About five years back, Volkswagen launched the Polo in India, claiming the distinction of offering German technology to the masses. Through these five years, the Polo sold well, if not in line with the company's initial expectations. The competition though heated things up massively in the recent past, making it imperative for the company to give the Polo a shot-in-the arm. Does the refreshed Polo oblige? We find out.
Mid-life facelifts are usually a combination of some mild styling changes along with the addition of a few new features aimed at keeping the vehicle relevant with consumer demands. Mechanically, changes are limited to tuning but in the case of the new Polo, Volkswagen decided to put in an entirely new diesel engine into play. Along with an evolutionary design change, the new model also features additional convenience features. A number of shortcomings from the previous model have been addressed. In this review, we explain those in detail.
The new diesel engine is the most important change in the Polo, and hence, deserves first mention. The old 1.2 l three-cylinder diesel engine has been replaced by a 1.5 l four-cylinder TDI unit, developing about 88 hp (90 ps) and 230 Nm of torque. This is the same 1.6 l engine used in the earlier Polo GT TDI, with 100 cc shaved-off in order to gain excise duty benefits.
The first crank of the engine reveals that the usual clatter of the older 1.2 l unit has disappeared and the vibrations are well under control now. The architecture of the engine remains unchanged though and a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) does the job of force-feeding air into the combustion chamber. Off the line, the Polo pulls away cleanly with minimal lag. In traffic though, some lag is evident, which disappears at about 1,500 rpm, from where acceleration continues with a strong surge till 4,500 rpm. The healthy torque makes it a good car to drive, provided the engine is kept on boil above about 1,800 rpm at all times.
The new Polo is a vastly improved car to drive on account of its improved NVH and higher power output over its predecessor. The cabin is fairly insulated from engine sound even under brisk acceleration and is almost silent at cruising speed. The clutch too has been improved but is still fairly hard and can be bothersome during long durations in stop-go traffic.
Transmission duties are carried out by a five-speed manual unit, which offers a good spread of ratios, aiding fuel-efficiency. Shift quality is not butter smooth and requires some effort but the short throws compensate this to a certain extent.
Overall, the new engine comes across as a welcome change in the Polo line-up, addressing most concerns of the past. This new unit puts the Polo at par with competition in terms of engine performance, which clearly is the best step forward. During our tests, we clocked 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 12.8 s and an average fuel economy of 15.2 km/l with most of the run being done in city traffic.
Bringing about radical design changes entails massive cost, a reason why most car companies don't go for it. Shortening vehicular generation lifespans further strengthen the cause of the evolutionary approach to design. Volkswagen hence, has made subtle changes to the Polo's exterior design, all of which add a whiff of premiumness to the character. From a distance though or from the rear view mirror, it's hard to spot the new Polo from the old one.
Changes at the front include a new grille, bumper, headlamps and integrated fog lamps with cornering lights. These new elements feature a mild design makeover, which when combined, lend the car with a broader and more matured stance. The chrome line running through the intake grille along with the new headlamp adds to the upmarket positioning of this car. At the rear, the bumper along with the tail lamp cluster features a new design. The license plate holder is now integrated into the rear bumper, imparting a cleaner look to the rear section.
Our test car was the Highline variant and hence came equipped with 15-inch alloy wheels featuring a new design. Customers opting for the other two lower-spec variants will get newly-designed wheel covers on top of 14-inch rims.
With the original design of the Polo aging well, the changes made to the car adds to the positive appeal of the hatch. Despite being in the market for five years, the Polo's design has managed to match its competitors' aggression with subtlety. The recipe hasn't been tampered with but further improvised in wake of progressing market.
Positioned as a premium hatchback, the new Polo builds further on the strong lineage of its predecessor. The most noticeable change in the cabin is the steering wheel, which is flattened at the bottom, giving it a sporty look and feel. There are controls on both sides of the wheel for functions including audio, phone and multi-information display.
The centre console has been given a silver finish on the exterior edges, breaking the monotony of plastic. The dual-tone interiors look fine but an all-black interior would've gone along better with the character of the car. As a practice though, such changes are often dictated by consumer preferences. The air vents too get chrome outlining in order to enhance cosmetic appeal.
Material and fit and finish quality is impressive and goes in sync with the Polo's positioning. The door mounted armrests at the front sport a fabric finish now, aiding comfort. The seats at the front offer good cushioning, along with adequate side support for the legs and shoulders. Rear seats offer not so generous but acceptable legroom along with adequate thigh and back support for long journeys. Headroom too is generous, making the car comfortable for people of most sizes. The tunnel height on the rear floor though is fairly high, making the seat comfortable for two passengers only for long durations.
DYNAMICS & SAFETY
The old Polo was a dynamically sound car and the new version maintains that, while making some fine-tuned improvements. The suspension seems to have been softened a bit, leading to a more pliant and comfortable ride quality. Thankfully, this hasn't had any considerable effect on the handling. Going through the corners, the new Polo holds its line well with minimal body-roll. The steering weighs up nicely as speed builds and offers acceptable level of feedback. Understeer too isn't pronounced and comes in only when pushing too hard, owing to the balanced set-up.
The brakes too have been improved and the stopping power seems more reassuring over the older model. The brake pedal feedback too is good, which combined with the overall dynamics helps confidence levels for pushing the car hard.
On the safety front, the new Polo continues to be at the forefront in its segment, when considering standard equipment. The Polo offers ABS and front-dual airbags as standard across its range, which deserves appreciation, given the fact that in a country marred with road safety issues and lack of regulatory standards, Volkswagen has gone against the trend of sacrificing safety in favour of cost.
The new Polo 1.5 l TDI is exactly how a mid-cycle facelift for such a model should be. Engineers have made significant improvements in the areas pointed out by customers and have succeeded in offering a much better car overall. Some might not like the lack of visual distinction, but the Polo's design was already one that ages well and hardly needed any major changes. The biggest concern of an underpowered and not so well-refined diesel engine has been addressed well.
Priced between Rs 6.27 lakh and 7.37 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, the Polo 1.5 l TDI sure is a bit expensive. However, for the extra cost, consumers now get a car that feels more premium and German than earlier!
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Uapdhyay