Why would I buy one
- Fun to drive
- Solid build quality
- Old-school charm
Why would I avoid it
- Outdated design
- Lacks modern features
- Competition offers better value
Some Bollywood divas should take suggestions from Volkswagen on how to keep themselves relevant for over a decade. Although not much has changed in the Polo since its introduction, the change of heart sees the debut of the 1.0-litre TSI engine. This new turbo-petrol retains the Polo’s fun-to-drive persona, while the niggles we had with the Polo over the years have been carried over too. Yet, the Polo remains as alluring as before, simply because it can still pop a grin on your face each time you grab the wheel.
Engines and Performance
The newest member of Volkswagen’s TSI family powers the updated Polo we are driving here. It is the 1.0-litre turbo-petrol unit which is not to be confused with the 1.0-litre MPI motor that was introduced some time back and is still on sale. Where the MPI is good for 75bhp and 95Nm, the new 999cc TSI motor churns out an impressive 109bhp at 5,000rpm and 175Nm between 1,750 – 4,000rpm. That’s 6bhp more as compared to the erstwhile 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine. Although it loses a cylinder – yes, it’s a three-cylinder motor – it now gets a direct injection. Paired to it is a six-speed manual transmission instead of the usual DSG (you can have it with a torque converter automatic too).
On idle, the motor is silent and feels refined for a three-cylinder. Slot into first gear and let go of the clutch, and the car gets off the mark smoothly with a stirring eagerness. There’s a considerable lag below 2,000rpm but the engine doesn’t stutter even if the needle drops below 1,000rpm mark. Which means you can potter around town in a gear or two higher than necessary. So, at city speeds, it feels docile and usable without feeling underpowered or boring. But go past the 2,000rpm mark – when the turbo is spooled up – and the engine comes into its own. It becomes peppy, responsive, and very eager to drive. And when stomped on the accelerator, the motor manages to jolt you down in the seat as well. Although it does get noisy, the din is far from unpleasant. In fact, we loved the sound it makes when under full bore acceleration, more so because the noise is accompanied by good progression in terms of speed.
It’s a high-revving engine, going all the way to its 6,500rpm redline. But the mid-range – between 2,000-4,000rpm – is where the motor feels alive and responds to the throttle inputs almost immediately. Also, it is in the mid-range that the throttle response is good making it a rev-happy engine. Triple-digit speeds arrive quickly which adds to its fun-to-drive nature. Even keeping the motor on the boil isn’t necessary for maintaining highway speeds. With rev-counter clocking between 2,500rpm and 3,000rpm, you can easily keep up with other vehicles on the highway. And for overtakes, you have a good chunk of powerband at disposal. Moreover, at 1,100kg the Polo isn’t exactly a light car. But the new motor masks it well and you don’t feel that you are carrying that much weight around.
Since now you get a three-pedal setup, the driving involvement factor has gone up a notch. Sure, the shifts aren’t as smooth as the DSG, but manual gearshifts make it more connecting and add to the driving experience. On the flip side, the short-throw gear lever isn’t the slickest and has a rubbery feel to it. But one can get accustomed to it quickly.
As for the fuel efficiency, Volkswagen claims an ARAI figure of 16.47kmpl. Hence, real-world fuel efficiency in double-digit should be easily attainable. Lastly, the Polo appears to be the last old-school car around without fancy equipment like drive modes or mild-hybrid. It's got that analogue aura about it which emphasizes more on driver’s involvement rather than unnecessary gimmickry.
Ride and Handling
Volkswagen hasn’t tinkered with the rest of the Polo formula. So, this German hatchback continues to offer a balanced ride quality and one of the best handling combinations in its segment. At slow speed, the firm setup makes you notice small bumps and irregularities, but it never feels uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the sharper potholes or road joints are absorbed with good poise, without sending thud on the inside. It even trudges over bad roads with ease and the 165mm ground clearance is more than sufficient. And as the speed increases, the ride quality becomes further impressive, managing to flatten out undulations and irregularities.
As for handling, the Polo takes corners with confidence which few other hatchbacks can manage. The steering is well-weighted and direct, and the Polo can change direction at the drop of a dime. The 195/65 R16 section tyres offer a good amount of grip while the body roll is fairly controlled, thanks to the rigid chassis setup. At highway speeds, this VW remains surefooted and planted as well. Overall, the Polo continues to cater as a great driver’s car.
Interior Space and Quality
Volkswagen Polo has soldiered on with little to no changes to its exterior styling and interior layout over quite a few years now. Where you get new TSI decals and blink-and-miss changes – both fore and aft – on the exterior, the changes inside the cabin are, well… almost negligible. This all-black cabin continues its timeless layout with its solid build quality. Even though it still uses hard-plastic all around, it has a certain knack to it. Moreover, the uncluttered and clean layout of the dashboard is surely appreciable even if it’s a 10-year-old design. We love the flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel which feels nice to hold.
Behind it, that no-nonsense analogue, circular dials have a unique charm to it which seems to have been lost in the new-age cars. Even the buttons for air-con on either side of the touchscreen have a good, tactile feel to them. And though the monochromatic feel of the touchscreen might not be favoured by many, its clean interface is complemented by smooth touch and ease of use.
As for the seats, they could do with more bolstering on the side and more under-thigh support too. You get height-adjustment for the driver but on its lowest setting, the under-thigh support is next to nothing. This means, taller drivers will find it odd to find a perfect driving position.
Moving to the rear bench and space here is the Achilles’ heels for the Polo. Especially when you have competition now that offers tremendous rear-seat space. For my height (I am 5.5’), legroom and headroom are just about sufficient, so taller passengers won’t be comfortable for longer jaunts. Having said that, there’s no centre armrest, no back-seat pocket, and the door pads are only good enough to hold a piece of paper. It also misses out on a USB port here but there are rear AC vents and a 12V on offer.
Lastly, the boot space of 280 litres is less as compared to, say, the Baleno or the Altroz. But it’s fairly square and usable, and for more space, the back seats tumble down too, but there’s no split-fold.
Features and Safety
Being in a lucrative segment, the Polo needs to offer a decent amount of kit too. It manages that by offering features like an auto air-con, colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, one-touch power window, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensor, dual-front airbags and ABS, and connectivity options in the form of Volkswagen Connect. But it does miss out on some essential features which the competition offers. This includes automatic headlamps, reverse parking camera, engine start button, LED lamps, navigation, sunroof, and a better sound system.
If you are looking for a spacious and practical family hatch, we’d point you towards the Baleno, Jazz, or even the new Altroz with which the Polo currently competes. And then there’s an all-new i20 on its way too. But if you are looking for a hatchback that’s involving to drive, the Polo is hard to rival. Even after being around for almost a decade, the Polo can entice buyers who love to drive, prefer high levels of quality over a long list of features, and a no-frills cabin that has stood the test of time. And now, with the new turbo-petrol TSI motor, it retains all its distinguished driving dynamics too.
Pictures by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi