First drive: Volkswagen Polo

In car terms, the current Volkswagen Polo is a little like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The 2010 Wheels Car of the Year has reigned as the undisputed segment benchmark for much of its life, staving off newer challengers and even VW’s own recent Annus Horribilis of recalls and unreliability accusations with velvet-lined steely resolve.

But the latest Renault Clio – boasting suave styling, sophisticated eco-friendly tech, rich touchscreen connectivity and cushy ride quality – has been a destabilising presence, while a winter might well be coming for the Wolfsburg queen in the shape of the all-new Mazda 2 late this year.

Here, then, is the MY15 Polo – coming to a VW dealer near you in September.

Exterior changes are limited to redesigned bumpers, a larger front air intake, bigger numberplate valance, new headlights with optional LEDs, different tail-light lenses with repositioned reflectors, fresh alloys, more chrome eyeliner and a few additional colours.

Equally, there was little wrong with the Polo interior, so only the trim and centre console have been altered at first glance.

The console includes a revised climate control set-up on upper-end variants, a variation of the Golf VII’s advanced touchscreen audio, multi-media and vehicle functionality interface with – at last – full Bluetooth phone and audio streaming integration.

Unfortunately, Europe’s new “pinch-and-pull” sat-nav option, with a host of programmable functions and downloadable app capability, isn’t for Australia – which seems an error in judgement since Clio, the under-rated Peugeot 208 and even Holden’s top Barina offer similar systems.

Nevertheless, the Polo is a proper little premium techno powerhouse – even in limited-spec Aussie guise.

For the first time, you’ll be able to option up your light car with a reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, a low-speed traffic monitor, automatic emergency braking system and driver-fatigue alert.

From a driving point of view, the overhaul has extended to a new lightweight electro-mechanical power steering set-up for subtly altered dynamic feel.

With slightly firmer dampers and spring rates, the VW impressed us with its quiet and absorbent ride on the standard 16-inch rubber during our first drive in Germany.

Since its local debut in late 1996, every base Polo has been vexed with some variation of a breathless atmo engine, but now it’s turbos all-round – just like the Clio – with the old 63kW/132Nm 1.4-litre lump replaced by a 66kW/160Nm 1.2L four-cylinder direct-injection turbo unit known as the 66TSI, with significantly lower consumption and emissions, in part due to an unintrusive stop/start system.

With either the slick five-speed manual or quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, this engine provides a decent shove once the turbo kicks and flexible torque across a wide rev range.

It brings into question the value of stretching to the higher-tune 81kW/175Nm 1.2L turbo alternative, which was not available to drive.

On paper, the 81TSI is 1.5 seconds faster to 100km/h (9.3s versus 10.8s) than the 66TSI, while delivering the same fuel economy of 4.7L/100km – and that’s just 0.1L/100km short of the old 66TDI diesel.

Speaking of diesels, the clattery new 66kW/230Nm 1.4L three-cylinder TDI won’t be heading to Australia because VW reckons the light-car market isn’t big enough to justify it.

VW warned us that the big technology leap will be accompanied by a price rise, so expect a jump of at least $500 from the current Trendline 1.4L’s $16,990.

After our brief but enjoyable blast in the new 66TSI, we reckon the Polo’s reign as the light-car benchmark is likely to extend for quite some time yet.   

Volkswagen Polo 66TSI Trendline DSG

Plus: Massive tech uplift; luxury-car driver aids; TSI across the range; improved dynamics
Minus: Expected price rise; no sat-nav; no diesel; no 1.0TSI 3-pot turbo; dating cabin architecture
Engine: 1177cc in-line 4 turbo
Max power: 66kW @ 4800rpm
Max torque: 160Nm @ 1400-4000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed DSG auto
0-100km: 10.8sec*
Avg L/100km: 4.7*
Price: From $19,500**
On sale: September

*  Euro figures
** Estimated

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