2018 Volkswagen Polo Review (International First Drive)
Paul Horrell’s international first drive 2018 Volkswagen Polo Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL: VW’s small car is the most grown-up in the segment, with a solid feel, plenty of room and lots of safety and tech.
2018 VOLKSWAGEN POLO (European spec)
Price $na Warranty 3 years/unlimited km Engine (tested) 1.0l turbo 3cyl Power 70kW at 5000-5500rpm Torque 175Nm at 2000-3500rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Drive front-wheel drive Body 4053mm (l); 1751mm (w exc mirrors); 1946mm (w inc mirrors); 1461mm (h) Turning circle n/a Towing weight n/a Kerb weight 1145kg Seats 5 Fuel tank 40 litres Spare opt (in Europe) Thirst 4.4 l/100km combined cycle Fuel petrol
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CARS TEND TO GET bigger with every generation, and the outgoing VW Polo was pretty much the size of 20-year-old VW Golf. Now the Polo’s taken another significant leap in size (mind you the Golf has grown in the meantime so the difference is maintained). Impressively though, despite having more external size, more passenger and boot space, and greater safety, the Polo is no heavier than it was before.
The new Polo is available with more high-tech features than any other small car. See the safety and infotainment sections below for more info.
The old 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine has been binned in favour of a 1.0 three-cylinder turbo. Outputs of the new one are stronger than before at 70kW and 85kW, but economy should be better. In official tests, the lower-power version is 4.4 litres per 100km – the old car drank 4.8. The new GTI version will get a 2.0-litre engine kicking out 147kW. Can’t wait.
As to its styling, the Polo has a front end that runs the grille into the headlamp surrounds, and the grill itself is shallow, so the whole assembly tricks your eyes into adding width. Extra creases along the bonnet, wings and doors make it look busier, even fussier, than the Golf.
The Polo has migrated onto a new VW Group platform, called the MQB A0. It’s related to the bigger MQB which is used on the Golf. Both these platforms use the same attachment points for all big components such as chassis parts, engines, electronics, air-conditioners, seats. This means that those parts can be interchanged when appropriate into Polo-size cars too – including all those fancy driver-assist items. But being lighter and smaller than the Golf, the Polo can get away with, among other things, lighter suspension parts.
So there will be a lot of similarity between the Polo and the upcoming Audi A1, plus a set of front-drive mini-SUVs from VW and Skoda. They will also use MQB A0.
VW recently built its 150 millionth car, and nearly one in 10 of those have been Polos. The first Polo launched 40 years ago. Let’s see if this sixth generation is worthy of that heritage. It’s expected the new Polo will arrive Down Under towards the end of next year.
What’s the interior of new Volkswagen Polo like?
As promised, for a small car the cabin is very roomy. The driving seat never feel cramped, and as with all VW’s cars it’s easy to arrange the seat and steering wheel to get a fine driving position. The seat is firm and supportive.
In the back, two adults will have plenty of room for feet, legs and heads. There are three headrests and seatbelts back there, with two sets of ISOFIX points.
The boot is a decent size in its smallest position, 351 litres, and can grow in most versions by dropping the floor. But if you get the Beats stereo, that space is taken up by a subwoofer. Drop the seatbacks – they split 60:40 – and the floor is nowhere near flat, because the rear cushion doesn’t flip up.
The cabin feels robust and well-assembled, but for a VW I’d have expected more soft trim. The whole inside door casing is hard scratchy plastic. There are loads of colour and trim options, some of them, as with these photos, pretty garish oranges and reds on the dash and doors. If you don’t care for those there are also other metallic silvers and blacks, which might be more resale-friendly.
What’s the infotainment like in the Volkswagen Polo?
All the versions we tested had the optional eight-inch centre touchscreen. It’s a good one. The graphics are sharp and response times quick. Also, it has proximity sensors. In normal view, the map (or music or whatever you’re viewing) takes up pretty well the entire screen. But as you approach with a finger, it senses this and option buttons magically appear, such as map orientation or POI search.
Also, you don’t always have to stroke the screen at all. There’s a volume knob on the left and another twist knob (usually used for map zooming) on the right. Also the climate controls are separate hardware, so you can change temperature or fan speed with a single action. Too many other cars take your eyes off the road with a series of screen presses, eg to change temperature then return to the map you’d have to do ‘climate’ – ‘temperature’ – ‘+’ – ‘nav’.
The screen can also run Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirrorlink. Ahead of the gearlever on high-spec versions is an inductive charging pad.
