The recent rise in popularity of the turbodiesel hatchback can very much be attributed to one single car – Volkswagen’s Golf 4 TDI. Prior to that model’s arrival on the local market, diesel hatchbacks were as desirable as having a modern house in the suburbs, but one with an outside toilet. The Golf 4, an upmarket hatch with plenty of appeal beyond its frugal and, crucially, refined turbodiesel powertrain, changed all of that. These days the TDI badge carries significant appeal. Now the brand is attempting to revolutionise the use of turbodiesel power in another segment – the compact hot hatch – with its new 3-door Volkswagen Polo 1,9 TDI.
Underwhelming looks for Volkswagen PoloIn typical fashion, Volkswagen has not cared much for the segment’s rulebook. Whereas you’d expect a compact hot hatch to look over-the-top with spoilers and other colourful addenda, the Volkswagen Polo looks very much like, well, another Polo, albeit one with only three doors and attractive 16-inch alloy wheels. This is not to say that the Polo 1,9 TDI Sportline is unattractive, but simply that if you want your car to make a “boy-racer” statement, you’d have to look elsewhere. No, the Volkswagen Polo is targeted at more upmarket types. It features Volkswagen’s stylish new family nose, as well as other details from the recent facelift, including new rear lights. Besides the wheels and three-door body, you’d be hard-pressed to call this Polo out as the sportiest in the line-up. For some, that would be part of the appeal.
Straightforward interiorThe interior of the Volkswagen Polo is similarly lacking in occasion. Swing open those large doors and you’re presented with a facia that looks very much like any other Polo’s. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, because the Volkswagen Polo has not only the most upmarket and stylish facia design in its segment, but also the highest levels of perceived quality. The control interface could not be simpler and there’s an understated style to everything that is massively appealing from a long-term ownership point of view. The seats, however, could and should have been better. This is a quasi hot hatch after all, so where are the leather-trimmed bolsters, Volkswagen? In fact, where are the bolsters at all? The Polo’s seats provide surprisingly little lateral support. Thankfully the steering wheel features generous rake and reach adjustment, and both front seats are height-adjustable, too.
The standard features list is fairly decent, but then again at the price it should be. A sound system with a six-disc CD shuttle is part of the deal as are air-conditioning, electric windows etc. Perhaps surprisingly, there are no remote audio controls. The steering wheel is a sporty three-spoke number, though, but again it lacks any kind of pizzazz. Perhaps some aluminium-look pedals, inserts on the steering wheel and gear-knob should have been considered to make the Sportline live up to its name in visual appeal.
As far as cabin space goes, however, the Volkswagen Polo is impressive, even in three-door form. This isn’t a cramped little two-seater at all. Even the boot is of a decent size.
Economy & PowerNow to the all-important oily bits. This Volkswagen Polo is powered by the 96 kW version of Volkswagen’s 1,9-litre turbodiesel engine. For a small hot hatch that weighs in excess of 1,2 tonnes, 96 kW may not sound like enough. But what you’re not realising is that there’s a crunching 310 Nm of torque on tap from below 2 000 rpm. This means that the little Polo pulls like a train from rest, delivering acceleration times similar to the zesty 2,0-litre petrol Ford Fiesta ST. In-gear flexibility is strong, too, and it quickly become addictive to “surf” that wave of torque that is so easily accessible by flexing the right ankle. Volkswagen claims a 0-100 km/h time of just over 9 seconds, and this feels entirely achievable. Power goes to the front wheels via one of Volkswagen’s typically slick six-speed manual gearboxes.
Of course, the Polo’s biggest talent is that it can offer this kind of performance, but also amazing economy. Driven like a sane person, you should even do better than Volkswagen’s claim of 6,8 litres/100 km. There isn’t another car at even close to this price that can offer such an impressive performance/economy balance.
Comfort firstIn the dynamics department the 1,9 TDI Sportline is again very much similar to any other Volkswagen Polo. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with its road-holding or grip, but it’s certainly not the most engaging car, nor the most agile. Predictable understeer is the name of the game, and even with a sports suspension set-up, there’s more roll in the corners, a problem made worse by the lack of lateral support from the seats. The ride quality, however, is exceptional, so if you’re looking for a classy, somewhat sporty, compact hatch with swift long-distance cruising potential, this is your car.
Volkswagen Polo - VerdictAs the looks inside and out, as well as the dynamics suggest, this Volkswagen Polo is not really a hot hatch, even though the performance says the opposite. It’s a refined, fast, economical and superbly comfortable compact car for the upwardly mobile. For those reasons, it’s unlikely to be considered by the typical hot hatch buyer, but they should nevertheless watch out at those traffic light grands prix, because this Polo certainly can fly.
- Restrained, sporty design
- Build quality
- Fuel econoy
- Lack of sporty seats
- No remote audio controls
Engine: 1,9-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 96 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 310 Nm @ 1 900 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: 206 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,2 seconds
Fuel economy: 6,8 litres/100 km
- Ford Fiesta ST: Yes, the Fiesta lacks the VW’s turbodiesel economy, but if you’re really after a compact, fun car to drive, then the Fiesta is a better proposition. It is a very finely honed driver’s car with excellent dynamics. Can’t quite match the VW’s build.
- Peugeot 206 GTI: Similar to the Fiesta in its appeal, the 206 possesses plenty of zest and character. Its performance is similar to the VW’s, but of course you will pay more for fuel. Deservedly popular.
- Fiat Stilo 1,9 JTD Dynamic 3-dr: If you must have both three doors and a turbodiesel engine, the only other option is Fiat’s largely unimpressive Stilo 1,9 JTD. It’s not a bad-looking car, and certainly more spacious than the VW, but in every other department it is seriously outclassed.