Words: Isaac Atienza and James Tagle
Photos: Isaac Atienza
Small Car Size, Big Car Driving Experience
Most non-car enthusiasts are swayed towards a car through two things. Either through its styling, or its reputation. In the Philippines, most non-car enthusiasts would pick Toyota because of its reliability reputation, and often would they only stray away from Toyota if another manufacturer made something more stylish, but not often do they buy a car because of how it drives. That’s the harsh reality. It’s only mostly car enthusiasts that care how fun a car drives, and that’s why to a lot of people, the Volkswagen Polo would just be another subcompact hatch competing for you cash. Read our review to find out why you should consider the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 MPI as your first car rather than having another Asian branded subcompact hatch.
The Volkswagen Polo looks straightforward. It has no gimmicks, nor any drama. In short, it’s a design that borders to boring, but in Volkswagen’s case, this is not the kind of boring that makes you yawn. It’s the kind of boring that looks elegant and classy. No line is out of place, and the car looks cohesive front to back. What Germans do best is a car design that ages well due to its conservative styling, and this Polo, considering it has just undergone a facelift a year ago, is actually a 7-year old design already. The headlights are united by Volkswagen’s trademark horizontal grille, and a character line runs cleanly from the headlights all the way to the tail lights. We say cleanly as we’re emphasizing the fact that there are no lines that look out of place in this car. It’s not trying hard to be stylish, and we like that. If anything, it’s that unsightly wheel gap that gives the Polo as less imposing stance. This is due to our Polo having a higher ground clearance as this is sourced from India.
Just like the exterior, the interior is nothing to write home about. It won’t win any design awards, but it’s well built in a teutonic kind of way, despite it being sourced from India. The Polo has a well built and well laid out interior with a solid door thud that is only typically found in a Volkswagen. The materials are not the soft touch variety found in all other Volkswagens and including the Polo in European markets, but it’s nicely textured that it doesn’t feel scratchy, hollow, and cheap like a Fisher Price toy, just like you’d find in some Asian cars at this price point. The rest of the interior feels ergonomically laid out, typical to the German brand, and plenty of thought has been placed in small things like the door pockets, glove box, and other details in the interior. Thanks to its expansive glass area, the Polo has great outward visibility, too.
Space and Practicality
The Volkswagen Polo competes in a segment wherein its interior packaging plays a significant role in how a subcompact car is considered good, and in this regard, the Polo sort of delivers. We say sort of because up front, there’s plenty of space for both the driver and passenger. The driver’s seat, in particular, has a large range of adjustments, and the steering tilts and telescopes, enabling Isaac and James to able to drive the car comfortably. The rear seats are a different story, more on that later.
There’s plenty of storage nooks and crannies around the well thought interior. The glove box is positively large, and the door bins can store a large sized bottle. With the rear seats up, the Polo has 280 liters, and with the back seats folded in a 60/40 split fashion, the space expands to 952 liters, which is just about average in this class. The trunk lip is small, making it easy to load items into the trunk, but the rear seats don’t lie completely flat. In terms of overall interior packaging, the Honda Jazz has nothing to worry about, as it’s still the king of interior space in the class.
Features, Safety, and Infotainment
The Volkswagen Polo comes decently equipped. One thing we like about the European brands is that, one touch up and down windows are equipped on all 4 windows as standard even in a car like the Polo, whereas in Asian brands, it’s only in cars costing north of P1.5 million only have the aforementioned windows. Manual levelling halogen headlights, front and rear foglights, are features that are typical in European cars, but not in Asian cars.
Highlighting the center stack inside the Polo is its RCD 320 infotainment system with Bluetooth telephone and audio. It is not a touch screen, unlike almost all of its competitors. The sound system does sound great, probably the best in the class, whereas competitors have a sound system that’s about as good as a mall’s paging system. The RCD 320 infotainment system is easy to use apart from the Bluetooth connection, which is hard to decipher and figure out.
The Volkswagen Polo is equipped with dual SRS airbags, rear parking sensors, and ABS with EBD. Normally, we give negative points to cars still without any from of stability control as standard, but the Polo is easily forgiven from this omission due to its standard ISOFIX child seat rear anchor points, which is also still a rarity in this class of cars, and in Philippine market cars in general. We still wish stability control is standard nevertheless.
