Series 2 Polo: 1981-1994

A month after Series 1 Polo production ended, the Series 2 was launched. Volkswagen had given the new car a completely different look, the new hatchback model resembling a small estate car. Commonly referred to as a ‘squareback’, the new Polo was introduced into the UK as a three-tier range.

1982 Volkswagen Polo
Squareback: based on Series 1 mechanicals, the Polo was radically redesigned for 1982, the new generation hatchback resembling a two-door estate car

Starting with the basic-spec C, rising through the mid-range CL and topping off with the plush GL, the new family of small cars promised the same impressive levels of refinement and quality as their predecessors. The 895cc 40bhp engine of the earlier generation had been developed into a 1043cc unit with an increased output of 45bhp. This powered the C, while the CL and GL had the 1093cc engine carried over from the Series 1.

1982 Volkswagen Polo interior
Plush: Series 2 Polo had a more up-to-date interior – with GL models featuring bold check upholstery – and matching coloured dashboard depending on trim

1983 Volkswagen Polo engine
More power: Series 2 Polo’s revised engines were up on power over the Series 1’s units across the range. Every left-hand drive Series 2 had a brake servo

VW also chose to expand on the Formel E fuel economy system first introduced on the run-out Series 1 Polo LX. Powered by the 1093cc high-compression engine, it needed an exclusive diet of four-star petrol to develop its 49bhp and had a wide-ratio 3+E gearbox and fuel consumption indicator. At the UK launch the C model cost £3,799.

Complimentary models
The Polo family grew larger in 1983 with the addition of two new models. The Polo Classic was launched first and was a Series 2 Derby equivalent (it was even called Derby in its home market on its launch in the autumn of 1982). The range mirrored that of the Polo hatchback, but C and CL models were powered by the 1093cc engine. The GL was powered by the 60bhp unit from the outgoing Derby GLS.

1983 Volkswagen Derby
The same but different: Derby/Polo Classic arrived in 1982, and boasted an enormous boot, square headlamps, but no lower-capacity 1043cc 40bhp engine

The car had a different face to the hatchback too, with two square headlamps, replacing the circular units, giving it as Volkswagen stated at the time, ‘more striking styling an an air of greater self-confidence.’ The Formel E had a rear boot spoiler – as did the hatchback equivalent – while GL versions of both the hatchback and saloon boasted headlight washers, twin-tone horn and internally adjustable door mirrors. Prices for the Classic stated at £3,975 for the C, rising to £4,798 for the GL.

1983 Polo Coupe
Rakish: was the Polo coupé a solution for would-be buyers put off by the hatchback’s angular redesign? A three-door hatch, design echoed Series 1 Polo’s

Following on from the Classic’s launch, the Polo coupé was released a few months later. Its fastback styling was more of a progression from the Series 1’s and although not a proper coupé, it was thus labelled, as Volkswagen had already used the ‘hatchback’ designation for the regular square-backed model.

1983 Volkswagen Polo coupe interior
Sporty: interior traded on big brother Golf GTI’s and featured dark trim with red accents, centre console, thicker-rimmed steering wheel and door pockets

Initially available with the 1093cc engine, only one model was available, the ‘Coupé’. It featured many sporty additions such as wheel-arch extensions borrowed from the larger Golf GTI, sporting seat trim, rear window spoiler, rev-counter, ‘sports’ wheel trim centres and low-profile 165/65 13 tyres on steel pressed rims. Celebrations marked the production of the 1,000,000th Polo.

Model revisions
Model revisions first took place in 1984. The Classic CL and GL had a new 1272cc, 54bhp engine fitted, which also found new service in the Polo Coupé, replacing the previous 1093cc model. The Polo Coupé now cost £5,070.

The Polo hatchback range was to expand still, with the addition of the ‘Standard’ model. Named simply ‘Polo’, this new base-model car was to be found lacking the twin door mirrors, head restraints, luggage cover and additional items of extra equipment of the C. With the addition of the new no-frills car, the range now started at £3,695.

Finally for 1984, the mainstream hatchback and classic Formel E models now had the 1272cc 54bhp engine and an automatic stop-start system fitted. This stopped the cars when the gearbox was in neutral, restarting when first or reverse was selected. Revised trim included flush-fitting quarter-light windows for extra fuel economy!

Upgraded specification
Model changes for 1985 included the upgrading of the C specification of the Polo hatchback. It now gained the wraparound rear window spoiler of the Formel E, black-trimmed door pillars, ‘Glencheck’ upholstery, cigarette lighter and GL instrument panel featuring an analogue clock and trip mileage recorder.

The Polo Classic was renamed the Polo Saloon (the Derby tag having been dropped in Germany) and now gained the circular headlamps of the hatchback and coupé.

1985 Volkswagen Polo Saloon CL
It’s all in the name: the Polo Classic was renamed the Polo Saloon in 1985 and gained the round headlamps shared with its hatchback and coupé sisters

The mainstream coupé range was also realigned. The Polo ‘Coupé’ was renamed the S. Upgraded specification now included sports seats, twin-headlight grille (fitted with either driving lights or fog lamps), digital clock and a three-spoke sports steering wheel. Launch price was £5,654. A new lower-powered model was announced: the 1043cc 40bhp Polo ‘Coupé’ had a specification which mirrored that of the Polo C hatchback.

