Following the recent facelift and downsizing of the mainstream petrol-powered Polo hatchbacks, Volkswagen has now expanded this range with the addition of three new 3-cylinder derivatives. And while they were at it, they tweaked the GTI a bit as well. Let’s look at the new arrivals, starting from the bottom of the range:

Polo 1.0 TSI BlueMotion
The most interesting of the new Polos comes in at the lower end of the model range. While the previous Polo BlueMotion used a small (and rather gutless) diesel engine, the new version changes to perky petrol power but keeps the same aerodynamic add-ons as before. The high-efficiency Polo sees the introduction of the same turbo-charged 1.0-litre 3-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual gearbox as was recently launched in the Audi A1 1.0 TFSI. This engine delivers 70 kW and 160 Nm, and proves that low consumption need not mean a dreary driving experience.

New Polo BlueMotion_006

The improvement in fuel efficiency (compared to the entry-level 1.2 TSI variant) is quite startling, with the official average consumption dropping from 4.9 ℓ/100 km to a mere 4.2 ℓ/100 km, but even so, it’s slightly quicker: the 0-100 km/h sprint time drops from 10.8 to 10.5 seconds while its top speed increases to 191 km/h (up from 185).

This is what modern-day efficiency is all about: reduced consumption shouldn’t come at the expense of performance. And at a price that’s barely R10 000 more than the equivalently-specced 1.2 TSI, the smallest-engined Polo has a lot going for it – this is a characterful, frugal little engine with a wide power band and crisp throttle response. What’s not to like?

New Polo GTI _005

Polo 1.4 TDI
The wand of downsizing has hit the turbo-diesel Polo as well. It’s goodbye to the old 1.6-litre 4-cylinder and hello to a new 1.4-litre triple available in two flavours. The lower-powered (Trendline) Polo TDI uses a detuned version of the new 3-cylinder diesel which produces 55 kW and 210 Nm, and marks a new, cost-effective entry point into the world of TDI efficiency.

The higher output 1.4 TDI (available in both Highline or Cross trim) delivers 77 kW and 250 Nm, identical numbers to its 1.6-litre predecessor, but uses ever so slightly less fuel than before: its official average figure is now down to 4.1 ℓ/100 km. Both engine versions drive through a 5-speed manual gearbox, with no automatic option.

Which is all good and well on paper, but on the road, there’s a little problem with the new TDI: while it has ample pulling power once it’s up to speed, the little triple suffers from significant turbo lag – especially in oxygen-starved Gauteng. The quoted peak torque value arrives at 1500 r/min, but in reality there’s very little action available before the rev counter reaches the 2000 r/min mark. Then again, the Polo TDI isn’t exactly a performance car, and its relaxed demeanour on the open road amply makes up for the lethargic way it ambles away from a stop sign.

New Polo GTI_011

Polo GTI Manual
Enough about sensibility and parsimonious drinking habits: at the other side of the Polo range lives the hot-shoe GTI. Up till now, the current Polo generation has only offered a 7-speed DSG automatic version of its range-topper, and it’s very good indeed. But some enthusiasts have been crying for a manual gearbox – presumably to give them more control on a race track, or maybe to paint lines of smouldering rubber at the traffic lights. Volkswagen has now listened to their cries for more involvement, and added a 6-speed manual gearbox to the mix.

The three-pedal GTI uses same the excellent 1.8-litre TSI engine as its self-shifting counterpart, but because the manual transmission is a bit sturdier than the twin-clutch auto, they’ve added 70 Nm to the total torque output. Peak power remains at 141 kW, but the torque bump takes the total twist up to 320 Nm.

New Polo TDI_003

Strangely, the quoted acceleration figures and maximum speed of the two Polo GTIs are identical (7.6 seconds to 100 km/h and 236 km/h) – presumably because the DSG slips through its gears so quickly and efficiently that the torque difference is negated, while the manual gearbox actually increases the official fuel consumption figure from 5.6 to 6.0 ℓ/100 km. But even though the performance difference is negligible, it’s nice to change your own gears in a hot Polo again. And it’s a nifty R15 500 less expensive with a clutch pedal – enough to pay for that panoramic sunroof, or maybe a sound system upgrade…

Martin Pretorius

Volkswagen Polo range prices (in addition to the current 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