A headline option is the Beats audio system, which in Germany comes with its own trim level. It’s rated at 300W, and has a strong clear treble and lifelike stereo image, but the bass is overpowering and flabby. I was straight into the tone controls to crank it down.
The other headline is the ‘active info display’, a new version of VW’s flatscreen replacement for the driver’s instruments. Sometimes it’s useful to have a map on this screen so the passengers can use the main screen for music. You can also have the map as a widescreen. But that’s a waste of space: maps are best when tall and narrow if heading-up, or square if north-up.
Mostly I found myself defaulting to using the active screen in the mode where it simulates traditional round instruments, so I didn’t feel deprived when I was driving the cheaper Polo version with the actual dials.
What’s the new Volkswagen Polo like on the road?
Polos have always been among the quietest and most solid small cars. This one carries on the tradition. It sits solidly on the road, and the wider tracks and longer wheelbase have made the ride more composed than ever. It’s quiet too. That’s not just due to well-insulated engine and exhaust, but the suspension doesn’t make much thumping noise, and the body slips through the air without much hiss.
The little turbo engine pulls decently from fairly low revs, with a nice predicable throttle response, so it’s easy to drive smoothly. Most of the time you’ll shift up early, and that saves fuel. But if you’ve got your pants on fire it’s also happy to go on to a 6500 red-line, which is higher than most workaday turbo units. the 0-100km/h figure is 10.8 seconds.
The five-speed transmission fitted to the 70kW engine has a precise but slightly chunky action. That’s a common characteristic of German cars, whereas the French, Japanese and Korean small-car shifts are lighter. You might find the solid German approach more reassuring, or just a bit of a drag. Anyway, the Polo comes on and off the throttle smoothly so it’s generally easy to make a clean shift without all your passengers’ heads nodding.
I also had a go in the 85kW version of that engine, but VW hasn’t yet released full performance or economy numbers as it launches a few weeks after the 70kW. It’s keener to reach high revs, and the six-speed transmission gives you more options for either an economical or performance driving style.
Also on offer is a seven-speed DSG auto. It’s very smooth most of the time, but when moving away from an urban junction will hesitate if the engine’s idle-stop has operated. That’s annoying.
Chuck the Polo into corners and it reacts without any surprises. It’s pretty good fun too, because it doesn’t understeer much on dry roads and you get decent feedback about grip.
In Germany VW offers three suspension options. The first is the Comfort setup, which does indeed provide excellent ride comfort once you’ve got beyond about 30km/h. But it lets the car float a bit over big undulations and through vigorous S bends. The Sports option lowers the car by 15mm and has tauter springs and better damping and roll control. If your enjoy driving on twisty country roads this might be the best choice. Finally that sports chassis can be combined with two-mode switchable dampers, but that’s only worthwhile if you’re prepared to press the switch every time you get to an enticing set of bends – it’s not an adaptive system.
What safety features does the new Volkswagen Polo offer?
We don’t have a NCAP rating, but it’s worth noting that in Europe VW has a sister brand called Seat. Seat’s Ibiza is a Polo with pretty small differences except styling – it’s even closer than the relationship between an Audi A1 and the old VW Polo. And the Ibiza has scored five stars at Euro NCAP, which uses the same tests as ANCAP. It made an excellent 92 percent in the adult occupant protection tests. The city autonomous braking also tested well.
The Polo’s good ergonomics help the driver stay on the case and undistracted. Optional LED headlamps are good for night vision.
The frontal alert system is capable of spotting pedestrians as well as metal obstructions, and warns the driver then autonomously brakes. That’s standard.
Among the options, blind spot monitoring works on the highway, and it uses the same sensors for warning of cross-traffic when you’re reversing at 90 degrees into the road out of a parking space.
Also optional is radar cruise control. On cars with DSG, it will take you down to a stop if the vehicle in front stops, then follow the stop-start traffic. More important, when the Polo has the radar sensors, it can also warn you at highway speed if traffic stops ahead, and like the low-speed City Brake system will then get onto the brakes if you neglect to.
But the Polo doesn’t have any lane departure warning or lane keeping assist, which some rivals now do.
A driver alert system warns you if you seem to be losing concentration.
The park assist isn’t exactly a safety system but it could save you a dent. It measures parking spaces as you drive slowly along, and if it find one it’ll control steering to get the car into it, telling the driver when to stop and change direction. VW’s parking systems need less space around the car than most. If you don’t like automation, you can instead specify all-round parking cameras.