By Lee Nian Tjoe
Let's cut to the chase: Volkswagen is launching its Polo this weekend at $63,300 (with COE).
That is quite a bit cheaper than the usual European suspects, notably the Peugeot 207 and Renault Clio. It even compares favourably with the Japanese offerings.
If Volkswagen had cut corners to keep its price low, it does not show.
The styling is smart albeit in a boxy kind of way. The cabin is well-appointed and at least as well-built as the more expensive Golf. Details such as the matte silver accents jazz up an otherwise conservative design.
While the car is physically smaller than the 207 and Clio, it feels spacious inside, thanks to the upright body and generous use of glass. It certainly seems capable of living up to its claim that it has "space for up to five people".
Also, the Polo's rear bench folds flat to expand boot space from 280 to 952 litres. The flat floor and low loading make it (almost) ready to swallow a Fisher & Paykel fridge whole.
A 105bhp turbocharged 1.2-litre engine will be offered by the third quarter of next year. For now, it is available only with a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated engine.
The engine's 85bhp output is not much when matched against the Clio's 1.6 litre or even the basic 207's 1.4 litre. In fact, the 1.3-litre Honda Jazz boasts 100bhp.
But the VW's free-revving nature more than compensates for its small engine output. Certainly, the dual-clutch transmission (VW calls it DSG) that it works with helps a lot to make the "horses" feel more substantial.
There are no steering-mounted paddles to fiddle with (finally, evidence of cost-cutting) but you can still shift manually with the gear lever. Besides being impeccably smooth, the DSG is alert and quick enough to always deploy the best gear ratio for the situation.
|VOLKSWAGEN POLO 1.4
|Price: $63,300 with COE
Engine: 1,390cc 16-valve inline-4
Power: 85bhp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 132Nm at 3,800rpm
Gearbox: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
0-100kmh: 11.9 seconds
Top speed: 177kmh
Fuel consumption: 5.8 litres/100km (combined)
Agent: Volkswagen Singapore
Volkswagen considers the 7-speed DSG the Polo's piece de resistance and it is certainly a unique selling proposition. The car is not only alone in its class with this new-fangled technology but the next cheapest car to offer this also costs many thousands more.
The engine-gearbox pairing is also a highly economical one. The car claims to sip 5.8 litres every 100km on the combined cycle. There isn't a digital read-out in the dash to verify the claim (another cost-cutting measure, for sure) but it took more than 300km of vigorous mileage to move the fuel gauge halfway across the dial, which is not bad from a 45-litre tank.
The biggest draw about the Polo - tempting price tag and low fuel consumption aside - is its manners. Almost refined to a fault, the car is extremely quiet on cruise.
It is very settled, too, even when trucks bulldoze by. It is as if the car really believes that it is a limousine, and when was the last time a limo went for $63,300?
The writer is the editor of Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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