As I’ve said before, hugely coincidental occurrences happen to me when testing cars. Today was the International Day of Action on Climate Change, a day to draw awareness to the things that we do that might be negatively influencing the climate. I turned up in the most frugal car available in New Zealand. No, it’s not a hybrid, it’s a Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion which runs on the traditionally heavy polluting diesel. Whereas Toyota’s Prius boasts a combined cycle of 4.4 litres per 100km, the Polo 58kW, 1.4-litre BlueMotion slashes that to just 3.8l/100km, and just 99g/km of CO2. So I had reason to gloat (except to the beardy ones who turned up on bicycles).
Why Blue, though? Green-this, green-that sprouts up like a lush PR-friendly canopy, each marque trying to outdo the others in its espoused environmentalness. Even Ferrari is at it, which is just enviro-Mental.
VW’s corporate colour is blue, and their branding people implored them to draw parallels with the sky and sea — they obviously haven’t been to Blackpool on a bleak day. BlueMotion represents the model in each range that is the most environmentally friends, from its fuel consumption to its overall ability to be recycled (a minimum of 85%, and reusable to a minimum of 95% by mass). BlueMotion is VW’s philosophy that economic fuel consumption doesn’t come at the expense of driving fun.
The reductions in consumption and emissions have been achieved a number of ways. Taller gear ratios mean you don’t get out of third around town, and not into fifth until you’re cruising above 90kph. In fact, looking at the trip computer, it’s less economical to drive in fourth at around-town speeds than third. BlueMotion models come with a manual gearbox, which is more effective at transferring the power to the wheels. 165/70-sized low-rolling-resistance tyres surround 14-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension lowers the car by 10mm for better wind resistance, and a more aerodynamic grille ekes out further gains.
I expected the narrow tyres to squeal with protest at the slightly provocation, but it didn’t happen.
The first thing I noticed on the inside was how the seat covers reminded me of my school bus back in the mid-‘80s. It’s the only thing that detracts from an otherwise functional, if spartan, cabin. In the interests of saving weight, there is nothing unnecessary. Air conditioning, electric windows, heated electronically adjustable wing mirrors, remote central locking and immobiliser come as standard.
Sizeable storage trays under both front seats more than make up for the small glovebox and lack of central binnacle storage.
There are two ways to drive the Polo — economically, or without holding people up. I tried driving economically and achieved 4.4l/100km, worse than VW’s quoted combined cycle, but my run always includes the long uphill of the Harbour Bridge and the winding, traffic island-strewn back streets of Herne Bay and Grey Lynn. This way of driving often frustrates other drivers, though, because you pull away slowly. Then there’s what I would term my usual everyday ‘I’m quite busy driving’ — there’s no dawdling, but I’m still aware of economy, coasting up to lights, trying to carry speed through corners, and attempting to be in the right gear to have acceleration available. This yielded 4.9l/100km, which is still extremely impressive.
There has to be a compromise when you are paring a car down to its acceptable minimum, and in this case it’s engine noise. It pulls well for its size and power — 195Nm of torque helps the Polo to 100kph in a claimed 12.8s — but at idle it sounds agricultural. There’s also the $4,000 price premium over the incredibly frugal Polo TDi.
Research has shown that putting an instantaneous fuel usage gauge in a car tends to make people drive more economically. It worked with me. I was constantly trying to make the car more economical and I regularly achieved cruising fuel usages in the 2.8-3l/100km. I felt good (on a ‘green’ level) about driving the Polo BlueMotion. VW will bring out a BlueMotion version of every one of its cars in time. It’s an easy purchase for badge snobbery, and very justifiable on an environmental level, but will the premium over VW’s already frugal equivalent model range hamper sales? Only time will tell.
Click through to the next page to see specifications
Price: from $30,990; our test car was fitted with the optional curtain airbags ($800)
What we like
- You can save the planet
- It’s a long time between visits to the petrol station
What we don’t like
- On a purely economic level it would take you lots of years to pay back the $4,000 price difference between the 1.4 TDi Polo and the BlueMotion if you take fuel savings alone
- Seat covers are old fashioned
- Intrusively noisy diesel clatter at idle
Words and photos Darren Cottingham
Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion
Model Year 2008 Specification Summary
Specifications are subject to change without notice. Effective 08/11/2007. Retail price does not include on-road costs.
Fuel consumption tested in accordance with EC directive 80/1268/EC. Consumption measured on European specification cars.
Retail Price (including GST) – Polo BlueMotion $30,990 (9N30Z4)
Performance & Fuel Consumption:
0-100 km/h 12.8
Top speed km/h 176
Combined l/100km 3.8
CO2 g/km 99
3-point automatic seat belts
ABS braking system with Brake Assist
Driver and front passenger airbags, with front/side airbags
Electromechanical steering with safety steering column (steering wheel height & reach adjustable)
Front seat belt height adjustment and belt tensioners
ISOFIX mountings on rear seat
Outer rear view mirrors, electrically adjustable and heated
Rear fog light
Three rear headrests
Cupholder in dash and centre console
Electric windows, front & rear
Floor mats, front & rear
Height adjustable front seats
Illuminated vanity mirrors
RCD200 single CD/tuner and four loudspeakers
Remote central locking with vehicle immobiliser, interior monitoring
Silver outer rear view mirrors
Standard front seating
Storage trays under front seats
Aerodynamic body enhancements
Sports suspension (10mm lower)
Warranty and Assistance
3 year / unlimited km mechanical warranty, 12 year anti-corrosion warranty
3 year Volkswagen Roadside Assistance
Metallic paint surcharge of $500 applies