Johannesburg - Seeing the ‘R’ badge on the grille of the recently introduced Polo R-Line made me think back to those times when I’ve smirked at badge imposters on the roads. You know, the guy that replaced his 318i badge with an M3 one because obviously no one would notice, or the dude that clumsily slapped counterfeit AMG insignia onto his C180 in the hope that it would magically become the King of the Fake Autobahn (codename N1).

But this kind of thing has become mainstream now, with the German carmakers offering M Sport, AMG Line and S Line styling packages on even their humblest-engined cars, and Volkswagen has been doing a similar thing with its R-Line models. But once again, don’t confuse any of these with the bahnstorming Golf R. The latest of these is the Polo R-Line, and while I don’t really like how it piggybacks on that habanero-hot ‘R’ street-cred, there is still very much a place for this car.

Powered by one of the VW Group’s most modern engines, namely a 1-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol that punches well above its weight with outputs of 81kW at 5000rpm and 200Nm at 2000rpm, it provides a decent blend of racy styling and warm performance for those who can’t quite stretch to the Polo GTI’s R376 000 asking price, in DSG form. An R-line could be yours for R290 200.

In fact, the 1.0 TSI R-Line is among the fastest-accelerating new cars for sale at under R300 000, with a claimed 0-100km/* time of 9.3 seconds. Only thing is, our test car proved to be a bit laggy off the mark at Gauteng altitude and there is no way of clutch-compensating as the R-Line is fitted as standard with a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automated gearbox, which is otherwise a smooth-operating gem.

The lag shouldn’t really bug you in everyday traffic - it’s just when you want to get off the mark very quickly that it’ll become apparent. And once things are on the boil, the TSI engine provides brisk, satisfying performance. Just so you know, though, the 1.2-litre four-cylinder TSI Highline has the same power output as the 1.0 TSI R-Line (but 25 less Nm of torque) and identical claimed acceleration figures. You can also have the 1.2 as a manual, which brings the price down to R276 300, although it doesn’t have the sporty styling gear of the 1.0 R-Line.

On that note, the R-Line’s showing-off paraphernalia comes in the form of unique front and rear bumpers, sill extensions, rear spoiler, chrome tailpipe and 17-inch ‘Serron’ alloy wheels. Oh, and that ‘R’ badge on the grille. But if you’ll allow me to briefly divert back to the naming thing, wouldn’t this car have been a nice opportunity to bring back the GTS badge? Just saying.

VW resisted the urge to lower and stiffen the suspension, meaning the R-Line provides the same compliant ride as the rest of its Polo siblings. Road holding is also rather neat and the steering has decent weighting and feedback, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it sporty.

The R-Line also avoids going too fancy on the cabin decorations, with nothing meaningful to tell it apart from regular Highline versions. Supportive front ‘sports’ seats are upholstered in regular dark cloth and comfort specification is also on the basic side, with the only real highlight being a 12.7cm Composition Colour touch-screen audio system with Bluetooth and a multi-function steering wheel. The touch-screen system is very easy to use and you can upgrade to a 14.7cm media system for R2950. You’ll also have to pay extra, albeit not too much more, for things like cruise control (R1 800), automatic climate control (R3 650), rear-view camera (R3 200) and park distance control (R3 150). They could have at least thrown in the curtain-level airbags for mahala though, those essential safety items setting you back a further R2 500 on the options list.

On the practicality front the Polo offers decent rear legroom and a segment-competitive 280-litre boot. But what sets the interior apart is how remarkably well finished it is, with plenty of soft-and-slushy plastics and shiny satin chrome trimmings. The straightforward facia design also hides the car’s age well - can you believe that this-generation Polo was revealed to the world more than eight years ago? I’d say the exterior design has done the ageing thing even more gracefully, a testament to the virtues of a neat, well-balanced lines as opposed to the hundreds of slashes and creases that some carmakers use to stand out, for this season.

It’s worth noting that this Polo is nearing the end of its life cycle, however, and you might just want to wait for the all-new version that’s due here in the first quarter of 2018.

VERDICT

If you can get past the fact that this generation Polo is on its way out, the R-Line is still one of the more attractive packages at its price point for those seeking something sporty and reasonably quick for under R300 000. Just don’t tell your friends that it’s a Polo R.

FACTS: Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI R-Line auto

Engine: 1-litre, 3-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual-clutch
Power: 81kW @ 5000-5500rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 2000-3500rpm
0-100km/h (Claimed): 9.3 seconds
Top speed (Claimed): 197km/h
Price: R292 400
Warranty: 3-year/120 000km
Service plan: 3-year/45 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Ford Fiesta 1.0T Titanium auto74kW/170NmR274 900
Peugeot 208 1.2T GT-Line auto81kW/205NmR304 900
Renault Clio 1.2T GT-Line88kW/205NmR264 900
Suzuki Swift Sport100kW/160NmR264 900