Drive Test – VW Polo 1.4 Trendline

The Polo we had for this road test was the cheapest in the range, the 1.4 Trendline. Now normally that would immediately set off alarm bells in the Drive office, a bottom of the range volume seller, but what this nuggety little 1400 does is quite remarkable actually.

Yes, it is a bottom of the range vehicle but it punches above its weight admirably, and on first inspection does so at a very aggressive price. On closer inspection however when considering several of the options we had installed the pricing goes from aggressive to fairly average, competitive but not a basement bargain. Still, the performance on offer from the Polo was more than expected.

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As the Polo falls into the relatively affordable volume seller bracket, it needs to achieve two goals out the blocks; it has to be well priced and fuel-efficient. Sure, there is so much more to judging a car but at the end of the day, in this segment that’s what really hits home. And in this regard the Polo scores laudably, particularly on fuel economy. Whilst consciously attempting to be frugal, it isn’t difficult to consistently return below the 6L/100km mark. What’s great about the Polo’s engine though is that even if you’re not concerned with saving fuel, it is still light on the fuel bill, pushing hard from every robot I still got economy hovering around the 7L/100km point.

The key you see is torque, not tiny engines, something that the worlds ecomentalists haven’t quite grasped. The strong motor means that it isn’t necessary to rev the motor to death to go anywhere, lower rpm means better economy, simple as that. With 132Nm of torque at 3200rpm the Polo has one of the meatiest motors in its class, sure its power of 63kW at 5000rpm isn’t that great compared to competitors but if fuel economy is of primary importance then this engine is exceptionally good.

That’s not to say that the Polo is just about economy, the performance of the car is actually very impressive, being quick enough off the line. The controls however are a bit too light all round for fast driving, the steering at times feeling somewhat numb. The handling is good, but sometimes the steering just isn’t that direct. This of course has been done to improve low speed; dreary commuting in traffic, and it does work. The light steering, even lighter clutch, responsive brakes and a gearbox that slips the cogs in and out in a docile manner makes for easy driving. Commuting then in the Polo is a breeze, especially when combined with the hallmark of VW’s German nature, their almost flawless build quality. The Polo is just a nice place to be in, or at least it is when considering the price bracket within which it falls, few cars in this segment are this comfortable to commute in.

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So the Polo confidently checks the efficiency and comfort boxes, but does it succeed in the aforementioned price department? The answer to that isn’t as cut and dry as the admirable fuel economy and build quality discussions. The base price is very well positioned at R144 900, and for a sub R150k car the Polo offers a quality level above its price. The problem is that a lot of the little things I took for granted and generally improved my opinion of the Polo were in fact rather pricey optional extras. With some quick arithmetic it turns out that our Polo was more like a R160k car, which it is worth but at that price the Polo is no longer a bargain. The price is competitive, just not a no-brainer.

And it’s not as if the options I’m talking about are gimmicks easily discarded either. Just shy of ten grand for air-con, another four grand for an mp3 radio/cd player and seven grand for a 60,000km service plan. Now you see what I mean, the options quickly add up.

Technically then the Polo is a well-engineered vehicle at a reasonable price for the performance and quality available, but that’s the objective story. Subjectively one needs to consider the styling and interior ambience. The new VW family styling is there in full force and whilst the rear isn’t that purposeful for me the front is sharp and works well. The inside also appealed. There was enough room for rear passengers and the boot could fit an adequate amount of shopping. The steering wheel and seats, the most visceral conduits for a driver to connect to a car, just felt good. Overall the Polo looks good and does so whilst offering a comfortable drive.

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To sum up the Polo in theory is a little difficult, whilst overall it impresses on all fronts, the options list keeps pulling at me. A reasonably specced Polo isn’t too expensive but it’s getting there. Still, the Polo’s price performance ratio is well intact. After all is said and done, when VW picked up the Polo I was sad to see it go, and that says a lot for a car in this segment, possibly all that needs to be said. There was over half a tank of fuel in its belly though, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Kyle Stone

Liked: Excellent fuel economy

VW build quality

A well-rounded, well-priced machine

Disliked: Pricey options

Light controls

Drive Stats: VW Polo 1.4 Trendline

Engine: Four-cylinder nat asp petrol

Capacity (cc): 1,398

Power (kW): 63 @ 5000rpm

Torque (Nm): 132 @3600rpm

Kerb weight (kg): 1049

Driven wheels: Front

Wheel/tyre dimensions: 175/70 R14

0-100km/h: 12.5s

Price: R147, 180.00 + options

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