Motoring review – The post-Golf status symbol

2014-10-15 18:45

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The VW Polo is one of SA’s most popular cars. The new 1.2 TSI, with its subtle changes, is just the cherry on the top of an already celebrated recipe, writes Ané Theron

If I ever give up my glamorous yet financially humble career as a motoring journalist, I’d probably become a car salesperson at a Volkswagen or Toyota dealership.

Ever since launching in 2010, the Volkswagen Polo and Polo Vivo have been selling like moonshine during Prohibition.

Recently, I drove the latest VW Polo 1.2 TSI Highline manual (R237?400) to see how it has been tweaked. I am a big fan of the seventh-generation Golf, and it has become quite the status symbol with a price tag to match.

The latest Polo is probably what the Golf used to represent a few years ago: an up-market, stylish German hatch for the upper middle class.

With the outgoing and new Polos parked next to each other, one is tempted to play “spot the difference”. The new Polo looks more streamlined, but changes are indeed subtle – a bit of chrome detailing here, a resculpted front bumper there and new alloys.

The reason for the subtlety is partly to stop the outgoing models from losing their resale value, and why would Volkswagen tinker with an already top-selling product?

Creature comforts

The interior, albeit impersonal, smacks of quality and refinement. Chrome accents surround the air vents and instrument binnacle, as well as the user-friendly infotainment system’s 12cm colour touch screen.

My inner neat freak applauds, but at the same time I yearn for some of the quirkiness found in the French hatchbacks. Nevertheless, the Polo’s almost anonymous design has a very wide appeal. Not everybody likes quirky, but most people tend to like classical.

As for creature comforts, the Germans are known to charge extra for ashtrays and armrests, but all Polos now come with “grown-up” specs like stability control, a hill-hold system and a post-collision braking system that reduces the severity of a second impact after an initial crash.

Cruise control, however, is optional at R1?700, and if you want curtain airbags (dual front and side are standard), you’ll have to fork out another R2?400.

In the Highline variant, features like the Driver Alert System with Rest Assist (to alert the driver if he/she is suspected to be nodding off) are also standard.

Feisty drive

But how does the Polo handle and is it worth R237?400?

Steering is accurate and it really seems to hug the road and corners with agility.

With small, ecofriendly turbo-charged engines being the norm these days, Volkswagen’s 1.2-litre (81kw) TSI engine does not disappoint.

If you need a little thrust, you need only stir the butter-slick six-speed manual gearbox.

Once you’re up to speed, so to speak, the Polo is feisty enough and fun to drive.

Real-life fuel economy is a pocket-friendly 6.3?litres to 6.5?litres per 100km, and there was no major difference between usage around town and on the open road.

If the Highline model is out of your reach, the entry-level Trendline model will set you back R191?600, but bear in mind that its engine (66kW) has a bit less oomph. So if you have dosh to spare and you value the power to swiftly overtake, I’d say go with the Highline.

Insist on sticking with the Jerries, but short on cash? The Polo Vivo, South Africa’s bestselling passenger vehicle, has also been for a bit of Botox recently. The budget option is the 1.4-litre Conceptline for R142?700.

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