Volkswagen’s latest-generation Polo hatchback has already established itself as a major player at the compact end of the market. But with the advent of the Classic — which adds a capacious boot to the equation — VW South Africa is hoping for an even greater slice of market share. DEON SCHOEMAN drove the car in the Cape …
I have to be honest: small notchback sedans aren’t a personal favourite. All too often, adapting what was obviously a hatchback into a three-box sedan by sticking a boot onto the back simply doesn’t work aesthetically: it ends up looking like an afterthought.
However, any fears I may have had about the new VW Polo Classic displaying those traits were quickly dispelled at my first encounter with the car at the Cape Town International Airport. The fleet of Polos patiently awaiting us didn’t only look the smart part, but certainly put a new, more mature spin on the Polo ball.
The front-end is identical to the hatchback, retaining the trademark bug-eyed look created by the four oval headlights, the rounded fenders, and the curved roofline. However, everything changes at the rear, where the pert hatchback is replaced by an altogether more sober boot.
Fortunately, the design integrates the new addition well, and there’s certainly no sense of afterthought. However, it does swap the youthful character of the hatchback for a somewhat more pragmatic approach. Yes, the sense of innovation and dynamic sparkle remains, but attenuated by a generous dose of practicality.
The interior is every bit as inviting as that of the Polo hatchback, with tangible quality an overriding impression. Durable cloth, textured plastics and solid switchgear all exude an air of class and sophistication, with longevity an obvious promise.
For the driver, there’s nothing to distinguish the cockpit of the two cars. The fascia’s central, hooded binnacle contains clearly laid out analogue instruments for speed and rev count, with smaller dials offering temperature and fuel tank level information.
The steering wheel is grippy, the gearshift positive and slick, and the pedal layout near-perfect, including a left footrest. Add a height-adjustable seat, and an adjustable steering column, and getting comfortable behind the Polo Classic’s controls is a cinch.
Like the hatchback range, there are three engine choices, all driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. The most modest of these is a 1,4-litre four-potter good for 60 kW at 5 000 r/min and 127 Nm at 3 800 r/min. It offers plenty of pep, especially at sea level, with VW claiming a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 12,7 sec and a 170 km/h top speed.
For petrol fans, there are two 1,6-litre versions to choose from: a standard and a Comfortline derivative. Both have 74 kW and 140 Nm on tap, achieved at 5 500 r/min and 3 250 r/min respectively. The 0-100 km/h dash is despatched in a claimed 10,9 sec, while top speed comes to 184 km/h.
But the star of the show — and also the flagship of the range — is the Polo Classic 1.4 TDI, a close relative of the hatchback that currently holds the SA Car of the Year title. The three-cylinder mill produces 55 kW and a quite astounding 195 Nm of torque, translating into surprisingly satisfying performance.
It needs 13,9 sec to get from 0 to 100 km/h, and has a top speed of 170 km/h. However, its fuel consumption is a quite brilliant 5,5 litres/100 km in the urban cycle, compared to the 8,8 l/100 km and 9,2 l/100 km of the 1400 and 1600 versions respectively.
A route embracing some of the most scenic parts of the Cape Peninsula and its surroundings provided ample opportunity to sample the dynamic talents of the Polo Classic trio. An undulating section Elgin and Villiersdorp showcased a suspension with just the right mix of supple damping and taut control, ensuring a comfortable and confidence-inspiring ride.
As expected at sea level, even the 1,4-litre petrol Polo Classic quite happily cruised at enthusiastic speeds, and felt brisk enough through the gears, although it has to be said that the 1,6-litre version is probably the better choice for those who like to drive with verve — especially at Reef altitudes.
I just love the guttural growl of the TDI, however, and its ability to pull strongly from very low down, and to sustain that urge all the way to the limiter, is what makes this car special, even if it’s ultimately slower than the 1600. Of course, its frugal appetite for diesel makes it the most economical to run, however.
Life in all these Polos is a comfortable affair, with very high levels of specification. Even the entry-level Polo Classic 1.4 gets central locking, power steering, an integrated immobiliser, full instrumentation with trip recorder and dual vanity mirrors as standard. In safety terms, all-disc brakes with ABS, and dual airbags are also standard across the range.
Polo Classic 1.6 buyers get electric front windows, remote central locking, electrically operated exterior mirrors, an on-board computer and fatter tyres for the 14-inch steel wheels. In Comfortline trim, the list includes a cassette receiver, air-conditioning, alloy wheels and electric windows front and rear.
The flagship Polo Classic TDI boasts 15-inch alloy wheels and 195/55 tyres and front driving lights. Options across the range include VW’s satellite navigation system, Automotion service plan, and a front-loading CD player.
And so, to the most important question of all: price. The Polo Classic 1.4 costs R109 950, while the 1.6 and 1.6 Comfortline carry price tags of R125 950 and R139 950 respectively. The Polo Classic TDI retails for R149 950. Not cheap, admittedly, but priced competitively in a tough sector.
VWSA hopes this new Polo family will achieve volumes similar to the previous model, with the Classic sedan boosting the sales already being achieved by the hatchback. Given the intrinsic excellence of these cars, that should not be a problem …