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Test driving the 2014 Volkswagen Polo

Featuring a fresh new visage, a bigger engine and a trendy cabin, the 2014 Polo is much more than just a facelift

The Polo has always stood tall among its peers as an exponent of sophisticated European design, capable handling and a tastefully-appointed interior. Those with an evolved taste in automobiles have appreciated the car for its qualities, and it has sold in decent numbers, too. Till now the Polo was available with a 1.2-litre, three-pot diesel engine, which though frugal and fun beyond 2,000 revs, wasn’t exactly very linear and suitable for everyday use. The 2014 facelift version of the globally-acclaimed car, however, addresses this issue with a new 1.5-litre TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) engine, which is not only more powerful, but also more drivable and versatile. Complementing the heart transplant on the Polo is a whole bunch of design and feature related changes which further bolster the value proposition of the car. Here’s why the new Polo is so much better than the version it replaces.

Design and style
The current gen Polo has always been considered the most balanced template in terms of shape and proportions by the design pundits. Thank heavens, then, that Volkswagen (VW) have not tinkered with those timeless proportions and have made some very subtle and tasteful changes to the exterior of the car. To begin with, the headlamps are now a double-barrel unit. Chrome strips have been inserted at the bottom of the radiator grille as well as on the air-dam. The position and shape of the fog lamps has been changed, and so have the inserts on the front air dam.


The new 1.5-litre diesel engine makes the Polo much easier to drive in the city, thanks to its tractability

The car remains true to its earlier form in profile. The only giveaway is the new 10-spoke, 15-inch alloys. The length and the width of the car remain unaltered, though the wheelbase has been increased by 13mm. At the rear, the Polo 1.5-litre TDI gets a newly designed bumper featuring a pronounced crease below the tail-gate. The rectangular space for the license plate has been widened, and re-shaped as a trapezoid. The bottom part of the bumper now features reflectors on the flanks. VW is also offering more colours for the new Polo including the Burnt Orange shade featured in the images here.


The new steering is sportily styled with a flat bottom, a contoured rim and new piano black inserts

Cabin and features
The first thing that catches your attention as you step inside the cabin is the new, flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel, with contours to rest your thumbs on. The new steering wheel has mounted controls for audio and telephony along with new piano black inserts and can be adjusted for rake and reach. The MID (Mobile Internet Device) peeping through the new steering unit now features a white display with bigger, more readable font as opposed to the red-coloured readout on the previous version. The highly informative MID displays travelling time, distance travelled, speed, gear engaged, engine temperature, average speed, distance to dry and fuel-efficiency.

The two tone dashboard is now finished in black and beige — the seat fabric is new too. Changes have been made to the centre console as well, and it now features light satin titanium finish inserts. The driver and passenger side AC vents now feature chrome lining. The decently-sized glove-box also features an integrated sunglass holder on its lid.

Smart changes have been made to the cabin including new contrasting inserts, black-beige dashboard and new seat fabric 

The storage compartment in the front doors can accommodate a 1 litre bottle of water with ease. The sound from the 4-speaker audio system remains crisp as ever and doesn’t get distorted even at full volume. It’s capable of playing CDs, can be connected to via Bluetooth, has an Aux-in socket and can also read SD cards. The car also comes equipped with reverse parking sensors.

Driver gets a height adjustable seat though none of the front seats get height adjustable belts. In typical VW fashion, seats are well-cushioned, well-bolstered and offer great under-thigh support, too. At the back, the space and comfort has been enhanced by scooping out the back of the front seats for a bit more legroom. Headroom is sufficient too, if not generous.

Boot space is capacious as always, and the Polo continues to be the segment leader when it comes to luggage carrying capacity. Rear seat drops down to create even more space, though it doesn’t split for more flexibility. The spare wheel is a 14-inch steel unit with higher profile rubber, while the rest of the car boasts of 15-inch alloys.

The Polo, as always, leads the pack in terms of safety. The 2014 Volkswagen Polo come with dual-airbags as standard across variants and boasts a 4-star NCAP rating. ABS, however, is available only on the top-of-the-line ‘Highline’ version we tested.

