Small petrol three-cylinder wins the VW Polo match
There are few thrills to be found in studying a log book with impressive fuel consumption figures, so it stands to reason that high-efficiency derivatives of popular cars are seldom well-received among motoring enthusiasts.
Underpowered engines and skinny tyres are par for the course, meaning that the only people who have ever smiled at the sight of one of these economy-minded variants tended to be fleet managers and eco-warriors.
Frugal can be fun
But this isn’t necessarily the case anymore, because Volkswagen has chucked the rule book when they created the new Polo 1.0 TSI BlueMotion. Yes, its (petrol) engine is dramatically downsized, its tyres are chosen for their reduced rolling resistance rather than for road grip, and its gear ratios have been stretched to bring down engine speeds on the freeway. But somehow the new Polo BlueMotion manages to transcend all these limitations and add some joy to low-consumption motoring.
Introduced alongside two new diesel engines (we’ll talk about those just now), the latest BlueMotion completes the updated Polo hatchback range, which already boasted two new 1.2 TSI engines for the mainstream variants and a new 1.8 TSI in the GTI. In spite of its reduced displacement, the 1.0 TSI engine actually develops slightly more power than the entry-level 1.2-litre (70 kW against 66 kW), and its torque output of 160 Nm is identical to that of the larger engine. Consequently, the BlueMotion has slightly livelier acceleration and a higher maximum speed than its larger-engined sibling, yet manages to drop its official average fuel consumption figure to a diesel-rivalling 4.2 ℓ/100 km, down from 4.9 ℓ/100 km in the 1.2 TSI.
Most importantly, the new BlueMotion presents a huge improvement on its 1.2-litre diesel-engined predecessor, which barely had enough power to drag around its own shadow. With a price premium of only about R10 000 over the similary-equipped 1.2 TSI Comfortline, the new Polo BlueMotion presents a compelling choice.
OK on paper, better on the road
The 1.0 TSI engine is a very recent introduction to the South African market, having made its first local appearance when the Audi A1 was facelifted a few months ago. As per the current norm, it is a three-cylinder unit with turbo charging and direct injection, and while it can’t match its rivals from Ford (Fiesta EcoBoost) and Opel (Corsa EcoFlex) on either power or torque outputs, Volkswagen’s take on the turbo-triple is an agreeable unit with its own merits. It’s a smooth-running engine with a pleasant thrum at higher engine speeds, and the torque is spread over a wide rev range, with very little noticeable turbo lag. It’s also really nice to use, with a free-revving nature and slick gearshifts from its 5-speed manual gearbox.
The same cannot really be said about the other new arrivals, unfortunately. The 1.4 TDI engine is also a brand-new three-cylinder engine, and produces either 55 kW and 210 Nm in entry-level Trendline trim, or 77 kW and 250 Nm in both Highline or Cross specification. Those output figures appear competitive on paper, but feels rather underwhelming on the oxygen-starved Highveld.
The new diesel suffers from significant turbo lag, resulting in a dearth of torque below 2000 r/min, but once up to speed, the TDI’s strong torque output allows for long-legged cruising on the freeway. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with both diesel engines, and they boast an identical official average consumption figure of 4.1 ℓ/100 km – lower than that of the BlueMotion, but not by much...
GTI gets 6-speed manual, more torque
The expansion of the Polo range also sees the introduction of a 6-speed manual gearbox to the GTI range-topper, in addition to the dual-clutch transmission (DSG) we already know. Because the manual ’box is a bit sturdier than the automatic unit, the engineers have re-programmed the 1.8-litre turbo engine to produce 320 Nm (an increase of 70 Nm), and now offers a slightly more hard-core alternative for enthusiastic drivers. The pricetag is another incentive to rather shift your own gears, because the manual GTI costs a tidy R15 500 less than the DSG.
In spite of the extra torque, the manual GTI doesn’t accelerate any quicker than the automatic does: the 7-speed DSG uses closer gear ratios and fires off lightning-fast gearshifts to achieve an identical sprint time of 6.7 seconds from a standstill to 100 km/h. But even though there’s little discernible performance difference, the addition of a third pedal adds a generous helping of enjoyment to the GTI’s already engaging driving experience.
For the rest, it’s still a Polo as we know it since the range rejuvenation commenced: Volkswagen’s excellent touchscreen multimedia system is used across the board, and the subtle styling enhancements introduced with the facelift are found on the new variants as well. Build quality is still rock solid, the cabin is logically laid out, and there are enough soft-touch surfaces to create an impression of sophistication. The after-sales experience should be equally pleasant, thanks to a service plan for three years or 45 000 km.
Tiny tyke takes it
It would be logical to aspire to the hot-rod Polo GTI or to succumb to the appeal of low running costs with a TDI, but the 1.0 TSI BlueMotion is the real star among the new Polos. The punchy, characterful three-cylinder engine, strong performance, affordable pricetag and impressively low fuel consumption combine to add both charm and sensibility to the lower end of the Polo range. If there’s any justice in Volkswagen’s world, that is the one that should light up the sales charts.
New Volkswagen Polo Prices (in addition to the existing derivatives):
1.0 TSI 70 kW BlueMotion R235 800
1.4 TDI 55 kW Trendline R223 500
1.4 TDI 77 kW Highline R252 000
1.4 TDI 77 kW Cross R260 000
1.8 TSI GTI Manual R313 300