ROAD TEST: 2018 VW Polo has growth spurt
VOLKSWAGEN'S baby hatchback has grown up - in more ways than one.
The first all-new Polo in seven years has a bigger footprint - and more cabin space - than a VW Golf from 2004. It's due on sale from March, 2018.
Yet under the bonnet is a tiny 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, replacing the current model's 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder.
The fuel economy gains are minuscule (0.1L/100km versus its predecessor) because the smaller engine needs to shift a bigger, heavier body. And it still demands premium unleaded.
It means Polo owners will use about the same amount of fuel as before, but in a roomier car.
They may need to refuel more often, however, because the petrol tank is smaller, having shrunk from 45 to 40 litres.
The interior has a more modern and up-market appearance. The top of the dash is covered in soft-touch material, but the door trims are made from hard-wearing plastic.
The glovebox and front door pockets are massive; the rear door pockets are drink-holder size and the centre console is tiny. At least there are now two USB charging ports - as well as a 12V power socket - to end any squabbling over phone chargers. Apple Car Play and Android Auto will continue to be standard.
Adding to its more mature image, the new Polo will be available with technology once reserved for luxury cars, such as a digital wide-screen instrument display, wireless phone charging and radar cruise control.
Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection up to 60km/h, six airbags, stability control and fatigue monitoring are standard. Optional safety technology includes blind zone warning and rear cross traffic alert.
Front and rear parking sensors are now factory fitted rather than dealer-fit accessories.
The rear view camera that pops out from behind the VW badge on the tailgate is standard but, as before, the guiding lines still don't turn with the steering.
From the driver's seat it doesn't feel like a tiny city car. The digital speed display between analog dials is larger, and the new Polo adopts the latest Golf's more elegant leather wrapped steering wheel.
Rear leg room and head room are above average for the class, but despite the growth spurt it's still a tight squeeze for three adults across the back bench; two's enough company.
The Polo's boot (351L) is bigger than the Mazda3 (308L) and Ford Focus (316L) - and almost as big as the Toyota Corolla (360L) and VW Golf (380L), all of which are cars in the next class up. However, it is still slightly smaller than its class benchmark, the Honda Jazz (354L).
ON THE ROAD
The hum and subtle vibration of the three-cylinder is apparent, but it's more refined than other city cars with the same type of engine.
VW has done an admirable job of suppressing noise, vibration and harshness of an engine design that is usually hard to tame. We're not sure if it's good noise insulation, good engine design, or both.
Also noteworthy: the seven-speed twin-clutch auto shifts into the highest gear possible, even at low speeds.
By the time you reach 60km/h on a flat smooth road the Polo will have already slipped into sixth and is almost ready for seventh, encouraging gentle use of the throttle.
It may seem hard to believe, but you can feel a difference in oomph - if that's the word - between the 70kW and 85kW engines, but neither is a ball of fire.
The claimed 0 to 100km/h time for the 70kW Polo is the same as the 66kW predecessor (10.8 sec) and the 85kW version is a touch slower than the 81kW hatch it replaces (9.3 to 9.5 sec) because the new Polo is bigger and heavier than its predecessor.
Unfortunately we didn't get to point either version towards a hill. The German roads we sampled the car on were as smooth and flat as a bowling green. Unsurprisingly, the suspension felt comfortable and the 17-inch Michelin tyres sounded quiet.
Initial impressions are extremely positive but we'll reserve final judgment until we test the new Polo on some hills and potholed roads - and find out how much it is - when it arrives in Australian showrooms in March 2018.
PRICE Prices are yet to be fixed but given the extra tech, they may go up slightly.
TECH Automatic emergency braking will be standard, with pedestrian detection up to 60km/h. Front and rear sensors are available ex-factory rather than dealer-fit. Options include VW's digital wide-screen dash, 8-inch touchscreen with built-in nav, blind zone warning, rear cross traffic alert and radar cruise control.
PERFORMANCE Current 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo replaced by 1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbo. Power and torque up from 66kW/160Nm or 81kW/175Nm to 70kW/175Nm or 85kW/200Nm.
DRIVING Despite the power increase, acceleration is about the same because the new Polo is bigger and heavier than its predecessor. The three-cylinder has more vibration than the four it replaces but is more refined than other examples.
DESIGN The new car is 81mm longer and there's more room between the front and rear wheels, which liberates more space in the cabin. Front and rear headroom has increased slightly and the boot has grown from 280 litres to 350. The exterior styling changes adopt VW's new corporate "wide body” look and you can option bright coloured plastic highlights for the dash and centre console.
The new VW Polo has all the ingredients to become the benchmark in the city-car class.