Johannesburg - I thought I’d misheard, so I double checked. But even then it was true. Volkswagen axed the entire engine line-up in the Polo hatch and replaced it with a new 1.2-litre turbopetrol.
That’s right. Except for the GTI which keeps its twincharged 1.4, all Polo hatches now come with 1197cc engines only. I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised given downsizing trends, and if VW has a hi-tech little number that’ll drink less than its predecessors without too much compromise in performance, then why not blanket an entire model range with it?
Buyers do get a choice of power output at least, with either 66kW/160Nm or 81kW/175Nm versions of the new engine.
Actually, it’s not all that new. This 1.2 in similar guise has been on sale in Audi’s A1 overseas for years, and in South Africa we first saw it in 2012 in the new Beetle.
On test here is the gutsier 81kW Highline DSG.
That means, besides a seven-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox, it gets better cloth upholstery, drawers under the seats, a fatigue detection system, and some shinier garnishings here and there. Pricing starts at R188 300 for the most basic manual Trendline, and this upper-spec derivative goes for R251 900.
True, the market’s bursting at its seams with competitor hatchbacks for less money, and while this may be fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find one in this bracket built with the same attention to detail. The Polo hatch might be made right here in Port Elizabeth but it’s done so with exacting German standards.
Dashboard material, which has been a barometer of quality since dashboards were made of things other than steel, is excellent. It’s a rubbery substance just like you’ll find in more expensive Golfs and Passats, and it makes the hard plastic in cheaper rivals seem downmarket and inferior.
Quality levels aren’t measurable in numbers that can be compared in spec-sheets - but if they were, this car would have most of its competition waxed.
Besides the usual front and rear bumper treatments, the Polo’s facelift also involves some interior refinements and the new one gets a more sophisticated instrument cluster, easier to use climate-control system and redesigned centre console.
There’s a host of optional touchscreen infotainment systems available, with top versions getting the same “proximity sensor” as the Golf 7, which senses your hand approaching and preps the screen with often-used option settings.
But it’s this 1.2 TSI that’s most topical here. VW claims huge efficiency gains over previous naturally-aspirated 1.4s and 1.6s, but we battled to get readings anywhere near as low as the 5.1litres per 100km average quoted. After a week of commuting the best we saw was 7.1, although I do suspect that number might have come down a little if my daily drive involved more open roads and less stop/start.
Our test equipment also disagreed with VW’s sea-level performance claims, and instead of 9.3 seconds from 0-100km/h we returned a best of 10.6 at Gauteng altitude.
But if we set aside all the unattainable numbers and rate the new Polo by its driving characteristics alone it comes off much better. There’s a small amount of turbo lag when pulling off but the DSG gearbox’s short first and second-gear ratios do away with a good deal of it. The little four-cylinder’s powerband is also quite narrow (a common side-effect in many of these new micro-engines), but again the quick-shifting gearbox, which has a cog either side of whichever one you’re in, locked, loaded and ready to fire, does a good job to hide it.
Volkswagen has leant toward the sporty side with the Polo’s handling setup, and while I wouldn’t call it harsh, it’s most definitely aimed at younger buyers who prefer tight turn-ins and sharp steering over soft springs and supple ride.
The new Polo succeeds in being one of the classiest and most upmarket options in the competitive small-hatch market, but the giant leap down to a 1.2-litre lineup is in actuality only a small step in real-world efficiency. Quality levels, which were already benchmark material, remain second to none – and this must count for something, as the Polo is still one of the best-selling cars in SA.
Volkswagen SA will continue to sell a 1.2-litre turbodiesel Polo Hatch as a pre-facelift model in run-out phase until it’s replaced with a facelifted 1.4 early in 2015. - Star Motoring
Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI Highline DSG
Engine: 4-cyl, 1.2-litre turbopetrol
Gearbox: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Power: 81kW @ 5000rpm
Torque: 175Nm @ 1500-4000rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 9.3 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 196km/h
Consumption (claimed): 5.1 l/100km
Price: R251 900
Warranty: 3-year/120 000km
Service plan: 3-year/45 000km
Ford Fiesta 1.0T Trend a/t (92kW/170Nm) - R236 600
Hyundai Accent 1.6 Fluid a/t (91kW/156Nm)- R244 900
Peugeot 208 1.6 Allure a/t (88kW/160Nm) - R246 700