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Polo’s peachy, but perfection comes at a price

Wednesday, 3rd July, 2019 3:59pm

The original Mini gets a lot of credit for being one of those cars to break down class barriers. Before that, if you saw someone driving a particular car, you could make a pretty good, probably accurate guess as to their social status, maybe even their job. The Mini, though? That could be legitimately driven by anyone, from a high-court barrister to a barmaid, from a fishmonger to a professional footballer.

Well, while the Mini deserves all its accolades in that department, I’d posit that the Volkswagen Polo deserves something similar in the credit department. Here is a small car that, certainly since the late eighties, has been breaking down class barriers by being, well, classy.

That effect seems amplified with this current Polo. Gone is the slightly pinched, slightly too upright styling of previous versions and in has come something much more physically flattering.

The Polo looks lower slung than it used to be (that’s because it is) and it has a little touch of magic underneath that’s called the MQB-A0 platform. This collection of oily bits is closely related to the box of parts that VW uses to build the Golf, Passat, Tiguan etc, and even more closely related to that used by the Seat Ibiza and Arona.

It’s allowed the Polo to move up a bit in terms of its size class, and that has been of huge benefit to interior space.

It used to be that folding all six-foot-and-change of me into a small supermini looked vaguely comical, but the Polo isn’t like that. I slide easily and comfortably behind the wheel, and even when I’m there, there’s still just about adequate legroom in the back seats.

In fact, it’s in the back where the Polo feels least like a small car. Genuinely, it feels spacious enough to almost become a direct rival to the larger Golf itself. Even in terms of boot capacity, the Polo — with 351 litres on hand — is knocking rather more loudly on the Golf’s door than is strictly comfortable for the larger car.

This is significant stuff. Don’t forget that tighter emissions and economy tests are kicking in, in January of next year which is going to drive up the cost of buying and owning larger cars. While an all-new, more efficient Golf is on the way, right now it’s starting to look very tempting to downsize to a Polo and have all that you need at a lower ownership cost.

Even the engine is brilliant. We’ve entered a horsepower-hungry age, where even road-going saloons can arrive into a showroom with more than 600hp — the power output of rarefied supercars only a couple of decades ago — so it seems almost a little odd to be talking about a car that comes with less than 100hp.

In fact, this little (in every sense) TSI 1.0 litre turbo three-cylinder petrol engine has 95hp, and a pretty minuscule 175Nm of torque to go with it.

That sounds like barely enough to pull the top off a can of Fanta, but actually, it’s plenty. I swear VW has been working some kind of witchcraft on this little engine, because it very rarely feels little.

I can remember a time when, testing a basic-spec 55hp Polo 1.2 I realised that, on the motorway, even if you dropped to third and flattened your right foot to the floor, nothing actually happened.

Well, not quite nothing — the engine got louder, and the word ‘Scania’ became larger and larger in your rear view mirror, but you didn’t actually accelerate.

Now, though? Thanks to its tiny turbo, the three-pot-tot accelerates with genuine vim, so you can easily flow with — overtake, even — larger, more ostentatious cars.

It is genuinely very frugal too, with a claimed 5.5 litres per 100km economy figure (about 51mpg) translating into a pretty easy 6.2 litres per 100km (just over the 45mpg barrier) in real life.

Even though you do occasionally reach for a sixth-gear that isn’t there in the sweet-shifting five-speed manual, it’s both a delightful, and delightfully simple powertrain. No hybrid batteries, no electrical assistance, just a well-designed engine giving decent performance and strong economy. It even sounds nice.

If you’ve come here hoping for hot-hatch style handling, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you, and maybe point you towards a Ford Fiesta instead.

The Polo’s not like that, it’s a little more languid. But that’s fine too, because it actually strikes a very fine balance between agility and comfort. The steering is pretty mute, and a bit too light, but it always goes where you point it, and it rides nicely too.

The interior is also fabulous — beautifully made (well, usually - our test car had an annoying rattle in the drivers’ door), full of nice materials, and fitted with both a sensibly-sized central touchscreen and nice, clear, analogue instruments.

Sounds good, don’t it? Well, there is one final hurdle which the Polo doesn’t quite leap over, but stumbles a little.

It’s the price tag. All-in, including €2,366 worth of options (a technology upgrade which comes with folding mirrors, Lights and Vison package including automatic headlamp activation with separate daytime running lights, front and rear parking sensors, leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a tilt/slide panoramic sunroof, a front centre armrest, and metallic paint) this Polo R-Line clocks in at €25,016. Deep breath. Deeeeep breath. That’s a lot of money for a Polo. Still, think of it this way — it’ll be cheaper to run than a Golf, barely any less practical, just as good to drive, and you’ll be able to boast to your mates that you saved money by down-sizing.

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