Exclusive: 2018 Volkswagen Polo review first drive
As I walked through the massive hall number three at the Frankfurt Messe streaming a visual glimpse of the show cars to the OVERDRIVE followers on social media, I kept getting requests of showing the new Volkswagen Polo repeatedly. The same pavilion had a Lamborghini Aventador, a rear wheel driven Audi R8, the outrageous Porsche 911 GT2 RS and even the 0-400-0kmph record breaking Bugatti Chiron taking centre stage. But our audience was more interested in the supermini. It isn't hard to see why the interest levels for the new Volkswagen Polo are so high. The Mk5 Volkswagen Polo has been the flag bearer for VW India for over a decade and though it doesn't command a big market share, it is still considered the benchmark for a supermini by many. How big an improvement is the new one then? I got a brief drive in the new Volkswagen Polo around Frankfurt's buzzing urban environment and a bit of the autobahn to get my answer.
Volkswagen gave me the new Polo in its signature orange shade and while that colour is similar to the communication colour used on the Indian Polo, there is a visual difference in the quality of the paintwork and its metallic glaze. Of course, such colours stand out and look better in the European weather, but the difference is quality is evident. That holds true for the fit and finish too - all panel gaps are consistent and the plastics are well integrated. The design of the new Volkswagen Polo is evolutionary, looks like a miniaturised Golf in its traditional manner, but presents a slightly bigger silhouette than the model it replaces. I particularly like the new double-barrel headlights and the chiseled lines, which reduce the visual bulk of the new Polo. The wheelbase is up by a big 92mm, which gives the new Polo an even lowered stance than before.
The immediate advantage of that is the improved cabin space. You can now ferry two grown ups in comfort in the back seats and a marginal gain in boot space (now 351l) means that four backpacks can sit in similar comfort too.
The highlight of the cabin has to be the new dashboard though. Gone are the dark fascia and the boring vertically stacked controls and in come bright body-coloured inlays and a driver centric console. Most touch points are finished in soft touch plastics like the previous Euro-spec Polo, but the fit isn't as perfect as the exterior elements. The Audi-like fully digital instrumentation and the touchscreen infotainment are placed in the same line, meaning that getting a glance of the either of the screens doesn't need you to take your eyes far away from the road. Both the displays are crisp, easy to read and the touchscreen interface on the infotainment is quick and smooth like any new age smartphone. The cabin will certainly attract youngsters, but how the bright dashboard elements age, remains to be seen.
Engine and performance
My test car got its motivation from a 1.6-litre turbocharged diesel that churns out 95PS of power. On startup, the engine felt quite muted for a diesel, but as the revs climbed it filled the cabin with its thrum. It emits a fair bit of noise and we have driven more refined mills - like the Hyundai Verna 1.6D for example. The engine in the Polo evoked memories of the first iteration of the GT TDI sold to us - both, in terms of its refinement (or the lack of it) and its instant shove. The car was quick off the line at every traffic light, could putter around the moderately crowded streets of Frankfurt in third gear for most of the commute and effortless reached speeds of over 160kmph out on the autobahn. The 5-speed manual transmission has rubbery shifts and a springy clutch pedal in typical VW fashion, but the transmission shock is gone. The power delivery is quite linear for a turbocharged motor and turbolag was minimal too. The drivetrain certainly seems have matured now.
Ride and handling
The ride is firm, typical to a Euro-spec car and I couldn't find any potholes in Germany to comment on how good or bad it can get on the broken roads. But over a few ruts and joints, the suspension seemed pretty silent. The braking is sharper than the outgoing Polo and has a progressive and predictive feel to it. The steering setup has improved as well and weighs up well even at autobahn speeds. I'm guessing the new Polo has the same level of confidence around the twisties too. We will find that out when we have a longer drive in the supermini. I'm not sure when or where that will be, just the way Volkswagen isn't sure if and when the new Polo will come to India. The MQB platform that gives the new Polo its matured drivetrain and handling, also comes at a price that has Volkswagen India worried. But I hope they crack the problem soon, for the new Polo promises to be a cracker of a supermini that seems poised to surpass benchmarks set by its predecessor.