TALK about a car's reputation preceding it.
Volkswagen's new Polo seems to have won just about every car award possible these past few months, with it recently adding the coveted 2010 Wheels Car of the Year title to its 2010 Drive Car of the Year and 2010 World Car of the Year triumphs.
The new Polo range in Australia includes four different variants: the 63kW Trendline with 1.4-litre petrol, 77kW 77TSI Comfortline with turbocharged 1.2-litre, 66kW 66TDI Comfortline with 1.6-litre turbo-diesel and the ballistic 132kW GTI with a 1.4-litre twin-turbo engine.
Leaving the hot hatch GTI aside, the top-of-the-range model is the five-door 66TDI Comfortline which I tested. Mine weighed in at a significant $29,980 drive away thanks to the $2500 extra for its DSG seven-speed automatic and $770 additional for its fancy touch-screen audio package.
This near-$30,000 tag shouldn't scare you away, however, as you can get into the Polo for a lot less: the base Trendline petrol model is available for closer to the $20,000 mark drive away. And as I discovered, the all-round excellence of these Polos makes that a very competitive price point indeed.
They're striking looking cars, too, that will appeal to both sexes in a lot of age groups. It's the sort of car mum may own but teenage kids would be proud to borrow to impress their friends.
On the road
In short, the new Polo is superb. I spent just a weekend with my bright yellow TDI and I discovered it did most things very well, and a fair few things brilliantly.
Comfortable, dynamic, great fun to drive and all while supping away gently at its diesel reserve to return figures of under five litres per 100km. I managed 4.9l/100km over my two days behind the wheel, and that included some heavy-footed driving in the Blackall Ranges, so for it to come in close to VW's 4.6 litres/100km claim was a pleasant surprise.
The turbo-diesel's 66kW power figure in this TDI isn't much to write home about, but its 230Nm of twist gives it a very zippy feel, with low down shove particularly impressive.
I'd sampled VW's intelligent DSG dual-clutch automatic previously in the Golf range and it was just as good as I remember here. As much as I have a preference for manuals, when the auto cog-swapper is this advanced it more than justifies its $2500 additional price tag.
It was almost telepathic in its gear selection, meaning it never went searching for the right gear when I applied a bit more power after braking or when coming out of twists and turns. Drop the selector into Sport mode and it holds the revs a bit longer in each gear, helping to unleash the car's more playful side.
Speaking of which, the car's dynamics will appeal to keen drivers. What this diesel Polo lacks in outright performance it more than makes up for with excellent handling, great turn-in response and minimal body roll; it really is great fun to throw around a bit and it never loses its impressive Germanic poise.
The 66TDI Polo may take more than 10 seconds to crack 100kmh, but reaching it always feels effortless and impressively stress-free for a small car. At highway cruising speeds the revs barely touched 2000rpm, giving me the impression I was piloting a much larger and grander car.
Around town it couldn't quite hide its diesel heart with a bit of mechanical clatter, but that aside, it proved to be as talented in the city as it was on the open road.
Class leading interior? You've got it. Matched against a Ford Fiesta, Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris, the Polo's interior is in a different league. It looks and feels very well built, and there's a distinct air of quality throughout.
The Polo has an appreciated lack of the now ubiquitous hard plastics found in the small car segment, while the steering wheel, gear shifter and my upgraded audio package were the measure of many pricier German offerings.
Seating is hard but supportive, while four adults can travel in comfort with decent rear leg and head room. It's a very spacious-feeling interior with a reasonable boot, false floor and appreciated full-size spare wheel. The rear seats can be dropped flat in literally 10 seconds, offering 952-litres of cargo space.
Spec and safety are as you'd expect from VW, with cruise control, trip computer, CD/MP3 with auxiliary input, stability control, hill start assist and six airbags.
You don't win the awards the Polo has without being something special, and so this TDI proved. From a personal perspective my test car at nearly $30,000 on the road puts it almost into Audi A1 and Mini Cooper D territory, which is very stiff competition.
The Polo range offers something for everyone, however, and if I were to choose a Polo at close to $30,000 I'd pick the 132kW GTI for similar money to this high-spec 66TDI, stomach the extra fuel consumption and regularly seek out my favourite country road.
This little car deserves its burgeoning trophy cabinet.
Model: Volkswagen Polo 66TDI Comfortline.
Details: Premium five-door front-wheel drive hatchback.
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 66kW @ 4200rpm and peak torque of 230Nm @ 1750-2500rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 11.5 seconds.
Consumption: 4.6 litres/100km.
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