Top Car Magazine Drive Test – Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI

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If you needed any reminding the Polo is the most beloved motor car in South Africa, just take a look at these numbers. Year-to-date, behind China and Russia, South Africa is the biggest selling Polo market in – the – world. Sure, that figure includes the SA-only Polo Vivo but still; 24 994 units last year beats out all European markets, including Germany and the UK, and even the none-European markets that Uitenhage exports Polos to: places like Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Not too bad for a Polo that’s been in a run out year and an overall passenger car market down by 7.3 per cent.

This translates to Volkswagen’s A0 (this is what Volkswagen likes to call Polo-sized passenger cars) market segment share of 36 per cent with the Polo – the healthy foothold that pushes the Volkswagen Group to nearly 24 per cent total market share for all passenger cars in South Africa. Just to remind you, Uitenhage is one of seven Polo production sites in the world and has delivered 265 000 Polos for export since 2009.

The wheelbase, body dimensions and styling are largely unchanged but we’re confident in calling this a new Polo when you look at the transformative makeover it’s undergone where it matters. Firstly, gone are the wheezy normally aspirated MPI engines. Instead 1.2-litre TSI engines for the whole range, with the TDI, GTI and BlueMotion coming later. The 1.2-litre TSI – similar to the step up between the previous 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre range – comes in two states of tune: 66kW/160Nm and 81kW/175Nm.

The engines are imported from Germany, bringing the local part content in the car down from 75 per cent to somewhere below 70 per cent but this does bring the local Polo into the 21st century in terms of turbo-downsizing that was happening all around it. Doing so transforms the driving characteristics of the new Polo in the process – with a 20 per cent improvement in fuel economy and emissions going hand-in-hand with a 40 per cent improvement in torque and an overall 18 – 20 per cent improvement in performance between the two derivatives. What’s not to like about that?

The vital stats for the 66kW are 0-100kph in a shade over ten seconds, a combined cycle fuel consumption of 4.9l/100km and emissions of 117g/km. The 81kW is deeply impressive: 0-100kph in a Mk1 Golf GTI-busting 9.3sec, a top speed just shy of 200kph, a combined cycle fuel consumption of 5.1l/100km and CO2 emissions of 120g/km. The gearboxes are new as well. With five- and six-speed manuals and a seven-speed DSG only available on the 81kW Highline.

The styling tweaks are minimal, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, but if you’re paying attention you will spot them. The new Polo has had its chrome accents moved a little lower down on the front grille. Giving it less of a ‘smiling face’ as Volkswagen liked to call the previous one; and more of a sportier, wider stance on the road. The rear reflectors have moved to the lower bumper and new details have been added to the rear light cluster. It’s undoubtedly just another Polo, but a slightly more mature, sportier one too. The Trendline gets 14-inch steel wheels, the Comfortline gets 15-inch alloys, while the Highline gets 16-inch rims to better fill those signature-flare Polo wheel arches.

The interior is more extensively reworked than the outside. A 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system from the Golf is standard across the range with a black and white display in the cheapest Trendline model, colour in the Comfortline and Highline, and an optional 5.8-inch colour display above that which will come with all sorts of cool MirrorLink Apps to sync your smartphone to the screen that aren’t available just yet in South Africa. Revised, sunken dials have a more premium look and feel than before and a multi-function steering wheel is standard across the range. It’s flat-bottomed and the functionality of the buttons depends on which line you’ve chosen but it is pleasingly tactile.

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While that got us excited, our launch drive was not the most exciting one we’ve ever attended. With a drive straight out of Gauteng, along the N4, to the fly fishing haunt of Dullstroom, and straight down the highway back to Gauteng again. If we’re honest, the only thing that got a really thorough working out – aside from the boosted engines – was the Highline’s fatigue detection sensor. We’re assuming such an arrow straight route was decided upon because very little has been done to the Polo in terms of suspension retuning or dynamics. Not that it needed any work done in those departments anyway. So getting a dynamic sense of the car will have to wait for our road test but the new 1.2 TSI has a rorty exhaust note and good pull through the middle rev range.

Like any new car, Volkswagen is offering more technology as standard (including a 3yr/45 000km service plan for the first time… finally) but they’re going to ask for you to part with more money as well. However, considering safety aids like ESP, post-collision braking and hill-hold assist that come standard on all models, and the massively improved drivetrains, we think the promise of ‘added-value’ holds true for the new Volkswagen Polo.

Pricing wise, the 66kW Trendline starts at R188 300, the 66kW Comfortline at R209 700, the 81kW Highline at R233 300 and the Highline DSG at R247 800. These prices include a 3yr/45 000km service plan and 3yr/120 000km warranty. For a mix of options like park distance control, the light and vision package and metallic paint (as our launch car had fitted) be prepared to set aside around R9 000 for optional equipment.

NEED TO KNOW

Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI 81kW Highline M/T

PRICE: R233 800
ENGINE: 1 196cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol, 81kW@5000rpm, 175Nm@4000rpm
TRANSMISSION: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
SUSPENSION: Double wishbone front, torsion beam trailing arm rear
LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT: 3 972/1 682/1 453mm
WEIGHT: 1 107kg
PERFORMANCE: 9.6sec 0–100kph, 193kph top speed, 5.1l/100 km, 120g/km
ON SALE: Now