Overhauled engines
For 1986, the 1043cc and 1272cc engines were overhauled and now included new valvegear and a five-bearing camshaft, hydraulic tappets and an automatic choke. The 1043cc unit was fitted into the Polo C hatchback, the C saloon and the Fox coupé; the new trim which superseded the Polo ‘Coupe’.

1986 Volkswagen Polo engine
Overhauled: modern technology came to the Series 2 Polo engines in 1985 with a new five-bearing camshaft, hydraulic tappets and an automatic choke

This new base-model coupé featured colour-keyed wheel trims, special ‘Fox’ decals, special upholstery and contrasting bumper piping. A new 4+E gearbox was now standard on the Polo Formel E models as was the addition of a standard radio. This gearbox was available as an option on the Coupé S, while the Polo GL hatchback now had the 1272cc engine, 155/70 SR 13 tyres and full-size flush wheel trims.

Elsewhere, the Polo Saloon GL was dropped from the range, while in Germany Volkswagen experimented with the Polo Coupé GTG40. This car featured the 1272cc 55bhp engine fitted with a supercharger and fuel injection, pushing the output to 115bhp. Special models of this car set several world speed records for their class, averaging 129mph over 24 hours. This wasn’t the only event Volkswagen was celebrating; 2,000,000 Polos had now been produced.

Minimal changes
Changes to the Polo ranges were minimal for 1987. The previously special edition Polo Ranger gained alloy wheels and became the range-topping hatchback model priced at £5,979; the Polo CL hatchback and saloon were fitted with the 1272cc engine; the GL hatchback was dropped from the range, while the Coupé S now had the new 4+E gearbox fitted as standard. VW also dropped the Formel E versions from all of its model ranges.

1988 Volkswagen Polo Ranger
Range-topper: special edition Polo Ranger moved up to the top of the Polo hatchback tree in 1987 and gained ‘Zolder’ alloy wheels in the move upmarket

1988 was a quiet year for the now seven year-old Series 2. All four-speed versions of the CL hatchback, C saloon and coupé were dropped. Minor trim changes also followed. Prices now started at £4,929 for the Polo ‘Standard’ rising to £6,980 for the Coupé S, which now had ‘Hockenheim’ alloy wheels as standard, while the Ranger also had alloys fitted as standard, these being the earlier design previously offered on the CX.

The last full year of pre-facelifted Series 2 Polo production was 1989. All models gained tinted glass, while the Fox name was introduced on the entry-level Polo hatchback. Trimmed as the coupé version, it replaced the Polo ‘Standard’.

Mould-breaking move
Production of the pre-facelifted Series 2 Polo range was to end in September 1990, so range revisions were the order of the day. In an inspired and mould-breaking move, Volkswagen introduced the Polo Catalyst range. All Polo 1043cc models were fitted with a three-way Euro catalytic converter, which cut emissions from the engine. Trim was as the C-spec cars.

In March 1990, VW Motoring magazine published first details and an artist’s impression of what the ‘new Polo’ was to look like. It was to appear only seven months later.

Appearing at the Birmingham NEC Motor Show, the facelifted Series 2 (2F) Polo was launched in October 1990. Looking similar to the cars the new ranges replaced, the models had undergone major re-engineering. Although it was essentially a facelift of the outgoing Series 2 and not quite the ‘new Polo’ as Volkswagen claimed, chassis, suspension, exterior and interior changes marked the coming of the new model.

1990 Volkswagen Polo range
Major re-engineering: ‘new’ Polo 2F was a comprehensively facelifted Series 2. New-to-UK flavours included the GT (red coupé) and the G40 (black coupé)

Launched in the three popular Series 2 variants – hatchback, saloon and coupé – all models now had integrated, square headlamps, deeper remodelled plastic bumpers and chunkier rear end styling. The interior boasted a new, Passat-style dashboard (which was much more in keeping with the ‘grown-up’ image), new trims and fabrics and full-size door cards that left no bare metal on display.

1990 Volkswagen Polo CL interior
Grown-up: new Series Polo 2F interior styled similar to the much larger Passat’s, giving the range a more mature and modern look with better quality

The engine options were carried over from the previous range, but all variants now had fuel-injection and catalytic converters – a first for the UK small-car market.

Answering criticism
The range started with the 1043cc Polo Fox hatchback/coupé and topped off with the Polo hatchback/coupé GT boasting a 1272cc 75 bhp engine. All of the new models also gained servo-assisted brakes answering criticism over the previous generation models. The hatchback and coupé models were also priced identically trim-for-trim, the first time in the two bodystyle’s history.

The £6,500 Polo Fox started the range, available in hatchback and coupé forms fitted with the 1043cc 45bhp engine with Monomotronic single-point fuel injection and four-speed gearbox. A three-spoke steering wheel was standard issue along with what must be the most garish interior trim Volkswagen has ever produced – a combination of cerise, mint green and grey striping covering the door panels and seats!

