Small cars divide opinion; are they safe, are they slow with people in them, are they really that economical?
Volkswagen offers drivers a choice of two small cars, being the up! and the Polo. A Wheel Thing trundled around in the Polo 81TSI Comfortline with these questions being asked. And answered.
It’s a miniscule 1.2L engine, turbocharged but with some impressive numbers: 81kW from 4600 through to 5600 revs and plateau flat torque from 1400 to 4000 revs. The twist is 175 Nm between those numbers, offering rapid acceleration and flexibility once on song. It’s bolted next to a 7 ratio DSG gearbox and this is the car’s biggest weakest link. I’ll explain further down.
It’s the now recognisable, across the VW family, squared off and angular front end and neon look style tail lights. A generation or two ago, the corporate look was a slightly blobby, rounded look; it’s been edged off, the headlight clusters have a clear delineation between the main lights and indicators and parkers whilst driving lights are now pushed out to the bottom corners.
In profile it’s clearly a small car; 15 inch alloys sit underneath a compact and unoffensive body. It’s compact, to say the least, at 3972 mm in length, rolling on a 2470 mm wheelbase. It’s 1682 mm wide, whilst standing at 1453 mm it won’t trouble too many people trying to look over the top.
The headlight cluster on the car tested is slightly different from the other (entry level) model by having a chrome look as opposed to black chrome.
Tyres are Continentals, 185/60 in profile, wrapped around 15 inch alloys.
On The Inside.
Naturally, unlike the TARDIS, it’s small on the inside because it’s small on the outside. Rear leg room, when the front pews are occupied by normal adults, is almost negligible, even for smaller family members. Entry and exit is easy enough but there’s no way that this car could be considered a five seater.
The overall presence is one of blandness; it’s black upon black, for the most part and nothing that stands out as visually exciting or appealing.
It’s cloth trim, with VW’s oddly chosen tartan style weave, coating the snug and reasonably comfortable seats. The driver faces a simple and clear dash, in glorious black and white, bar red needles and the red line for the tacho. Ergonomically it’s pretty spot on.
Two small buttons on the outer lower part of the binnacle offer info options. It’s a left hand operated indicator, controls for lights and audio plus aircon are efficient and ergonomically laid out, with the audio quality a touch unbalanced, even after adjusting the levels. The compact body doesn’t allow a lot of rear cargo space, being barely enough to hold a average weekly shop. Cleverly, though, there is a second level, access by simply lifting the visible floor, allowing a bit more storage for squashable or flat items.Naturally, there’s plenty of safety, with airbags and electronic aids, including a form of crash avoidance; a small icon lights up on the (black and white) dash screen if the system detects the Polo is getting close to the vehicle ahead and is under acceleration. It’s unintrusive and a simple reminder for the driver not to get too close
On The Road.
It’s unbalanced in the suspension; the front is too soft, scraping on kerbs and the give in the rear isn’t enough. It’s disconcerting, especially with the speed bumps that infest our cities, feeling the front sponge over then the rear jolting. This provides some interesting driving moments in hard roundabout turns, with the nose tucking in whilst the tail feels to slightly ride high.
It’s also an interesting drivetrain combination, with a seven speed DSG (double clutch auto) and the light switch engagement it has; from Reverse to Drive, there’s a noticeable pause as the systems organises itself, then suddenly engages and launches the car forward. It’s the same when you’ve come to a halt at a stop sign or red light, as the transmission takes itself out of Drive, then lunges forward when the accelerator is pressed. A local intersection is a T junction with an almost blind curve coming in from the left, which makes trying to get under way with a transmission like this a touch dangerous as there’s the time lag between asking for go and getting it.
Under way, however, it’s a different and more enjoyable story, as that torque comes into its own and allows the Polo to roll along with alacrity. The number isn’t huge, at “just” 175 Newton metres, but the range at which it’s available makes the driving part a doddle, with low revs moving the Polo along just as easily as 4000 revs.
A major positive is its frugality. Being a small car, there’s no room for a big fuel tank with this being 45 litres. Even with four aboard, the engine doesn’t seem to struggle, with economy hovering between five and six litres per 100 kilometres covered. There was still 1/4 of a tank indicated with 565 kilometres driven on handover.
I don’t think the Polo Comfortline is a family car; it’s too small to always comfortably deal with two adults, two children and a load of shopping. Two people and an occasional guest? For sure. The DSG issue is one that plagues this kind of transmission; it’s not fun and can be dangerous in certain locations. It’s devilishly cheap to run, though, it can be fun to punt once under way and has that bluff, no compromise interior look that doesn’t confuse with too many buttons or colours. You do get a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty plus capped price servicing. At Just over 22K, it’s unlikely to break the bank as well.
Head here for details: http://volkswagenaustralia.com.au/PassengerVehicleVariants/vehicle/polo