“Excuse me! How much?!” … A common response when told the price of the subject of this review, the VW Polo 1,6 TDI Comfortline. There’s simply no getting away from it, this is a pricey car. Were it badged “GTI”, folks would be more understanding, but based on our time with this TDI model, overcoming the issue of a perceived high price may be the biggest stumbling block that faces this model. It is therefore also the single most important question that needs to be answered. Is the VW Polo 1,6 TDI Comfortline good value for money?
No design surprises for VW PoloPerhaps a part of the problem is the fact that the VW Polo 1,6 TDI Comfortline looks exactly like one of its cheaper siblings. Don’t get us wrong, the VW Polo is a handsome little car with exceptionally tight shutlines and the type of classy conservatism that will ensure it enduring appeal for many more years, but when spending around R220 000, perhaps the customer will want onlookers to realise that this is a “special” Polo. Then again, it has to be said that, even in its cheaper forms the VW Polo arguably looks more expensive than it is. The extensive colour coding, 15-inch alloy wheels and fog lamps all contribute to its upmarket appearance. It’s a similar story inside, because even the cheapest Polo's feel like premium products in the cabin, although they may not be very generously specified.
The facia is largely constructed from soft-touch materials and even the hard plastics have a silky finish to them. Everything works with a soft, damped manner and the fit and finish are truly impeccable, especially for this segment of vehicle. In many ways this great perceived quality makes up for the rather sparse standard features package. Yes, you get climate control, electric windows, power steering and a radio/CD system (aux-in support) with remote audio controls, but considering the price, perhaps Volkswagen could have included a few more “nice to haves” such as auto lights and wipers?
The safety specification is good though, with the VW Polo boasting four airbags, ABS with EBD and even an electronic stability system (ESP). Passenger comfort is exceptional, especially in front. The front seats are, in typical Volkswagen fashion, supportive and cosseting, and both offer height adjustability. The steering wheel can also be adjusted for rake and reach, allowing the driver to easily find a perfect seating position. Space in the rear is not as generous as in some competitors, perhaps because at 2 470 mm the wheelbase is not that lengthy, but the seat is excellent, so comfort levels remain high. The boot measures a useful 280 litres and is well shaped to accommodate bulky objects. Of course, the rear seat is split 60/40 and can fold down.
Exceptional EconomyPowering this VW Polo is a 1,6-litre turbodiesel engine that develops 77 kW and 250 Nm of torque. Volkswagen says the maximum torque arrives at 1 500 rpm and remains available until 2 500. They didn’t lie. Once up and running in this power band, the VW Polo responds to throttle inputs with eagerness, feeling considerably more powerful than it is. It can even complete the benchmark 100 km/h sprint in a reasonable 10,4 seconds. The engine is also exceptionally economical, with a fuel consumption of as low as 4,2 L/100 km being possible with some effort.
Unfortunately the engine is not as impressive in other respects, most notably refinement. The clatter at idle is not the major issue, but rather vibrations that can be felt in the cabin. The VW Group can, and usually does better with its diesel engine refinement. Contributing to the problem is the transmission. Again, it is impressive with its slickness at higher speeds, but when pulling away the abrupt clutch action combines with the relatively poor low-down torque to make pull-aways in traffic tricky, often leading to stalling. The standard hill-hold function at least goes some way to making these moments (somewhat) less stressful. As is the case with all Polos, the ride/handling balance is very well judged for this market.
The ride is beautifully damped, with the VW Polo managing to soak up bumps like a larger car. The suspension is also quiet, with very little road noise and tyre roar reaching the cabin. It is less impressive when pushing on, Volkswagen again prioritising safety and refinement over edgy dynamics – a wise choice that only boy racers won’t agree with.
VW Polo 1,6 TDI - VerdictSo, is the VW Polo 1,6 TDI Comfortline worth the money? There’s no easy answer. It lacks a standard service plan, for one, and compared with the more affordable and more powerful Peugeot, also a whole lot of features. On the other hand, the VW Polo is likely to allow you to recoup much of that initial cost difference upon trade-in or resale, because residuals are strong. And, perhaps best of all, the Volkswagen never fails to impress you with its upmarket feel, especially with regards to the cabin. The stumbling drivetrain is perhaps the one weak link, but toward the end of the test period we had even grown used to its particular driving characteristics. It grows on you, this VW Polo.
• Fuel economy • Build quality • Comfort • Excellent ride refinement
We don’t like:
• Pricey • Easy to stall
Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel Power: 77 kW @ 4 400 rpm Torque: 250 N.m @ 1 500 rpm Transmission: Five-speed manual Wheels: 15-inch alloy Top speed: 189 km/h 0-100 km/h: 10,4 seconds Fuel economy: 4,2 L/100 km
• Peugeot 207 1,6 Dynamic HDI: Slightly cheaper than the VW Polo, and similarly powerful but packed with LOTS more features. On paper the Peugeot looks like the far better choice, but remember resale value…
• Citroen C3 1,4 HDI: Brand new on the market and significantly cheaper than the VW Polo while offering more features and a standard service plan. Like the Peugeot, however, this French rival – good as it is – is likely to suffer severe depreciation.
• Ford Fiesta 1,6 TDCI Ambiente: Down on power and torque, and quite sparsely equipped, the Ford is not as strong a competitor as it could be. Very economical though, and fun to drive. A service plan is standard.