Volkswagen Polo 2009 Road Test

Fri, 05 Jun 2009

Guest Test of 2009 VW launch range by Martin Gurdon.

Car makers apparently think their primary market is actors and models in their 20s.

Most new car launches feature videos of unfeasibly good looking young people having exciting, life style experiences, and when VW pulled the wraps off its new Polo, there they were again, prancing round a car whose predecessors have sold very well because they were very, very sensible.

The new one is likely to follow this trend, which shouldn’t preclude someone with fabulous bone structure desiring it, but it’s likely to appeal to a lot of other people too, not because it’s hip, happening and radical (which VW claims), but because it’s an attractive, nuanced, thoroughly engineered means of getting about.

Although the floorpan is a development of the outgoing car’s, the new Polo is 7.5 per cent lighter, which is to be welcomed. Typically, VW couldn’t resist making it slightly bigger, but at least there’s plenty of cabin and luggage space.

The body is all new. It still looks like a Polo, but in an up-to-the-minute way, with lamp clusters and window shapes that echo the latest Golf and Scirocco. The result is both attractive and inoffensive, which for a big selling car makes perfect sense.

Inside it’s a case of familiarity breeding content. VW uses a process called ‘slush moulding’ for plastic surfaces such as the facia, which means they don’t feel hard and cheap. This applies to the steering wheel and minor controls. Everything from the seat fabrics to instruments and centre consol look classy, and there’s a lot of nice detailing, from the neat coat hooks to the false boot floor, with more space underneath it. The rear seat folding mechanism is a paragon of simplicity too, although the clever squab hinge arrangement looks slightly flimsy.

VW has used the Polo to debut its latest four-cylinder TDI diesels, which come with three power outputs (73, 90 and 103bhp), and work as well as you’d expect, returning a claimed 67mpg and 109g/CO2 per km, responding promptly to the throttle, pulling well and never feeling strained. They’re pleasantly refined too, and once again, drivers of previous generation pump diesel VW diesels will know what to expect.

There are 1.4 petrols, but the real revelation is the six-speed, 1.2TSi. This uses a turbocharger and goes very nearly as well as some hot hatches of a few years ago, hitting 62 in 9.7 seconds and running out of puff at 118 mph. It’s smooth, tractable and delivers its power in an un-clotted, relaxed way. VW claim it returns 51.4mpg and pumps out 129g of CO2 per kilometre, so diesel Polos have the edge here, but the TSi is definitely the nicer engine to use, especially when mated to slick, five or six-speed manual gearboxes.

For those who prefer gear changes done for them, VW is offering the Polo with a variant of its seven-speed, twin-clutch DSG transmission, which saps less energy than a conventional automatic –cutting the mpg and emissions penalties this creates- and it goes about selecting its gears very smoothly. However, the words ‘modified rapture’ spring to mind describing the DSG’s occasional habit of slightly delaying getting its act together, and planting your foot hard on the accelerator can sometimes result in a lot of engine revving as the thing hunts about for the most appropriate ratio.

There’s nothing to complain about regarding the latest Polo’s ride. On lumpy, undulating roads, all the versions we tried rode with great composure, and didn’t crash and lurch about. This Polo can be filed under the journalistic cliché of ‘rides like a bigger car.’

As for the handling, well, it’s good. The Polo gets round corners in a neat, neutral, fuss-free manor, sticking to the line chosen by its driver unless really provoked, when it gently starts doing that front-drive thing of running wide and scrubbing off speed. Again the 1.2TSi, whose engine is presumably lighter, feels a tad nimbler and tidier than the more nose-heavy diesels, but this is an observation rather than a criticism.

Safety-wise, the car has been engineered to meet the latest Euro NCAP crash regulations, is said to be more pedestrian-friendly, comes equipped with ESP electronic stability control and a phalanx of airbags, including combined head and thorax units.

When UK sales start in October, these will initially be restricted to five door versions (three doors are tentatively pencilled in for December). If you want an ultra- economical BlueMotion diesel (85.5mpg and 87g of CO2 per km claimed) you’ll have to wait until 2010.

It’s probable that many of the gilded youth that VW claim will flock to its showrooms will view smaller things like the FIAT 500, Ford Ka and even the Toyota Aygo as more trend-tastic, but the Polo’s recipe of more of the same, only better, is still likely to have a very broad appeal. Expect it to cost from £9,000.

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