Take a quick look at a cars for sale section in any magazine or website and in the description of many small hatchbacks you’ll find the phrase ‘peppy’. But what does it really mean to be peppy? The dictionary would have you believe that peppy means “full of or characterized by energy and high spirits” and that’s probably correct but to save on words it could just have a photo of the new VW Polo TSI. What makes the second Polo variant available in NZ so lively is a new engine that’s low on displacement but very high on pep. Car and SUV took a closer look at the little Polo to solve the riddle of how less can really be more.
When the new Mk V Polo first touched down in NZ it was sold exclusively with a 1.4-litre 63kW engine, now it’s being offered with an all-new 1.2-litre unit. The new engine carries a $3k premium over the larger 1.4 motor but it’s money well spent because it must be the peppiest 4-cylinder in town. Using turbocharging to produce 77kW of power and a healthy 175Nm of torque the new engine is responsive and engaging. It suffers very little turbo lag and offers maximum torque from low in the rev range (1500 to 3500rpm) so it doesn’t need to be pushed hard. The TSI Polo will dash to 100kph in well under 10 seconds and has the mid-range punch to match much larger engines. But Grandmothers shouldn’t be scared off, the engine is well mannered at slower speeds and is never fierce on boost. With the pint-size engine and lightweight body the Polo also returns an impressive fuel economy of just 5.3l/100km combined.
With no manual option available in NZ the Polo TSI is fitted exclusively with a 7-speed DSG gearbox. It’s a modern piece of kit that changes seamlessly and gives a high-tech edge to the overall driving experience. Having seven ratios gives the smart gearbox a flexibility to either work through them rapidly keeping the Polo in its peak power band or focus on economy and get into a higher gear early. There is a sports mode available that keeps the engine in a lower gear and changes up later. There is also a sequential changing option on the gearshift for manual changes but steering wheel paddles are not available, even as optional equipment.
It would be a shame to have such an advanced powerplant but then be let down by average handling dynamics and luckily that’s not the case for the Polo TSI. It does have a suspension setting that’s more focused on comfort than sporty intent, which may disappoint teenage boys borrowing mum’s car. There is some torque-steer off the line for the heavy-footed but once up to speed there’s a tenacious level of grip on offer.
The only area where there’s a noticeable departure from the mild sporting feel is in the Polo’s steering which, while precise, is very light and uncommunicative. However, this is understandable considering the Polo’s target market and the fact that it’s not being pushed as a performance model. Overall, dynamically the Polo TSI is a well balanced all rounder that feels equally capable on twisting open roads as it does on regulation suburban duties.
The level of cabin refinement during driving is excellent with few engine sounds, no wind noise and only minimal tyre noise entering the tranquil cabin. Most road bumps and dips don’t disturb occupants and with the front seats pushed back it’s easy to feel like you’re in a larger, more expensive car.
In terms of visual styling the Polo sits wider and lower than the previous model and has received the new VW corporate front grille. Slightly enlarged in every direction it still retains the look of a mini Golf but has nicely chiseled, mature lines. The wide gaping air intake denotes a sense of purpose and there are some classy touches like L-shaped rear lighting and colour coded wing mirrors with integrated turn signals. There’s a general feeling of quality to the Polo exterior with its ultra-bright paintwork, tight shut-lines and four doors that close with a reassuring thud. Some subtle chrome trim at the front and badging at the rear distinguish the TSI variant. Our tested vehicle had the optional 17-inch ‘Boavista’ wheels that dressed the Polo up smartly and never looked oversized (16-inch as standard).
In the cabin, quality is at the forefront with texturised soft touch plastics that would be at home in a vehicle twice the price. The Polo’s dashboard is conservatively styled in charcoal with silver accents, it looks great and all switchgear is thoughtfully laid out. There is good storage for small items and a handy fold-down centre armrest. The seats are height-adjustable, supportive and finished in a thick well-stitched cloth. Interior space is fairly good for a B-segment vehicle with front occupants well catered for in terms of shoulder and legroom. With four adults in the car the front seats will need to be pushed forward to give the rear seat enough leg room for longer journeys, head room is ample all around. Luggage capacity is 280-litres in the hatch expanding out to a capacious 952-litres with the rear seats folded to create a flat loading floor. The hatch floor can also be lowered or used to hide away items. Standard interior equipment includes climate air-con, cooled glove box, single disc CD stereo, heated electric mirrors, leather-covered steering wheel and hand brake, electric windows and a full size spare wheel. Overall, the Polo has raised the bar on interior build quality for entry-model cars with and shows that the VW Group’s commitment to style and refinement filters all the way down to its lower ranks.
The Polo also has its bases well covered in regards to safety. It’s picked up a 5-star NCAP safety rating and comes equipped with an electronic stability control programme, ABS brakes, traction control and an electronic diff lock. There are front, side and curtain airbags ready to go and a passenger airbag deactivation feature for child seats.
So what’s the verdict on the Polo TSI? Well, it would be hard to match it in the small-hatchback segment. Its engine is a marvel and can offer a sporting drive when required while still being timid enough to appeal to all. It has clean-cut contemporary styling, a high quality interior, comfortable ride and is just fun to drive. Priced at $31,500 it occupies the high end of this segment and is around $6k more than the Ford Fiesta or Honda Jazz. But you’re getting the latest technology and exemplary build quality, for many that will be worth the extra money. If you’re in the market for a small hatch and want to see exactly how it should be done, check out the Polo TSI.
What we like:
- Excellent engine and gearbox package
- Interior quality
- Fun to drive
What we don’t like:
- Vague steering
- Conservative exterior styling
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
To find out more about the Polo TSI, see below for specifications or click here to visit the VW NZ website.
Other reviews of interest:
Volkswagen Polo TSI (2010) – Specifications
Engine, gearbox, electrical system (77 kW)
Cubic capacity, litres/cm 3 1197
Max. output, kW(bhp) at rpm 77 @ 5000rpm
Max. torque, Nm at rpm 175Nm @ 1550 -4100rpm
Gearbox, standard 7-Speed DSG
Fuel consumption, litres/100 km combined 5.3
CO 2 emission, g/km 124 – Euro 5
Safety and Security
ESP (electronic stability program), ABS braking system (ABS), Traction Control System (TCS) and Electronic Diff Lock (EDL)
Airbags for driver and front passenger
Front passenger airbag deactivation
Curtain airbag system for front and rear passengers
Side airbags at the front
Safety optimised front head restraints
ISOFIX mountings on outer rear seats for child seats
Anti-theft ‘Plus’ alarm system
Turn signals with integrated in door mirrors
Wheels and Suspension
Alloy wheels, 16″ Cartagena 215/45 tyres
Headlights — Halogen
Electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors
Green-tinted heat insulating windows
Front fog lights, with fixed cornering light
Climatic air conditioning
Steering wheel with height and rake adjustment
Leather covered gear lever and hand brake lever
Leather covered multi-function steering wheel
Central locking with radio remote control
Front centre armrest with storage box
Multi function display
Electric windows, front and rear
Floor mats front and rear
Glove compartment with cooling function
Seats and upholstery
‘Livon’ fabric upholstery
Front seats with height adjustment
Drawers under front seats
4 x 20 watts, 6 loud speakers (4 at front, 2 at rear)
RCD310 Radio CD system, single CD and AUX-IN multimedia socket
Warranty and Assistance
3 year / unlimited km mechanical warranty, 12 year anti-corrosion warranty
3 year Volkswagen Roadside Assistance
Long-life underseal including wheel arches