With the current generations of the Yaris, Mazda 2, Fiesta and i20 all preferring curves over edges, VW has opted to zag, giving its Polo a squared-off design. In most respects it looks like a more angular, smaller version of the company's sixth-generation Golf.
Both the headlights and tail-lights look funky whether they're emitting light or not, but LED tail-lights and xenon headlights are only available on the range-topping GTI. As is common among European cars rear fog lights are standard, while front fog lights are only available as part of an optional sports pack.
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(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)
By default the 77TSI wears 15-inch alloy wheels and there's a space saver spare underneath the boot floor, but metallic paint adds to the car's list price. Everyone loves wing mirror-mounted LED indicators; however, the light cluster spills over the edge of the mirror shell and can be quite distracting for the driver.
For the 77TSI, a five-door hatchback is the only body style available in Australia; the three-door hatch is currently only available on the entry-level Trendline or the top-shelf GTI editions.
From its soft pliable dashboard and metal-encrusted trim pieces to the tactile leather on its steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake, the Polo feels classier than its immediate competitors. There are a few signs of penny pinching around the place, but in many respects it feels like a scaled down Golf.
Discreet storage places are plentiful throughout the Polo's cabin. The glovebox goes beyond the economy car norm with a neat rubberised tray for glasses and a moulded coin storage facility. The generosity doesn't stretch to a lock or fabric lining, so items in there can still clatter around noisily.
Click through for a complete look at the Polo's interior.
(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)
The bin beneath the centre armrest is lined in fabric, but when it's folded down for maximum arm-resting ability the handbrake is quite difficult to operate. Underneath the driver and front passenger's seat is a drawer which, although not large enough to store a netbook, is a handy feature.
Boot space at 282 litres betters (just) many of its non-Jazz competitors and capacity can be increased to 952 litres by utilising the 60/40 split-fold rear seats. Two luggage hooks in the boot prevents shopping bags from slip-sliding around, while a hidden compartment between the space-saver spare wheel and boot floor is a good place to store moderately expensive items.
Space is good up front, but we found the front seats a little tiring over long journeys. In the rear it's reasonably comfortable despite the backrests being a bit too vertical. Leg space is decent unless the front seats are pushed all the way. Thanks to their L-shaped cross section, the rear headrests can slide out of view of the driver when they're not being used.
With prices for the 77TSI kicking off from AU$19,850, the Polo comes reasonably equipped with air-con, central locking, cruise control, electric mirrors and electric windows with one-touch operation. The central locking system automatically locks all doors when you set off driving; good to know when you're driving through the mean streets of Mosman and Toorak. A multifunction trip computer in the instrument panel allows the driver to see distance to empty, average and current speed, and average and current fuel economy, as well as set a speed warning alert.
Buyers can cherry pick from a fairly extensive range of options or opt for one of the three themed option packs (sport, comfort and audio) to personalise their Polo. Items on the menu include automatic headlights, self-dimmer mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, tinted glass, 17-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, tyre pressure monitors, climate control air conditioning and rear-parking sensors.
On the safety front the 77TSI is fitted with six airbags, traction and stability control, disc brakes for all four wheels, emergency brake assistance and hill start assistance.
Click through for a complete look at the Polo's features and entertainment system.
(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)
The standard six-speaker audio system sounds decent and is mated to Volkswagen's RCD310 head unit, which features a simple dot matrix display. Compressed music files can be played via either the single CD slot or an MP3 player connected via the auxiliary jack. Steering wheel audio controls are standard on both the 77TSI and 66TDI, while Bluetooth hands-free is an optional extra.
Those wanting more digital music options, as well as the ability to use either the steering wheel or head unit controls to select their digital musical poison, will need to shell out for the RCD510 system. This unit features an SD card slot, six-CD in-dash stacker and a USB cable (an iPhone/iPod-compatible cable will lighten your wallet still further), as well a 6.5-inch touchscreen interface.
It's a real shame that non-GTI Polos can't be optioned up with the excellent RNS510 entertainment and navigation system. Unless, of course, you're willing to delve into the aftermarket and do a little bit of jiggery pokery.
On the road
Underneath the bonnet is a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine that churns 77kW of power and an impressive 175Nm of torque. Despite a modest quoted zero to 100km/h time of 9.7s, the 77TSI feels much faster and is deliciously addictive. That's mainly thanks to the car's impressive urge off the line, the lovely muted rumble when you push on, that big shove into the back of the seat whenever the turbos are on song and the car's eagerness to turn into corners.
Our review vehicle was fitted with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission or DSG in VW-speak; a six-speed manual is standard. In automatic mode, it's wonderfully smooth and efficient at speed with gear changes happening in hundredths of a second, and revs rising and falling almost instantaneously. At low speeds the system lurches between gears, and especially between neutral and first, making uphill starts somewhat tiring, while parking in tight spaces induces a case of sweaty palms.
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There are some flat spots in the 1.2-litre engine's power and torque delivery, so driving around town smoothly does require either a careful right foot or patience, otherwise you could be lurching around in a rather unedifying manner. Alternatively, one can employ the gear lever to manually select and hold a gear in anticipation of upcoming situations — in the end this was our preferred solution, more so than in other DSG-equipped turbocharged VWs we've reviewed.
The steering is well weighted, and adjustable for both tilt and reach. Surprises of surprises, there's even an odd murmur of two-way communication, with the ripple strips, bumps and the like causing the slightest sensation through our hands. When powering through a corner or mashing the gas at the lights there's a slight tug from the steering wheel, although we wouldn't go so far as to call it torque steer.
Cornering is flat and stable in most situations, with body roll only really noticeable if you press on a lot or switch directions mid-turn. It's not surprising that the ride is firm, although it's never harsh, and it does seem well controlled over speed humps and various road scars. Disc brakes on all four wheels allows the Polo to pull to a stop quickly.
In a mix of city and freeway driving we averaged 8.32L/100km of premium unleaded (95 RON minimum) petrol. On the freeway consumption drops to 5.1L/100km; in the city and suburbs we saw figures anywhere from 7.4 to 11.6L/100km depending on how heavy we were with our right foot.
Love is many things, key amongst which is forgiveness. Thanks to its sharp handling, lusty engine note, Golf-like interior and affordable pricing, we're willing to overlook the fact that it's rather hard to drive smoothly when equipped with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Mind you that GTI and its optional RNS510 entertainment and nav system is awfully tempting.