Volkswagen’s turnaround from being solely a small car and a hippie’s traveller are well documented, with the group literally having a car to suit every occasion. The recent launch of the Up! adds another arrow to the light car sector quiver, with the Polo a well established contender in this segment. A Wheel Thing had the pleasure of the $21K Polo TSI 77 Comfortline for a week, complete with DSG auto transmission and the potent little firecracker 1.2L turbo petrol engine. What seems like small numbers (77kW @ 5000rpm and 175Nm from 1550-4100rpm) bely the performance and driveability of this 1088kg rocket.
Yes, the Polo is a small car and, nominally, a five seater. There seems to be, in this case, a discrepancy as to what constitutes a normal size human being, with interior width barely 1.6 metres allowing, well, not a lot of breathing space. With the front seats back to accomodate anyone around the 180cm size, rear seat pasengers would need detachable legs to fit. Yes, small cars do that….. The seats are themselves quite comfortable, with a good measure of support under thigh. The tiller is adjustable for height AND reach, unusual enough nowadays and moreso in this class. The dash is clean, simple, easy to read, as you’d expect, whilst the general look and feel again belies the size. The centre console has a dual layer drawer setup and the glove box can be used as a cooler bin plus the now ubiquitous Bluetooth and outside temperature display. Radio and aircon switching was logically laid out and a snip to use.
The exterior is well in keeping with VW’s current design philosophy, with a smooth, flowing exterior linked to either end by somewhat angular clusters for the headlight and tail lights. A nifty touch is the rear hatch release being the rear hatch badge. It’s a clean look all around, matching well with the TSI’s 15 inch alloys on 195/55 tyres. A Wheel Thing’s test car was clad in Pepper Grey, a subtle colour requiring the lights on when overcast as it’s a shade guaranteed to blend into the road.
For the uninitiated, the double clutch auto in the Volkswagen range can take a little getting used to. Foot on the brake, press the lock lever and move backwards; a slight and barely audible thunk for reverse….back again through neutral to Drive and there’s a momentary hesitation as the car rolls backward and the dual clutches disengage and reengage for the first of seven forward driven gears. Given a right foot full, the Polo leaps ahead like a horse swatted on the bum, whilst the tacho needles flies around, the engine gives a hornet buzz and the display shows D1, D2, D3 and so on in rapid succession. Volkswagen’s own figures quote 9.7 seconds to 100 kmh….the seat of the pants say it feels faster; but such is the engine’s worth it’s available in the upcoming range of Skoda Octavia. The chassis is well developed, taking corners in its stride, minimal torque steer under load whilst the rear end can be controlled by a deft dab on the brake while cornering, with the proven torsion beam rear and MacPherson strut front doing the job. Along the way the DSG box gives that manual blip on the upchange and it’s even more noticeable on the way back up through the gears, especially at lowering speeds. It’s an interesting sensation and sound but a great demonstration of technology. There’s plenty of tech behind the scenes, with the expected plethora of passive and active safety items, such as curtain airbags and traction control.
Although it’s the size of a pony, the Polo is a horse amongst its competitors. Although the tallish and therefore rear seat passengers would find the interior, as comfortable as it is, somewhat cramped, the 1.2L turbo firecracker makes up for it.