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A recent facelift has given the Polo a fresh new facade with enlarged headlamps. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
A recent facelift has given the Polo a fresh new facade with enlarged headlamps. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Because of its omnipresence it’s perhaps a little difficult to get excited about a Volkswagen Polo, unless you’re driving the racy GTI version.

Its perennial popularity makes the Polo the very definition of a mainstream, one-around-every-corner car, and maybe that’s why Volkswagen sent us a bright purple test vehicle, in the hope that it might pop from the herd more.

While it doesn’t have the styling sass of a Peugeot 208, a recent facelift has given the popular Polo a fresh new façade with enlarged headlamps, new alloy wheel choices and Golf-style rear lights. Under that refreshed exterior the Polo remains the solid and refined package that has made it a long-time sales leader.

Having recently road tested the range-topping Polo GTI priced at R494,600, this time we downscaled to the least powerful 1.0 TSI version, which is available as a basic model for R315,000 and the more extensively-kitted Life for R353,600 — the latter on test.

As the runt of the litter in terms of power this 999cc Polo is decidedly pedestrian compared to the GTI, but without feeling underwhelming. This little dog bites harder than its 70kW output suggests and that’s because there’s a decent 175Nm dollop of low-revving torque. There is not much excitement to be extracted from the little turbo engine, but the car scoots about town and the open road without needing to be mercilessly revved. It feels respectably peppy at low revs, enough to be able to quickly zip in and out of traffic gaps.

The 70kW Polo is available in five-speed manual only, but a light clutch with a fluid action makes it a doddle to drive even in rush-hour traffic with lots of gear changes. It rides and handles neatly on high-profile tyres that give the rims more resistance to pothole damage, but should a mishap occur, the boot at contains a full-sized spare wheel.

A smart cabin environment to justify the R350k price. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
A smart cabin environment to justify the R350k price. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

It is a respectably frugal car, averaging 6.1l/100km on a town/freeway cycle, while it dipped below five litres on an open-road drive.

A typical three-cylinder chortle provides acoustic accompaniment as you drive, but not in an intrusive way, and overall the Polo is a refined car with good sound deadening. It is this, coupled with a sturdy feel, that raises the car above the bargain-basement league and partly justifies its rather steep R353,600 price tag.

That’s no bargain, but in Life specification the Polo comes with a reasonable amount of toys that lift it beyond rental-car spec including LED daytime running lights, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps, multifunction steering wheel and a digital instrument panel.

If you want to push the price well into the 400k realms there’s a goodie bag of extras you can tick off including a panoramic sunroof, directional turning Matrix headlights, blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control, inductive smartphone charger and a rear parking camera, among others.

Golf-style tail lamps are part of the restyle, and you can make it pop more in this purple. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Golf-style tail lamps are part of the restyle, and you can make it pop more in this purple. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Polo Life has a modern and pleasant interior with a soft-touch dashboard and comfortable seats. The seats aren’t leather, but the fabric upholstery has a thick weave with a pleasant texture. It’s a respectably roomy car and will take four adults without fuss.

The Polo competes in what is more than a bargain-basement market segment, where customers expect a little extra in terms of space, specification and refinement. The compact VW delivers on those fronts and adds good substance; there’s nothing tinny or cheap-feeling about it and it essentially feels like a smaller Golf. Volkswagen’s solid reputation and vast dealer network will help it to remain one of SA’s perennially best-selling cars.

 

Tech Specs

ENGINE

Type: Three-cylinder turbo petrol

Capacity: 999cc

Power: 70kW

Torque: 175Nm

 

TRANSMISSION

Type: Five-speed manual

 

DRIVETRAIN

Type: Front-wheel drive

 

PERFORMANCE

Top speed: 187km/h

0-100km/h: 10.8 sec (claimed)

Fuel Consumption: 5.4l/100km (claimed), 6.1l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 121g/km

 

STANDARD FEATURES

Stability control, ABS brakes, six airbags, tyre pressure sensor, park distance control, electric windows, electric mirrors, aircon, LED daytime running lights, touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth, USB ports, auto on/off lights, rain-sensing wipers, remote central locking, cloth upholstery, multifunction steering wheel controls, digital instrument panel, trip computer

 

COST OF OWNERSHIP

Warranty: Three years/120,000km

Service plan: Three years/45,000km

Price: R353,600

Lease: R7,608 a month

*at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

 

Volkswagen Polo Life 1.0 TSI

 

WE LIKE: Fuel thrift, packed with features, solid feel

WE DISLIKE: It’s no bargain

VERDICT: All you really need in a compact hatch

 

Motor News star rating

Design ****

Performance  ***

Economy ****

Ride ****

Handling ****

Safety ****

Value For Money ****

Overall ****

 

The competition

Opel Corsa 1.2 Edition, 55kW/118Nm — R339,900

Hyundai i20 1.0T Fluid, 90kW/172Nm — R347,900

Mazda2 1.5 Individual, 85kW/148Nm — R348,200

Renault Clio 1.0 Turbo Intens, 74kW/160Nm — R349,900

Kia Rio hatch 1.4 Tec, 73kW/135Nm — R353,995

Honda Fit 1.5 Elegance, 89kW/145Nm — R382,500

 

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