The CL was the next rung up the Polo ladder and, again, was available as a hatchback or coupé. In addition to these, the saloon was also available – its sole trim level. Engine options were once again the venerable 1043cc and 1272cc units, producing 45 and 55bhp respectively, the higher output units being fitted with Digijet fuel injection.

1990 Volkswagen Polo CL hatchback
Mid-range: just as before, the Polo CL remained a mainstay of the range, with the more basic Fox below it and the higher-specification GT and G40 above

Additional exterior items over the Fox included rubbing strips and full-size wheel trims, designed to look like alloy wheels. Interior embellishments included a centre console, cigarette lighter, trip mileage recorder and a vanity mirror on the passenger sun visor. A five-speed gearbox was available as an option.

The range-topping Polo was the GT. Available in hatchback and coupé, this was the ‘sports’ model of the range. Powered by a 75bhp version of the 1272cc unit, and more of a warm hatchback than a hot one, the GT could reach 107mph and featured a five-speed gearbox as standard.

1990 Volkswagen Polo GT hatchback
Spritely: Polo GT was a first for the UK market, even though previous incarnations had been available on the Continent; 75bhp, 0-60mph in 10.9 seconds

Perky performance
The smooth and spritely engine owed its perky performance to Digifant multi-point fuel-injection as used on the Series 2 Golf GTI. Featuring many sporting accents as standard such as red piping in the bumpers, wheel arch extensions, rev-counter, sports seats, low-profile tyres (155/70 on the hatchback and 165/65 on coupé), wheel trims with black centres, black ‘VW’ badging, ‘GT’ grille badge, driver’s seat height adjustment and a three-spoke sports steering wheel, the new range-topper followed in the tyre tracks of the continental-only Series 2 GT, and was the UK’s sportiest Polo yet.

This all changed in July 1991. The Polo G40 was introduced and immediately charged into the hot hatch arena. Powered by the same 1272cc engine as in the Polo GT but with the addition of a small supercharger, power was upped from 75 to 113bhp. The car was a later version of the model produced in the mid-eighties and introduced into the continental Series 2 range as a limited production run.

1991 Volkswagen Polo G40
Supoercharged: 1.3-litre, 112bhp Polo G40 could keep up with the exhaust pipes of a Series 2 Golf GTI, but unfortunately almost cost as much as one, too

Acceleration was a claimed 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds, with top speed a useful 13mph over the GT. Mechanical differences over its lesser-powered siblings included 65 per cent harder front springs, 25mm lowered suspension and balljoints replacing the standard rubber bushings on the trackrods and wishbones. The front anti-roll bar also had 20 per cent harder mountings while the addition of a rear anti-roll bar added stability. Rolling stock was 5.5J X 13 BBS ‘cross-spoke’ alloy wheels wrapped in 175/60 13 tyres.

Cosmetic additions over the GT included a roof-mounted Golf GTI-style ‘bee sting’ aerial and special badging, wwhile interior refinements included different sports seats trimmed in ‘Le Mans’ cloth. Priced at £11,568 the G40 was not an especially cheap car, and was only a few hundred pounds less than the then run-out Series 2 Golf GTI. May 1991 saw another production milestone when the 3,000,000th Polo (a white GT with recycled plastic bumpers) rolled off the production lines.

1992 Volkswagen Polo G40 coupe racer
Charging around: one-make, ten-round, centrally-run Volkswagen Polo G40 Cup inaugurated in 1992 (Picture: Volkswagen Car and Driver magazine)

The range was to stay unchanged until September 1991. Model revisions for 1992 saw the Fox gain a passenger sun visor, while this and the 1043cc CL now had internally-adjustable door mirrors (the CL also getting a driver’s seat height adjuster). Further up the range, the G40 had clear front indicators and partially darkened rear light clusters fitted to differentiate it from models further down the ladder.

In March 1992 Volkswagen announced a ten-round racing series featuring the Polo G40. Named the ‘Volkswagen Polo G40 Cup’ it was to run for three seasons. But perhaps the most significant change for 1992 was that the saloon was dropped from production. Never finding as many homes as the hatchback or coupé variants, Britain was one of the last markets to continue selling the slow-selling notchback. The GT hatchback was also discontinued.

1992 Volkswagen Polo Saloon CL
Slow-seller: notchback Polo Saloon discontinued from the range in 1992, not to return until four years later. Britain was one of the car’s best markets

Refined and mature
The final full year Series 3 production saw new upholstery for the CL and GT (‘Rainbow’ and ‘Triangle’ respectively) and the addition of side impact beams mounted in the doors for all models in the range offering greater side-impact protection. Signalling the end was close, the G40 was made special order only.

The Series 2F Polo was last produced in 1994, the much refined and mature Series 3 presented to the press in August of that year. The range was trimmed considerably, with the Genesis hatchback disappearing, leaving only Fox, Boulevard and CL versions. There was no change to coupé variants.

The last Series 2F Polos rolled off the Spanish production lines at Pamplona (where the model has been manufactured since 1985) in August 1994.

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