ROAD TEST - VW POLO BLUEMOTION:
Volkswagen's Polo BlueMotion looks incredibly promising on paper and the biggest of its many claimed attributes is that combined cycle fuel consumption of just 3.4 litres per 100km.
And we're not talking about some pie in the sky hybrid vehicle that hardly anyone can afford or a miniature car that's going to turn you into a contortionist and then topple over in the first mild breeze it encounters.
This is a version of the VW Polo, a classy, practical and popular hatchback that deservedly shares SA's Car of the Year title in 1.6 TDI form - only the 1.2 TDI BlueMotion is 0.8 l/100km less thirsty and nearly R35 000 cheaper at R176 300, making it affordable to a large segment of the car-buying population.
“Where's the catch then?” I wondered when it was announced. Sadly that catch reared its head when I took my first test drive of SA's most economical car.
So bad was the lag and the general lack of shove below the 2500rpm mark that it was incredibly frustrating to try and drive economically and I eventually gave up on that idea, got generous with the revs and the consequent fuel consumption was not peachy.
Then, without having even said anything to Volkswagen, they phoned me, apologetically revealing that there had been a diagnostic fault on that car and that they'd like to fetch it early and replace it with a Touran.
To cut a long story short, I did get to have another go in that same Polo BlueMotion test unit after they'd fixed it and put on some decent mileage - and the difference in driving characteristics was immense.
Sure, there was still a bit of lag but nothing out of the ordinary for a small diesel and the car was actually driveable at lowish revs in most instances. So I continued my economy escapade, keeping a light foot while driving at a reasonable pace and keeping up with traffic.
In the end, I achieved urban consumption of 7.1 litres per 100km and highway consumption of 5.1 litres per 100km, which is similar to what other colleagues have reported but still way above the aforementioned claims. Yet even if we ignore VW's bold claims, the BlueMotion is still rather frugal.
Although there are some aerodynamic enhancements and an idle-stop system contributing to its fuel sipping abilities, its main weapon is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Despite its diminutive size, it manages to push out 55kW at 4200rpm and 180Nm at 2000 and on the few occasions that I wasn't chasing economy figures, it actually felt really strong for something in its price range.
As for the rest of the driving experience, road holding is neat and the steering feels good, but the ride is a tad firmer than I'd expect on anything this side of a hot hatch. Another refinement issue is that too much engine noise makes its way into the otherwise serene cabin.
The Polo has what's undeniably the classiest cabin in its segment, its combination of a neat design and soft-touch surfaces making it feel like a downscaled Golf in every respect. I wasn't a fan of the light-blue seat trim though - it's a bit course and I can imagine it getting dirty very quickly.
Another niggle is the cramped footwell, but the rest of the interior, including the rear cabin and boot, boasts enough room to compete with the best in this class.
Now, assuming those problems I experienced during my first test were isolated to that specific car - I think this new diesel Polo is an excellent.