, top speed 175 km/h, power 60 kW / 118 Nm, R200 900.