Volkswagen Polo

The new Polo is derived from the same platform as Skoda Fabia. When the third derivatives - Seat Ibiza - arrive, total volume will reach 1.2 million units annually. The Volkswagen-brand model will still be the biggest seller among them and account for about 650,000 cars. That should make it as popular as Peugeot 206 and Fiat Punto. 

When Skoda Fabia was launched 2 years ago, it was renowned for solid build quality and huge interior space. When Dr. Piech thought it must take the crown of European Car of the Year, unfortunately, it was beaten by another star - Toyota Yaris. 2 years have gone, extra time and money spent in development allow the Volkswagen-brand model to challenge the Toyota in a stronger position. Perhaps it's time to revenge now ... 

When we examine a mini car, the first to look is always packaging. In this aspect, the new Polo is rather conservative. Like Fabia, it has a spacious interior just shy of Honda Fit, but this is achieved by enlarging exterior dimensions rather than optimizing use of space. How big ? the new Polo is essentially as big as a Mk2 Golf, or in other words, bigger than all competitors excluding Fabia. Well, big isn't a fault, but heavy definitely is. The lightest 1.2-litre 3-door already weighs 1 ton, although its engine is made of aluminium alloy and has only 3 cylinders. Add a 4-valve head and 2 more doors, it reaches 1055kg, about 100kg more than competitors. 

As a Volkswagen tradition, the interior of new Polo is solidly built and employs high quality materials. The dashboard and console is made of soft-touch plastics, buttons have damped feel when pressing, assembly gaps are narrow. Although the same description can also be applied to the old Polo facelifted in '99, the solid feel of the chassis, smoother ride quality and better noise insulation give the new Polo an even higher quality impression. In terms of quality, there is still no one else can match Volkswagen. 

The cabin has plenty of space for 4 people, but unlike many of its new rivals, it does not pretend to be a MPV. Apart from the storage drawers under front seats, the cabin looks conservative and feels cold. The angular shape of console is particularly dull. However, the most disappointing is the exterior design, which is as conservative as Taliban’s rulers. It looks neither pretty nor prestige. And worst of all, it actually looks uglier than its cheaper sister Fabia. 

Powering the new Polo is a mix of old and new engines. The aforementioned 1.2-litre 3-pot is new and hopefully the best seller. It is an outstanding engine - free-revving, smooth and output a useful 65hp in the 12-valve version (in contrast, the 55hp sohc version copes hard with the heavy kerb weight). Having one less cylinder allows it to consume 5-11% less fuel than equivalent 4-pots, while a balance shaft cancels vibration generated from the 3-cylinder configuration. It also has aluminium head and block to save weight. Nevertheless, this engine is by no means innovative, it just follows the footprints of Opel's 1.0-litre unit which has all these good elements. 

Other engines are old and less impressive:  

  • 1.4-litre 16V with 75hp - lazy and coarse at high rev.
  • 1.4-litre 16V with 100hp - punchy but booming at push.
  • 1.4-litre 16V FSI (direct-injection) with 85hp - not available until the second year.
  • 1.9-litre SDI diesel with 64hp - er, an old fashion slow diesel.
  • 1.4-litre TDI 3-pot pump-injection turbo diesel with 75hp / 144 lbft - from Audi A2, good but better with more power.
  • 1.9-litre TDI pump-injection turbo diesel with 100hp / 177 lbft - powerful enough, but noisy at acceleration.
Due to the extra weight they carry, all Polos are expected to accelerate slower than competitors. This is not going to be changed until Volkswagen launch the Polo GTI (with 180hp 1.8T engine) and RSi (210hp version of the 1.8T) later. But they are at least a year away. 

In the chassis department, the new Polo retains the popular suspension design of front MacPherson struts and rear torsion beam, but a rethink of tuning theory sacrificed Germanic stiffness for French suppleness, thanks to the success of Peugeot 206. The old Polo - no matter which versions - felt sporty to handle but less forgiving in ride quality. In contrast, the new generation rides much softer, quieter and more compliance. Especially on rough surfaces, it glides over irregularities calmly. In addition to the slick gearshift, well-weighted steering and well calibrated pedals, it is surprisingly relaxing to drive. From family car point of view, it is unbeatable. 

From keen drivers' point of view ?  

