18 October 2017 ~ 0 Comments

First drive: all-new 2017 Volkswagen Polo

With an all-new platform, the sixth-generation Polo marks the biggest change for the model since the switch from the second to third-generation car twenty-three years ago. The largest and most technologically advanced Polo ever, Rich Gooding finds that the car’s traditional strengths haven’t been forgotten

2017 Volkswagen Polo

Over 14 million Polos have been sold over the past 42 years, so the sixth-generation model is big news for Volkswagen. The second biggest-selling VW in the UK, the fifth-generation car has remained popular throughout its eight-year life with a staggering 4.2 million examples sold. The new model has a very tough act to follow, but with a state-of-the-art chassis, a raft of technical changes, and armed with a vibrant and contemporary colour palette, the latest version of VW’s small car has been equipped with some of the best tools for the job.

Longest and largest Polo yet
First things first. The latest SEAT Ibiza may have debuted it, but the sixth-generation Polo finally gets the Volkswagen Group’s Modular Transverse Matrix (‘MQB’) platform in its smallest ‘A0’ size. That means an increase in wheelbase by 94mm (now 2,564mm), while at just over four metres, the newest Polo is the longest and largest yet.

The new Polo has a very tough act to follow, but with a state-of-the-art chassis, a raft of technical changes, and armed with a vibrant and contemporary colour palette, the latest small Volkswagen has been equipped with the best tools for the job

Width is up by 69mm to 1,751mm, while wider 1,525m front and 1,505mm rear tracks give the new car a four-square stance. Arguably the most impressive figure is the increase in luggage space: now 351 litres, an amazing 25 per cent (70 litres) larger than before, and only 29 litres down on big brother Golf. Indeed, much has been made of the fact that the latest Polo is a big as the fourth-generation version of VW’s biggest-selling model.

The MQB platform brings many benefits – not least the technology, which we’ll come on to later – including an improved silhouette and a more dynamic look. In our eyes, there was little wrong with the neat looks of the outgoing car, and although the new model follows the well-trodden ‘evolution not revolution’ path, it does manage to look both refreshed and rejuvenated, as well as more youthful, which reflects Volkswagen’s new focus on style and technology to lure in younger buyers.

2017 Volkswagen Polo

Confident stance
We were fans of the broad ‘shoulders’ of the fifth-generation Polo, and on the new car they are even more defined. That’s thanks in part to Volkswagen’s new ‘Tornado’ line which starts on the front wing and extends the whole length of the car, finishing at the new tail lights. In profile, the new Polo’s overall look is similar to what went before, but shorter overhangs give the car a confident and more dynamic stance. It’s up front where perhaps the biggest changes occur.

The bonnet is more curved than on the fifth-generation Polo, and the four creases extend down to the bonnet ‘brow’, a body-coloured ‘extension’ which sits in-between the headlights spanning the front grille. We’re not quite sold on this feature yet, but like the way the chrome strip (red on the GTI) extends into the headlights. When optioned, this becomes the LED headlamp, also doubling as the turn signal – very clever and a high-class, ‘big car’ touch. At the rear, the tail lights are similar to before in overall shape, but sharper graphics ensure they are more distinctive under the cover of darkness.

Second generation of Active Info Display
Thanks to the MQB underpinnings, there are more ‘big car’ features, too. A whole suite of safety systems, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection and Front Assist monitoring systems. The new Polo also debuts the second generation of Volkswagen’s ‘Active Info Display’ colour digital instrument panel.

The 10.5-inch high-resolution 133dpi/1,280 x 480-pixel display really does look stunning and adds a luxurious touch to what is – despite the well-documented dimension increases – let’s not forget, still a small car. It can be configured in various views to prioritise driving information, navigation or assistance functions. Infotainment system data can also be displayed, and, although it’s not standard kit on lower-rung cars, it’s only a £325-£475 option on selected models. It’s a proper ‘big car’ option and a small car segment first.

2017 Volkswagen Polo Beats

Also impressive is the range of full-colour infotainment touchscreen systems which are arranged in the same horizontal sight line as the instrument panel. This sounds a very minor change, however, by grouping all the displays in a horizontal axis rather than a vertical one, it means the driver needs less time to view the required information.

This new arrangement really does make the world of difference. The glass-encased 8.0-inch touchscreens are angled towards the driver, too, and along with a similarly-skewed centre console which is more open on the driver’s side, there really is a feeling that Volkswagen has put the pilot first with the new car. It somehow feels cosier, even though the car is bigger than before.

A larger, more premium car feel also comes in the way the sixth-generation Polo is constructed. The outgoing car’s reputation for quality hasn’t been lost, and if anything, with the new gloss plastics and glass-covered systems, it actually feels even more upmarket.

The reflective surfaces really do look the business and along with a selection of eight dashpad colours, the Polo’s interior has rarely been more eye-catching. Arguably the last time the car’s cabin enjoyed such a sense of fun was when it belonged to the third-generation ‘6N2’ model of 1999-2001, with its dimpled Lupo-style dashboard and colourful door trims.

