It is fair to say that automotive “brand” personalities are becoming blurred. We live in an era where the top selling Porsche is an SUV and Volkswagen arguably makes the best pick-up. The reason? Well, market research conducted by car companies on a worldwide scale will inevitably yield the same answers. Yet, there is one corner of the market where this trend doesn’t seem to apply – the so-called B-segment for hatchbacks. In this, arguably the most important segment of all, car manufacturers appear to be in strong disagreement about what the paying customer really wants.
As a result, you have a car such as the Honda Jazz, the automotive equivalent of a pair of sensible shoes. Judged purely on what is measurable, the Jazz is unbeatable, offering the most space, the cleverest flexibility, the most bulletproof reliability and a customer service satisfaction record that is the envy of even the Germans. And yet it is not the top seller in its segment, which also includes the sporty Ford Fiesta, quirky Citroen C3, boring Toyota Yaris and retro-funky Nissan Micra. A more disparate bunch of cars you’re unlikely to find in any other segment.
Judging purely by historical sales, however, these manufacturers will do good to pay less attention to market research and to take a closer look at the Volkswagen recipe. The Volkswagen Polo does not attempt to be sexy, nor clever, overtly sporty, or loaded to the roof with standard features. It’s a pretty straightforward car, with no frills and even fewer thrills. And yet it works beautifully.
Sophisticated cabin for Volkswagen PoloIt starts with the styling. Conservative and grown-up, the Volkswagen Polo nevertheless possesses an appealing sense of “class”, which is rather lacking among its rivals. The simplicity continues inside, where South Africa’s Oona Scheepers (VW interior designer), has created a cabin that perhaps lacks a “wow” factor, but which feels immediately comfortable. Volkswagen knows all too well that doing the basics right is what really matters for long-term ownership satisfaction. For that reason, the Volkswagen Polo features rake and reach adjustable steering wheel as well as a height-adjustable driver’s seat. There isn’t another car in this segment with as comfortable a driving position as this.
With its wider tracks, the Volkswagen Polo offers significantly more shoulder space than its predecessor (now on sale as the Vivo), but that said it is not the most spacious car in its segment. The boot is average in size, but does feature a full-size spare under its floor, which is increasingly rare. Rear legroom is also average at best.
Volkswagen is often criticised for the meagre standard specification of its products, but the Volkswagen Polo Comfortline certainly has what is necessary. There’s a leather-wrapped steering wheel with remote audio controls, a sound system with auxiliary support, front and side airbags, air-conditioning, electric windows and mirrors and central locking. Noticeable for its absence is a standard service plan, but Volkswagen knows it doesn’t need this “marketing tool” to sell its vehicles. Volkswagen Polo customers generally also know that the resale value of this VW is among the best in class, so they can afford to fork out a bit more when purchasing, and recoup come trade-in time.
Behind the wheelOn the road, the Volkswagen Polo continues with its grown-up behaviour. The focus is entirely on ride comfort and refinement. In fact, in a segment where there appears to be a great effort to reproduce hot hatch handling for the masses, with resultant poor refinement and harsh ride qualities, the Polo’s quiet, laid-back character is a breath of fresh air. It certainly rates among the best in this segment to take on a long-distance trip.
Unfortunately it is on such longer trips that you’re likely to discover the Polo’s most significant shortcoming – its engine. The little 1,4-litre mill is appreciably refined and frugal (expect to achieve around 7 litres/100 km), but only delivers 63 kW. Couple this with gearing aimed at relaxed driving, and overtaking acceleration can be described as leisurely at best. But, around town, the Volkswagen Polo 1,4i is lively enough and the smooth five-speed transmission a delight.
Volkswagen Polo - VerdictClassy, refined and superbly comfortable, it’s easy to understand the Polo’s success. It is a car that may lack the “gotta-have-it” effect at first glance, but instead offers an enduring and growing appeal. Expect this one to be at or near the top of the sales charts for years, and to then become a used car champion as well.
- Grown-up design
- Fuel economy
- Resale value
- Lethargic performance
- Rear leg-/headroom
- Lack of standard service plan
Engine: 1,4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 63 kW @ 5 000 rpm
Torque: 132 N.m @ 3 600 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 15-inch alloy
Top speed: 177 km/h
0-100 km/h: 12,5 seconds
Fuel economy: 6,1 litres/100 km
- Opel Corsa 1,4 Enjoy: An underestimated and ageing rival. Facia design has dated well and the quality is good. Steering lacks feel and 66 kW engine is no fireball. Plus, Opel resale values are no match for the Volkswagen Polo. To be fair, the Corsa is also no match for the Polo.
- Honda Jazz 1,4i LX: If you want ultimate spaciousness, interior flexibility and no-nonsense ownership, the Jazz is unbeatable. Dull exterior design hides a car that’s surprisingly full of “zest” – it’s one of the fastest in this segment!
- Ford Fiesta 1,4 Trend: Styled to appeal to a more youthful crowd, the Fiesta offers a facia design inspired by modern cell’phones. Dynamically, the Fiesta perhaps strikes the best balance between refined ride comfort and fun handling. But it lacks the Polo’s class and solidity.