There are some cars good at both comfort and excitement, but unfortunately the new Polo is not one of them. Slow aside, its body control and steering are not the greatest. Inevitably, the softer suspensions result in a fair amount of body roll and loss of instantaneous response. The electro-hydraulic steering feels good at first impression. It is light at low speed and firm up at speed more than Fabia to inspire confidence. It is also precise and quick at initial turn-in. However, once enter twisty roads and apply more lock, or approaching its grip limit, you will find little feedback through the steering wheel. And unlike the French rivals, it does not play any lift-off oversteer. Sadly, the new Polo is not as much fun to drive as its predecessor. 

Therefore, Toyota Yaris is still firmly on the top, at least before Honda Fit is Europeanized. Volkswagen Polo might appeal to most customers, but it is too conservative and not fun enough for we car enthusiasts. 

The above report was last updated on 4 Dec 2001. All Rights Reserved.

Polo GTi

No one knows why Volkswagen’s management took 4.5 years to decide whether to build the GTI version of Polo – to the fans of VW, it seems to be a must. Anyway, late is better than none. Car buyers won’t mind to have another choice in addition to Renault Clio RS, Mini Cooper, Mitsubishi Colt CZT, Peugeot 206RC and Ford Fiesta ST. To Volkswagen, whether its late entry to the party will generate sufficient interest is another matter. Until now, the cars in this class produce at least 150 horsepower. They are capable to sprint from 0 to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds and reach a top speed of over 130 mph. Prices are normally under £15,000 (UK price). Polo GTI meets all these standards, but just.

Power comes from a 1.8-litre turbocharged 20V engine whose root can be traced back to the 1995 Audi A4 1.8T. Volkswagen group developed this engine in various state of tunes, but in the Polo GTI it produces the same 150 horsepower as the original 1995 engine, although it does get a little more torque (162 lbft vs 155 lbft). Unsurprisingly, the engine runs at light boost pressure thus it produces almost no turbo lag. Its strength is a smooth power delivery and a flat torque curve rather than high-revving excitement. The latest Renault Clio RS can rev to 7500 rpm and produce nearly 50 more horsepower at the top end. Polo GTI is relatively modest. It’s 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds is 1.3 seconds off the benchmark set by Clio. You don’t need to be told which one is the driver’s choice.

Viewing from outside, the Polo GTI inevitably feels a little outdated. After all, a 4.5 year old car has passed two-third of its life. The GTI enhancement includes a black V-shape grille and red surround at the upper intake, just like Golf GTI, but they do not integrate very well into the angular body. Other enhancements include 16-inch wheels and a tiny tailgate spoiler.

The look may be outdated, but the Polo chassis is still up to date. The rigid monocoque and firm suspensions contribute to remarkable body control, while the grip level and secured handling characteristic are typical German style. However, Polo GTI is not as fun to drive as the outgoing Lupo GTI. Its steering is neither responsive nor involving enough to inspire real driving excitement. In this way, the bigger Golf GTI is actually more fun to drive.

Disappointingly, the legendary GTI name does not work this time. It lacks the look, performance and handling talent of the best hot hatches in the market. Perhaps this is an inevitable result for a car based on a 4.5-year-old design and 11-year-old engine.
The above report was last updated on 19 Apr 2006. All Rights Reserved.


Polo 5dr 1.2
Polo 3dr 1.4 FSI
Polo GTi 3dr
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
L / W / H / WB (mm)
3891 / 1650 / 1465 / 2460
3891 / 1650 / 1465 / 2460
3915 / 1650 / 1459 / 2465
Inline-3, dohc, 4v/cyl,
bal shaft.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl,
Inline-4, dohc, 5v/cyl,
1198 cc
1390 cc
1781 cc
65 hp
85 hp
150 hp
83 lbft
96 lbft
162 lbft
Suspension (F/R)
strut / torsion-beam
strut / torsion-beam
strut / torsion-beam
Tyres (F/R)
All: 165/70R14
All: 195/55R15
All: 205/45VR16
1055 kg
1164 kg
Top speed
97 mph*
108 mph*
134 mph (c)
0-60 mph
14.6 sec*
12.1 sec*
7.8 sec (c)
0-100 mph
Figures tested by: * Autocar

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