That’s echoed in the new fourteen-strong colour palette, too. While predictably, there are lots of monotonal shades – two blacks, two greys, two silvers, two whites – there is also a broad selection of more adventurous shades. The ‘Energetic Orange’ in particular proved popular on the press launch, while other colours such as ‘Pale Copper’ and ‘Flash Red’ ensure the new Polo stands out. While VW says ‘a Polo has never been this colourful’, we’d point it towards the ‘Jazz Blue’, ‘Evergreen’ and ‘Yellow’ shades of the 2001 Colour Concept models…

Trio of 1.0-litre engines
The order books opened for the UK on 3 October, and as suggested at the international launch, three 1.0-litre engines will initially power the sixth-generation of Volkswagen’s big-seller. A pair of naturally-aspirated units with outputs of 64 and 74bhp are joined by a 94bhp turbocharged 1.0 TSI. Later on there will be a 113bhp version of the small-capacity TSI engine, too, already seen in many Volkswagen Group models. Prices start at £13,855 ‘on the road’ in the UK.

We tried the turbocharged 94 and 113bhp TSIs on the streets of Hamburg, and have to say they suit the car very well. Punchy and quite immediate, there is little difference between both units in terms of acceleration. Volkswagen quotes 9.5 seconds from rest to 62mph for the 113bhp car and it certainly feels that spritely, the 94bhp unit lagging only 1.3 seconds behind.

2017 Volkswagen Polo

The 74bhp version meanwhile felt noticeably more sluggish, the naturally-aspirated engine lacking the zip of the turbocharged units. Performance figures bear this out, too, the lower-powered car taking 14.9 seconds to reach 62mph from a standing start. The five-speed manual gearbox has to be kept in the narrow power band to make decent progress, but that’s no chore, as all units – five-speed in new Polos up to 94bhp, six-speed in the 113bhp model – shift precisely, with an appealing mechanical feeling also enjoyed by the Up city car.

Refinement has been a Polo strength for over four decades now, and we’re pleased to report that the sixth-generation car continues the tradition. Although the lowest-powered car we tried sounded a little harsh under acceleration, all our pre-production cars were hushed once up to cruising speeds, and gave off a characteristic three-cylinder ‘thrum’ so common to engines of the breed.

2017 Volkswagen Polo Beats

A pair of new 1.6-litre 79 and 94bhp four-cylinder TDI diesels will arrive a little later in the first wave of ‘mainstream’ sixth-generation Polos, and will feature SCR catalytic converter technology to cut emissions. Not big sellers, Volkswagen UK expects only five per cent of all-new Polos to have diesel engines under their sharp bonnets.

Later on, a new 1.5-litre 147bhp ‘EVO’ version of Volkswagen’s active cylinder technology (ACT) petrol unit will be available, having already seen service under the bonnet of the recently revised seventh-generation Golf. Only on offer in sporty R-Line trim and in conjunction with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox, the engine shuts down two of its four cylinders for increased efficiency as well as reduced emissions. That’s a trick learned from the 2012 Polo BlueGT.

An updated GTI sits atop the new Polo range, powered by a 197bhp 2.0-litre TSI engine. Good for 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds, the latest Polo GTI will arrive with a six-speed DSG gearbox, with a six-speed manual option to follow later in 2018. In a perhaps surprising move, UK buyers can also choose an enhanced-specification GTI+ derivative, with more kit and technology options.

2017 Volkswagen Polo

Mature demeanour
To drive, the new Polo steers precisely and accurately, and can be placed on the road very easily. Full driving impressions may have to wait until we spend more time with the car in the UK, but on this first acquaintance the sixth-generation model feels usefully more agile than the outgoing Polo. Its new wider tracks and longer wheelbase makes it feel very surefooted, and, as you’d expect from a more mature demeanour, very comfortable, too.

Many of the launch-specification cars featured adaptive damping, though, which, along with smoothly surfaced German roads, may have painted too pretty a picture. While the all-pervading feeling is one of comfort, we’ll re-evaluate when we try the car in the UK. But, just as before – and even more so this time – the Polo is both adept and accomplished in urban areas as well as the open road.

Colourful personality
Overall, the all-new Polo is everything it was expected to be. Well-built from quality materials, clearly and evolutionarily-styled, heavily focused on safety, and a more refined drive than ever before. It’s also some things we perhaps hadn’t expected it to be – laden with technology for younger drivers as well as possessing of a much more colourful personality.

The new Polo will challenge the new SEAT Ibiza and Ford Fiesta for class-best leadership, and will doubtless continue the four-plus decades of success enjoyed by its predecessors. It should remain a best-seller both in the UK and Europe, too. On this preliminary outing, with added refinement, safety, style, and technology, the new Polo is as consummate a small car all-rounder as it’s ever been. Order books are open now with first UK deliveries expected in January 2018.

2017 VOLKSWAGEN POLO BEATS 1.0 TSI

Price: £16,980
Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: five-speed manual
Power/torque: 94bhp/129lb ft/175Nm @ 2,000-3,500rpm
0-62mph: 10.8 seconds
Top speed: 116mph
Economy (combined cycle): 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 103g/km
Weight: 1,680kg
On sale: now (selected models)

FURTHER INFORMATION
For full specification and pricing details for the new sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo, visit www.volkswagen.co.uk

2017 Volkswagen Polo

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