VW’s light hatch has matured into a sharp-handling, roomy offering that’s more like big-brother Golf than ever before
WHAT IS IT?
The sixth generation of Volkswagen’s light hatch. It has big shoes to fill, as previous generations have set the B-segment benchmark.
WHY ARE WE DRIVING IT?
Built on an all-new platform and powered by new three-pot turbo engines, the all-new Polo went on sale last month. This was our opportunity for an extensive drive away from the constraints of a conventional media launch.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The 2018 Polo ticks more boxes than an Octogenarian bingo player, and takes the light-car segment to a new realm in terms of its space, equipment levels, performance and handling. But efforts to academically perfect the Polo have robbed it of some charm, which could affect its showroom appeal among younger buyers seeking more visual wow factor. Looks can be deceiving though, and while the Polo is a sensible buy, it’s certainly not dull once you get behind the wheel.
PLUS: All-round competence, gutsy three-cylinder engines, accomplished drive, interior space, AEB as standard
MINUS: Conservative looks lack charm, curious equipment omissions
THE WHEELS REVIEW
SETTING a benchmark is easier than maintaining it. Which is why, when we got our hands on the sixth-generation Polo, we wanted to do more than just see how it stacked up against its Mk 5 predecessor. This first drive was a hard-pedalling baptism of fire that really allowed us to appreciate just how much Volkswagen’s little car has grown up.
Polo’s coming of age is evident at first glance, with its playful looks replaced by a broader stance and conservative lines that cement its family resemblance to the Golf and Tiguan.
It also shares a version of the bigger cars’ MBQ platform that’s responsible for much of its transformation. Now bigger than the Mk 4 Golf, the Polo’s wheelbase has grown 92mm to 2548mm with front and rear track stretched by 45mm and 56mm to 1521mm and 1501mm respectively. The bodywork bulges to take full advantage of the bigger footprint, resulting in C-segment rivalling leg and shoulder room and a handy 351-litre boot.
The interior is typical Volkswagen, with clean lines, quality materials, comfortable seats and a clutter-free dashboard with an 8.0-inch touchscreen that blends in with the instrument cluster. That said, the premium feel is undermined a little by the absence of push-button start or climate control air-conditioning, even as options.
One thing that hasn’t grown is the range, with two specification grades each with a different version of the new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine. These will soon joined by a GTI version.
The new line-up starts with the 75TSI Trendline with a 75kW/150Nm donk coupled with a choice of five-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch auto. The entry-level manual retails at $17,990, which represents a modest $1000 bump over the lesser-equipped Mk 5. Opting for the auto transmission will set you back an extra $2500.
Next up is the 85TSI Comfortline, with a choice of six-speed manual and seven-speed DSG that each cost $1500 more than their 75TSI counterparts. The extra coin brings the 85kW three-pot, which produces 200Nm of torque (the same shove as the Golf 7’s 92TSI), plus extra kit including 15-inch alloys over the boggo 15-inch steel wheels, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and sharper cloth trim.
For a limited time you can score a Launch Edition of the 85TSI with 16-inch alloys, wireless phone charger, front fog lights and tinted tail-lights for an extra $1000.
Options include a $1400 Driver Assistance pack for the 85TSI, with additional safety features including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, park assist and power folding mirrors. Premium paint will set you back another $500.
READ NEXT: 2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI review
Our Launch Edition test car showed shaving off a cylinder hasn’t harmed the Polo’s performance any. The 85TSI pushes out an extra 4kW and 25 Newtons than the 1.2-litre four it replaces. Mated with the DSG, it’s a little sluggish from step-off in its default drive mode, but flicking the gearshifter down to engage Sport mode overcomes this.
Once on the move, progress is smooth, without the delayed shifts at low speeds that plague some dual-clutch setups. In more dynamic driving conditions the DSG selects gears intuitively, meaning you’re never lacking throttle response. The three-pot does lack the silkiness of the Mk 5’s 1.2-litre four, but the throaty burble it delivers when you floor it is just one element of its charm.
The new chassis feels taut and backs up the engine’s good work by offering improved ride refinement despite no changes to the fundamental suspension layout, which comprises MacPherson struts under the nose and torsion-beam rear axle.
So while the ride is firm, it’s still comfortable and despite the size increase, Polo still feels nimble around town. For a so-called city car, it lapped up B-road bumps with poise giving up little in terms of secondary movement.
The steering is nicely direct, with that typically well-oiled premium VW feel, and reveals a responsive front end that shows no signs of nose heaviness that can affect rivals. Front to rear balance is also sweet, meaning understeer is rarely an issue. Despite its frumpy looks, this is a very enjoyable car to drive.
So does the Mk 6 Polo retain the marque’s B-segment benchmark status? Without doubt, however, this has been achieved by being more like the Golf, which invites comparisons with the bigger hatch. Yes, Polo is head and shoulders above its rivals, but for not much more money than the 85TSI you can land yourself a more powerful 110TSI Golf Trendline with independent rear suspension, which takes chassis poise and driving enjoyment to the next level.
Conversely, the Polo represents a cheaper alternative to the Golf with a lot of its benefits, which could see showroom traffic go the other way.
Let the sibling rivalry begin.
Model: 2018 Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Comfortline
Engine: 999cc 3cyl, DOHC, 12v, turbo
Max Power: 85kW @ 5000-5500rpm
Max Torque: 200Nm @2000-3500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km: 9.5sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 5.0L/100km
On sale: Now