The Volkswagen Polo has been a success story for the VW brand over the past 42-years. Volkswagen’s mascot of cheap and cheerful will soon add another feather in its cap when the sixth-generation model takes centre stage later this year.
So one might wonder, what’s with the harebrained idea of reviewing the aging fifth-gen model, now?
Well, over in Malaysia when the locally-assembled Polo arrived in 2014, the retail prices, save some generous promotional periods, was a scratch over RM86k, and if you remember Polo Trophy from 2015, suggestively designed to honour VW’s World Rally Championship (WRC) success, cost some RM90k before insurance charges.
Volkswagen Passengers Cars Malaysia (VPCM) have since rationalised their prices, across the range – and with newer additions such as the Vento, Passat and Tiguan, the Polo hatchback remains the entry point to the VW brand and indeed the cheapest way to access German automotive engineering in Malaysia.
So in essence, we perhaps have to employ an entirely new optics when judging the VW Polo hatchback, the mathematics are sound, priced at RM69,888 - Volkswagen want you to think of the Polo hatchback as not just as your first Volkswagen but your first ’Continental’ car, for roughly RM10k more than what it would cost for a top-spec Perodua Myvi 1.5 Advance.
It’s exceptional value. Especially when you consider the Polo’s B-Segment’s competitors – namely the Honda Jazz and Mazda 2 prices start at RM71,193 and a whopping RM87,296 respectively.
The facelift model, launched in 2015 brought about tasteful aesthetic changes on the outside and upgrades to the steering wheel and infotainment system on the inside.
Specifications for Volkswagen Polo 1.6 MPI
- Engine: 1.6-litre, transverse four-cylinder, multi-point injection
- Power: 105HP @ 5,250rpm
- Torque: 153Nm @ 3,800rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed conventional automatic
- Safety: 2 airbags, ABS, EBD, ISOFIX
- Origin: Locally-assembled at Pekan, Pahang
- Price: RM69,888 excl. Insurance
While it may seem like the fifth-generation VW Polo has been around for quite a while – yet one would be hard-pressed to call it old or aged. Despite changing very little over the years – it still offers an elegant and handsome exterior.
When compared to its peers – such as the Honda Jazz and Mazda 2, the Polo offers simpler, sedate body contours. In contrast to the bold angular cuts of the Jazz or the swoopy lines of the Mazda 2, the Polo offers a more grown up look and feel – undoubtedly, there are buyers out there that will appreciate the subdued proportions of the Polo as well.
The facelift brought about the sharp looking bumper and front grille design – both components of which make do with a sharp looking chrome bits to highlight the width of the front fascia. At the rear, the Polo offers up updated graphics on the tail lamps and the revamped rear bumper now features reflector strips at its edges.
On the inside – the Polo is decidedly German in every sense of the word. Besides the subtle dash highlights, the interior is largely made up of either lighter or darker shades of grey and black. The dashboard layout is superb, with most functional items and toggles within ergonomic reach.
There’s a useable cubby space allocated all around the cabin space – deep pockets in the doors and in the centre console will swallow everything from the Starbucks Grande cup, SmartTag and coin purse with ease.
The Honda Jazz remains the king of space and practicality, but the Polo remains a close second – being very accommodative for four passengers. An added note here – is the suppleness of the seats, front and back, they’re comfortable on long city jams and likewise the longer highway journeys.
The newly updated infotainment system which now features Bluetooth and USB connectivity works intuitively – not taking much longer than five seconds to reconnect to a paired device. The simple layout of the RCD 330 head unit is also easy to understand and get to grips with.
The highlight of the interior is perhaps the “flat” bottom shaped steering wheel, which is leather wrapped and tactile to the touch.
I’d have to say I was slightly underwhelmed by the Polo’s driving experience this time around. Admittedly, I’m being overly fussy but much of it has to do with the slightly dull throttle response of the engine.
I have always known and remembered this little 1.6-litre four-cylinder to be very eager and rev strongly right up to the limiter – yes, the power is still there, but there’s a slight mismatch (as I remember it) between the amount of pedal travel and the resultant engine effort. I wonder if VW has tweaked the throttle response in the interim for better fuel economy.
Otherwise, the Polo remains the charming performer it has always been. The chassis setup makes light work of soaking up bumps and road irregularities. It’s softer at the front than it is at the rear and this grants the Polo some impressive ride comfort and composure at high-speed, albeit doing without the overall sharpness, the likes of the Mazda 2 – but granted it’s a city car, I believe it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
The steering system, both in feedback and effort is a charm to work around town, requiring very little effort when parking or around tight city confines. The system weighs up nicely at speed once on the highway, and helps build confidence – up to speeds of 170km/h, the Polo is surefooted.
The gearbox is talented as well dispatching shifts smoothly up and down the ratios. The response tightens up considerably when Sport mode is engaged, but for the most part, one would rarely find the need for it. The Polo is about relaxed cruising, if you want sporty driving dynamics – the Mazda 2 or Ford Fiesta is the car to be in.
Another point to note is the unavailability of Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which has become a commonplace offering amongst the current crop of B-Segment cars.
During my stint with the Polo, I completed some 485km for a full tank over mixed driving conditions – which included some greater KL-Putrajaya highway stints, and the other half in typical KL city driving. Perhaps, a gentler foot would have seen that number rise above 500km – a figure I have previously achieved with the Polo sedan.
Based on the onboard telemetry – the Polo hatch will return between 8.4-litres/100km on the highway and up to 9.9-litres/100km when plugging along in town.
While the current-generation Polo may have been around for a while, I can assure you it's anything but tired or dated. The Polo remains a charming alternative to the mainstream B-Segment rivals and at the current price, represents very good value for money.
What it may lack in terms aesthetic pizzazz, it makes up with a "grown-up" charm that is very appealing too. Sometimes going back to basics can be a good thing.