The Volkswagen Polo 1.6 MPI is powered by an inline-4 petrol engine that produces 105 hp @ 5,250 rpm and 153 Nm of torque @ 3,750 rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a standard 6-speed automatic transmission.
How It Drives
Having already driven the excellent Volkswagen Golf GTI hot hatch, we had high expectations on how the Volkswagen Polo would handle, and we’re happy to report that it even went well beyond out expectations. Underpinning the Volkswagen Polo is the PQ25 platform, the same one that underpins its upmarket sister, the Audi A1. What it lacks in certain areas in interior space, it makes up for it significantly in the driving dynamics department. We were surprised on how genuinely stable the Volkswagen Polo felt, even past 120 kph. Some cars in this class feel notoriously nervous past these speeds due to having the levels of refinement that’s comparable to a tin can, and yet the Polo manages to feel like a compact sedan. Wind and road noise is well suppressed, easily making the Volkswagen Polo the most refined car in this class.
Power delivery on paper looks weak, especially when compared to the Honda City/Jazz and Ford Fiesta, but the engine and transmission combo combines to become a great team. The transmission is responsive, almost telepathic to your inputs. Its gas pedal has long travel though, and one might initially think that the Polo feels sluggish, but once adjusted for to the long traveling gas pedal, the Polo is quick enough. Vibrations do permeate through the gas pedal under hard acceleration however. With the 6-speed automatic’s tiptronic manual mode, you have genuine manual override through all six gears, enabling you to have some fun. Amazingly, unlike most of its competitors whose powertrains start to puff at high speeds, the Polo can easily get past 120 kph without a synch. Ditto to the 1.6 liter engine that sounds great at high revs. With its playful transmission and willing 1.6 liter petrol engine, the Volkswagen Polo is a small car that drives like a big car. This is easily the best subcompact for long distance driving.
Out in the bends, the Polo has stability and rigidity that only a Volkswagen could offer. With its high ground clearance and skinny Apollo tires, the Polo does lean a bit through corners, and can run out of grip easily, but it does make up for its predictable, fun and stable handling, as its rigid body doesn’t shake or rattle when going through bumps or hard cornering. It’s aided by an electronic power steering system that provides good weighting, decent feel, and accurate response. It feels great in the hands, too, as it is leather wrapped and is quite large for this class of cars. Ditto to its flat bottom design. While it’s still not the most fun in its class, with the title still held by the Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta, the Polo feels genuinely teutonic, giving a good balance between stable ride and handling, with the ride generally being plush except when large bumps hit it, sending an unfiltered thunk inside the cabin.
A penalty to its refinement and stability, however, is fuel economy. It is decent, rather than class leading. 15 km/l is the best we could do in a wide stretch of clear road. On average, fuel economy ranges from 9 to 10.7 km/l, an average if not thirsty for the class, as the Honda Jazz and City easily does 13 km/l average.
On The Downside
Let’s get back into topic about those backseats (pun intended). The back seats are a snug fit for adults. Headroom is okay, if not generous, and with that huge hump in the middle seat, it’s practically useless for people as tall as Isaac and James. With the driver’s seat in Isaac’s position, an adult could still fit in the back, but with James in the driver’s seat, the back seat becomes useless for tall adults. Realistically, 4 large adults could fit inside the Polo, with a child in the middle. Kudos to the aforementioned ISOFIX child seat anchors in the two outer rear seats though.
The Volkswagen Polo is a good choice in the subcompact segment. For those who will regularly carry adults in the back seats should look for the Honda Jazz instead, thanks to its bento box-like packaging that enables it to have plenty of space in such a small footprint, but if that’s not the case, the Volkswagen Polo is a great first car, and a great first German car. We at Go Flat Out wants to see more variety other than the traditional Asian choices, and we have always hoped for a non-luxury European car brand to reach mainstream status here in the Philippines. Perhaps Volkswagen is one the way to be the first to successfully achieve that, thanks to the Polo, and more especially, the Jetta compact sedan, having sold a lot already at this point. Volkswagens in the Philippines were notorious for being overpriced, but that’s not the case with most of Volkswagen’s new products lately. This Polo is priced competitively with its Asian rivals, costing P858,000, with the sedan costing even lower at P850,000. While the Polo is not the most spacious, it is one of the best subcompact cars to drive in the segment. It’s small by size, but big in driving experience, and perhaps that’s what Volkswagens have always been about.
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★☆☆
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★☆☆
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4 out of 5