1 Volkswagen Polo

The VW’s exceptional fuel economy, its broad driveability and still-impressive ride and refinement nudge it over the line

IT’S taken four years, but rivals are finally catching up with the Volkswagen Polo. Our 2010 Car of the Year, freshly updated at the end of last year, is no longer the hands-down champ of the light-car crew, but, like its Golf big brother, all-round ability counts for a lot.

The fact that the Polo scraped through in this Megatest to claim victory with the same star rating as the two cars behind it speaks volumes about just how far the competition has caught up. The Mazda 2 Neo – the least convincing version of Hiroshima’s new-gen supermini – and the pricey Clio Expression TCe120 ran the Polo right to the wire, but the VW’s exceptional fuel economy, its broad driveability, top-class braking performance and still-impressive ride and refinement managed to nudge it over the line.

On our rough and coarsely surfaced four-up test road, the Polo delivered not only the best ride of the group but also the least road noise. Seated on firm but comfortable seats, occupants sit quite high, with impressive vision in all directions, though the pay-off for having a view is merely average rear-seat headroom, despite the depth of its rear cushion.

The updated Polo maintains Volkswagen’s reputation for quake-proof interiors, but there’s definitely a feeling of austerity in the entry-level Trendline’s cabin. Its plastic steering wheel might be pleasant to hold and smoothly tactile, but its lack of spoke-mounted controls says poverty with a capital ‘P’, and the all-charcoal colouring is sombre and charmless. The door-trim moulds are also hard and clearly built to a price, unlike the squidgy dashboard covering.

We can’t dispute Polo’s slick efficiency, from its crisp instruments and classy controls to its handy compartments and 5.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth audio streaming. It also boasts a beautifully trimmed 280-litre boot, with a full-size spare underneath, and a folding

7.5 /10

rear backrest that drops to deliver a fully flat floor. Only Honda’s Jazz does the same, though it cheats with a space-saver.

In lieu of the old base Polo’s 63kW 1.4-litre MPi engine, the update scores a detuned version of VW’s 1.2 turbo-petrol four. It’ll rev to 6500rpm, but this engine is a slogger, not a sprinter, as its peak power spread from 4400-5400rpm suggests.

Neither as sweet nor punchy as the previous 77TSI or as refined as Renault’s 1.2 turbo, the new 66TSI still has lots to like. It achieves a brisk 0-60km/h time (4.9sec) thanks to spritely off-the-line gearing, and class-best fuel economy (6.8L/100km), as well as this group’s only idle-stop system. If only the seven-speed dual-clutch ’box was as seamless as Mazda’s excellent six-speed auto.

The Polo lacks the verve of its perkier rivals, but there’s a solid proficiency at work here. Confidence-inspiring manners and a decent ride/handling balance make up for its few dynamic flaws, which include a tendency towards understeer and some fidgeting from its torsion-beam rear end when loaded up over mid-corner bumps.

But, in typical VW fashion, the Polo is all about being inoffensively capable. You could hammer it over country roads for hours on end and still arrive feeling fresh and unflustered.

What ultimately lets the Polo down is its age. Alongside the benchmark Mk7 Golf, it looks and feels like a cheapskate relation, which wasn’t the case when it supplemented the Golf Mk6 in 2010. That said, the Polo Trendline DSG’s $18,990 sticker is just $1000 more than what Suzuki asks for a Swift GL auto.

If it’s proper small-car luxury you want, then the $21,090 Polo 81TSI Comfortline demands a similar premium over the plush French pair. With more power and a more expensive interior, it’s arguably the Polo to go for. Either way, you’re still getting the most well-rounded supermini money can buy, just not the most fun. – NP

VOLKSWAGEN POLO 66TSI TRENDLINE

$19,490* Engine 1197cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo Power 66kW @ 4400-5400rpm Torque 160Nm @ 1400-3500rpm Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 3972/1682/1453/2470mm Weight 1082kg Cargo capacity 280 litres Tyres Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 185/60R15 84H Economy 6.8L/100km 0-60km/h 4.9sec 0-100km/h 11.3sec 0-400m 18.0sec @ 124.8km/h 80-120km/h 8.6sec 100km/h-0 38.7m 3yr resale 63% . Economy, all-round ability . Decontented interior * Includes metallic paint ($500)

Active service

COMPARED with some of the big sellers here, Polo sits at the upper end for servicing cost, though not by a huge margin. Given a three-year/60,000km timeframe, the Volkswagen will set you back almost $2200 to stay fit as a fiddle, which is about $200 more than what the Mazda 2 Neo will cost.

The Honda Jazz is cheaper again at just under $1800, but nothing can match the 1.3-litre Yaris. Thanks to subsidised capped-price servicing, the Yaris auto requires just $780 to keep its log book up to date, tempered slightly by short six-month service intervals (just like Jazz). The Polo and Mazda 2 can be stretched to 12 months if you don’t travel many kays. here