Port Elizabeth - Volkswagen South Africa has given its six-year old Polo range one final boost before the new-generation Polo is launched in 2018.

It's in the form of a turbo-boosted 999cc version called the 1.0 TSI which slots into the range as a slightly sportier alternative to the existing 1.2 TSI. Not only does the smaller engine pack a bit more muscle but it has the sporty looks to go with it in the form of an R-Line body kit – the first one ever offered on a Polo in South Africa. This vamps up the visuals with R-Line logos, sill extensions, a sporty rear diffuser with an integrated chrome tailpipe, a rear spoiler, and 17" alloy wheels.

Available only with a 7-speed DSG auto gearbox, the 1.0 TSI R-Line sells for R290 200, exactly the same price as the 1.2 TSI Highline auto, and comes with VW's 3 year/120 000km warranty and 3 year/45 000km service plan.

The three-cylinder mill may be tiny but it packs a decent little punch with outputs of 81kW and 200Nm (the same power but 25Nm more torque than the 1.2 TSI) which gives the 1-litre Polo a claimed 0-100km/h sprint in 9.3 seconds and a top speed of 197km/h.

With a factory-claimed 4.4 litres per 100km fuel economy it's also one of VW's most frugal engines, although real-world driving is likely to hike that figure by a litre or two. The onboard computer of the Polo 1.0 TSI I drove at the media launch in Port Elizabeth showed over 6 litres/100km, though the car was admittedly driven somewhat energetically at times.

This miniature motor is key to VW's future small engine strategy and will also be used in the revamped Golf range when it's launched here within the next couple of months.

Downsized turbo motors are becoming ever more common but some people still find it a bit of a stretch to associate them with anything-but-pedestrian performance. But to quote a popular children's story, this is the little engine that could.

The turbocharged 999cc is an easy-revving performer that, at sea level, gets into its stride without any turbo lag. It's not just a city car and feels reasonably peppy on the open road, cruising comfortably at the national speed limit and generating decent overtaking energy. It's a notably smooth engine too, not the over-stressed screamer one might expect, with a hushed nature that's underlaid by a charismatic three-cylinder burble.

Standard kit in the 1.0 TSI R-Line includes an infotainment system with a 12.7cm colour display, multifunction steering wheel, sport front seats, fatigue detection, and front fog lights. A raft of options is available for extra money, including cruise control, a larger infotainment screen, panoramic sunroof, parking assistance, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.