Engine, transmission and performance
The biggest change to the car, as we mentioned earlier, has been the engine transplant. The 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine, unlike the 1.2-litre TDI unit, which had pronounced turbo lag, has a very linear and tractable character. It develops 90 PS of power at 4200 rpm and 230 nm of torque between 1,500–2,500 rpm. Quieter inside the cabin, linear and more powerful — it’s a better engine than the one it replaces every way you look at it.

The new engine doesn’t feel strangulated even at an atrociously low 1,000 rpm and begins pulling neatly from 1,200 rpm, presenting itself as a smile-inducing tool in bumper-to-bumper city traffic. Those traits should also have a positive effect on the car’s in-city fuel efficiency. The new Polo has an ARAI-rated efficiency figure of 20.14 kmpl, though we managed upwards of 15 kmpl in the real world, with some (extremely) spirited driving. The new engine boasts a strong mid-range thrust, with its spunkiness tapering off post the 4,000 rpm mark. That doesn’t, however, stop this German steed from attaining a top speed of close to 180 km/h, with the last 20 of those speed units being a bit of a puff to achieve.


Rear seat can be folded down to create more space, though it doesn’t split for flexible seating and luggage loading

The engine is mated to a five speed manual transmission, which is slick shifting with a short throw, and adds to the fun-to-drive character of this machine.

Ride quality, in typical Teutonic fashion remains slightly on the firmer side, and settles down beautifully as you gather pace. Chassis and suspension have been tuned in classic VW manner, offering great poise and fabulous ride quality at the same time. The suspension feels slightly stiff at slow speed, but that’s what endows the car with its tremendous composure as speed builds up. The Apollo Alnac 185/60 R15 rubber wrapping the wheels offers fantastic grips, as we observed during our quick dash to Pune in some of the wettest and most precarious conditions to drive.

Verdict
The Polo has always been an enchanting car. Its classic styling, consummate handling and fun to drive factor have won many hearts in India. With the new 1.5-litre engine, VW have addressed the primary issue dogging the machine–turbo lag. The new engine is more powerful, and with its new styling, the car should appeal a bit more to us bling-loving Indians. The price, starting at R6.3 lakh for the base variant, is more expensive than its immediate rivals, but with dual airbags on offer as standard, and the car’s superior engineering, the higher price tag is justified. We would, however, like to think that a reduction in the cost of VW spares and service would make the Polo a more compelling buy. 

Technical specs
Engine — 1.5-litre, 4 cylinder turbo diesel
Power — 90 PS @ 4,200 rpm
Torque — 230 Nm @ 1500 – 2500 rpm

Rivals

Fiat Punto Evo 1.3

The much loved and less sold Grand Punto has metamorphosed into a more flamboyant Punto Evo in 2014. In its Evo avatar, the Punto gets a pair of redesigned headlamps, a splattering of chrome, snazzy new alloys and sexy new LED tail-lamps. The interior has been revamped too, and the black beige combo of the Punto Evo’s cabin, along with a few new features should tug the strings of Fiat fans’ hearts a tad harder. An able handler and an enthusiast’s delight, the Punto Evo brought some glamour back to Fiat cars in India
Price: Rs 5.3–7.2 lakh

Hyundai Elite i20

Hyundai Elite i20

Solid as ever in every department, the next-gen i20, christened the Elite i20 for the India market is primed to set the segment on fire. Powered by Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture design philosophy’s latest rendition, the Elite i20 looks fascinating and has the right mix of engines, price and functionality to appeal to the Indian audience. The interior is more Euro-centric than ever and has more features, including a rear A/C vent. Some minor omissions apart (a distance to dry display on MID for instance), the Elite i20 with its newfound dynamic ability presents itself as one of the strongest contenders in the segment.
Price: Rs 6.1–7.7 lakh

Maruti Suzuki Swift

Maruti Suzuki Swift

The evergreen hatchback is still one of the most well-rounded products in its class. If one wants to tick all the boxes without paying extra, this is where he should be looking. Reasonably spacious, well finished both on the outside and inside, powered by a reliable, frugal and reasonably potent engine, and backed by the largest service network in the country — the Swift really doesn’t have anything going against it. Modern hatchbacks for international carmakers have raised the bar in terms of driving involvement and sure-footedness, but that isn’t really that matters too much to the no-nonsense Indian audience. The Swift still rules the roost.
Price: Rs 5.45–6.7 lakh

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