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Volkswagen Polo 2002 Road Test

Wed, 30 Jan 2002

I wondered why the VW PR team were so quietly confident about the 2002 Polo facelift. The Honda Jazz has revolutionised what buyers can expect from a small car. The Peugeot 206 has the chic chick market sewn up. Ford is putting all its weight behind the new Fiesta.

The handy Citroen C3 is on the way. Then there's the cheaper Skoda Fabia on the same A04 floorpan as the new Polo, the forthcoming SEAT Ibiza also on the same A04 floorpan, the super-economical facelifted Renault Clio, the previously class-leading Toyota Yaris, not to mention the new Nissan Micra, which VW conveniently didn't. So why were they expecting us to fall in love with their new Polo?

They dropped a hint in the presentation the night before the test-drive by calling it ''The tough new Polo''. Not ''The pretty new Polo''. Not ''The cute new Polo''. Not ''The classy new Polo''. Instead they emphasised its laser-welded rigidity, tight shut-lines, electro-galvanised bodyshell and its considerable weight of between 1,173 and 1,280kg, pretty much the same as a Mk IV Golf. It sits on five-stud wheels, like a Mercedes, not four studs like everything else in its class.

They mentioned that, while the previous Polo had been compared in size to the Mk I Golf, the new Polo is only three inches shorter than the Mk II. They talked 'damageability' and 'repairability', which mean very low insurance groups of One to Six. They talked about the efficiency of their new 1,198cc three-cylinder engine, which squeezes 47.1 miles out of a gallon on the EU combined cycle. They told us that though only 7.5% of old Polos were diesels they expect 14% of the new cars to be. They reckon 80% will be sold on finance and specced-up from the long options list, because something like a CD autochanger at £395 only works out at an extra quid a week. That, in turn, helps keep used prices up because small cars loaded with options sell much better then stripped-out base versions.

And they expect to sell 44,000 in the first year, which is 4,000 more than all the Polos sold in 2001 - which everyone agrees was a never-to-be repeated boom year for car sales in Britain.

So what's the new Polo's secret?

It looks cute. It has an excellent paint finish. Get inside and the plastics and switchgear have a high-quality feel. The steering wheel goes in and out as well as up and down. Most models have height-adjustable seats. You can switch off the passenger airbag. And there are sliding oddments trays under the seats. But otherwise it's just a car with none of the ingenuity of the interior of the Honda Jazz.

Then you turn the key and the fun starts. The cheerful 1.2 litre three-cylinder engine emits a joyful whoop and you begin enjoying yourself straight away.

The handling is excellent, roadholding tenacious, ride quality pliant and, despite just 65bhp, the engine is perky and fun. Within a mile you're completely smitten. Never mind the practicality of the Honda Jazz, you hear yourself say. This new Polo is a hoot to drive.

So that's it. The secret's out. The new Polo isn't just the classiest car in its class. It's also the most fun to be with. If Ford had the jitters over the Jazz, it must be panicking over the Polo.

The four-cylinder 75bhp 1.4 Polo isn't quite such an eager beaver. It's more refined, longer geared and closer to what you'd expect a new Polo to be. Yet it still shares the brilliant handling of the 1.2.

In contrast, the super-efficient 75bhp 1.4TDI is very slightly disappointing. It's noisy in a dieselly sort of way and, despite its amazing torque, it just isn't as much fun as the 1.2 petrol.

The final surprise was the 100bhp 1.9 litre pumpe duse TDI. This engine feels sluggish in the Passat. But it turns the smaller, lighter Polo into a real muscle car. Long gearing of something like 32.5mph per 1,000 rpm and massive torque mean quick motoring with very little effort. And, surprisingly, the bigger, heavier engine doesn't upset the handling too badly.

Yet my favourite remains the perky little 1.2 petrol model. Price-wise it makes sense too because, while all Polos are relatively dear, the diesels are definitely expensive. And they don't quite fit the image. A mate of mine once said that a bottle-green three-door Polo was the most status you can buy in a small car. But he wasn't talking about a diesel. And the new Polo has to be red.

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