Some small cars are intentionally packed full of quirkiness, effervescence and joie de vivre: the Volkswagen Polo intentionally isn’t.
This is a car that built its name on being overwhelmingly competent in a highly efficient, very focused and intensely German kind of a way. Specify it with the 1.6-litre TDI common-rail diesel engine and it just gets even more brutally sensible. If you’re after a supermini that transcends the whims of fashion and just gets on with the job, this could be it.
Volkswagen doesn’t appear too fond of big surprises. You can almost imagine what the marque’s new models are going to look like before the covers hit the floor but then, they do generally turn out to be rather good. We’re told that the fifth generation Polo is sharper, safer, stronger, larger, more refined, more efficient and more technologically advanced than ever before and that it’s also lighter than the car it replaces too. That doesn’t give rivals a whole lot to aim at.
The 1.6-litre TDI engine is used extensively across Volkswagen’s model range and those of other Volkswagen Group brands. It’s a thoroughly modern unit with common-rail fuel injection and Piezo actuators which allow highly pressurised diesel to be fired into the cylinders at precise intervals and in the exact quantities required. The result is extremely efficient combustion with maximum power extracted and minimal wastage.
There are two power options to consider, the 1.6-litre TDI being offered in 74bhp and 89bhp guises. The former generates peak torque of 195Nm at 1,500rpm and can get the Polo to 62mph in 13.9s. That isn’t particularly quick for a 1.6-litre supermini but urban driving won’t highlight the lack of pace as the Polo cruses around on its wave of torque. The 89bhp version of the engine is usefully more sprightly with a 11.5s sprint and there’s extra torque as well – 230Nm at 1,500rpm.
"We’re told that the fifth generation Polo is sharper, safer, stronger, larger, more refined, more efficient and more technologically advanced"
There’s nothing to offend traditional Polo customers in the way the car looks but compared to some of the sector’s more adventurous styling efforts, this Volkswagen might be too reserved for some tastes. It certainly looks compact and nuggety but it’s also substantially larger than it predecessor. The track has been widened front and rear, with the overall width up by 32mm to 1,682mm and the height dropped by 13mm to 1,454mm. All this proves that the Polo’s more dynamic stance isn’t merely a stylist’s illusion.
Naturally, this Polo’s more generous dimensions, including an overall length that’s up by 36mm to 3,952mm, equate to a more spacious interior than the previous generation car. Passengers benefit from increased leg and headroom as well as more space in the rear to stow their luggage. There’s a 280-litre boot which increases to 952-litres when the rear seats are folded down.
Volkswagen has worked on yet another low key but high quality cabin environment for the Polo. Soft touch plastics and subtle aluminium detailing are the order of the day. Optional convenience features include an air-conditioned glovebox, an MP3 player connection point, a multifunction steering wheel and a touch screen satellite navigation system.
The 1.6-litre TDI engine begins to look more attractive as a result of one of the Polo’s few flaws. Its 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre normally-aspirated petrol engines aren’t the most modern of units so it’s well worth spending a little more on your Polo and going for a better powerplant. If you’re pushing the boat out anyway, why not get the 1.6 TDI?
It’s available in three and five-door bodystyles with a choice of SE or SEL trim levels. Standard equipment on the Polo is more B&B than five-star hotel but the 1.6 TDI only becomes available with the mid-range SE grade. You get central locking, electric front windows and an MP3 compatible CD stereo with the basic S models but the SE is far more satisfying with alloy wheels, air-conditioning, remote central locking, a split-fold rear seat and an AUX socket for connecting an MP3 player to the stereo. Safety kit runs to ESP, a couple of airbags and ABS with brake assist on all Polo models.
Lower prices and higher equipment levels elsewhere might be enough to turn the heads of some buyers away from the Polo. Take the longer view, however, and Volkswagen’s supermini shapes up very well on the balance sheet. Class-leading residual values, modest insurance costs and this highly efficient 1.6 TDI engine mean that once the initial purchase is out of the way, the Polo is a very cost-effective choice.
Combined cycle fuel economy is the same whether you opt for the 74bhp or the 89bhp version and at 65.7mpg, owners will be strangers at their local filling station. CO2 emissions of 112g/km are similarly strong and will bring useful tax advantages.
Excitement isn’t what the Volkswagen Polo is all about. Buyers know basically what they’re going to get and that’s understated but classy design, peerless build quality and solid engineering. The 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine takes the latest Polo even further down this familiar road, specialising in economy and refinement rather than performance, and suits the car well as a result. It’s a package that should be enough to keep the Polo in its default position near the top of the supermini sales charts.