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Old 12-07-2012, 03:43 PM
AzNMpower32's Avatar
AzNMpower32 AzNMpower32 is offline
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Location: WNC
Join Date: Oct 2005
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Mein Auto: 2006 325i; 2015 Yamaha R3
A Rental Experience: 2012 VW Polo 1,2 TDI

This review can be summed up pretty succintly: It renders hybrids pointless and will make you laugh at any car advert in the US that makes "40 US mpg" sound like a big deal.

Vehicle Rented: 2012 VW Polo Trendline

Over the Thanksgiving week, I took a holiday in Turkey with my mother, mostly in Istanbul where the excellent public transit in and around the city centre made getting around very easy. For a couple days we flew to Izmir and rented a vehicle from Sixt (as usual) to get us to and back from Pamukkale, a pretty scenic attraction and heritage site. I was fortunate to be given a VW Polo diesel, a typical entry-level subcompact. As of this writing, Euro-diesel cost approx 3,80 TR/litre which translates to roughly $7,85 USD/US gallon.

Certainly, efficiency is the name of the game here. The basic model comes with a 3 cylinder, 1,2 litre diesel motor that makes 75bhp and 180 Nm of torque. Not pretty numbers, but then again the Polo only weighs 1132kg unladen so it's a pretty light vehicle. Certainly, acceleration is more than adequate around town with 2 persons and luggage, although the gradients in western Turkey were gentle for the most part. On the motorways, I had no issues keeping a 150-160km/h cruising speed.

Even better, the 3 cylinder diesel consumed only 4,5 l/100km (roughly 53 US mpg) on the first day which included some urban driving in the crowded streets of Izmir and some rapid acceleration at times. The small footprint makes it incredibly easy to park, cram between lorries and other cars, and squirt between pedestrians- all critical attributes to driving in Turkey. Over our 600+ km sojourn, the seats were excellent and there's decent room in the boot for rear passengers and cargo. It may be an entry-level car, but the long-distance comfort is superb. The standard suspension is well-damped (and absorbed a 1,5m drop when I swerved for a late turn.....props to German build qualty here). Brakes are solid, and the electric steering is well-weighted and communicative. Good marks on the driving experience.

It isn't perfect though. VW has done a very good job at quelling the unbalanced nature of 3 cylinder engines, but it still exhibited a roughness around 1900-2200rpm, which coincides with 100-110km/h which is the typical non-hwy driving speed. Combine that with the cost-cutting lack of noise-deadening material, the Polo can grate on ones nerves at times. Furthermore, the engine produces just a burp of power between 1900-3000rpm due to the single turbo, and with only 5-speeds in the gearbox, there's only ONE gear appropriate for any given speed. Thankfully, the gearbox is light and precise.

The cost-cutting extends inside, with US-spec Jetta-like interior materials and a radio that is near impossible to operate. Wind noise is prevalent above 130km/h. And with nothing coming as standard (no AUX port, no cruise, no centre armrest, Board computer, etc...), it's tempting to check many option boxes. And VW will happily supply those options........at a price. With just a few option boxes, the price soars over 22k, well into Golf/Astra/Focus territory and those vehicles are arguably far better value for the money. This may be entry level, but its very easy to make this vehicle a poor value if you're not careful.

The Ford Fiesta is a bit more entertaining to drive and better value, but the Polo is the better long-distance driver. However, I'm pretty confident in saying that this car would not work in the US- most Americans simply wouldn't understand or appreciate its qualities and aren't interested in its efficiency or packaging. Which is a pity, because it actually is a well-built little car that serves many purposes at a starting pricepoint that is good value for the good drive you get as long you know what you're getting into (I suggest the Bluemotion version) and don't check too many option boxes. But it will definitely make Americans redefine what is truly "efficient".

What's nice:
+ Right-sized, good looking.
+ More efficient than your laptop or computer.
+ Outstanding long-distance comfort.

What's not:
- Only 5 speeds, and you'd better pick the right one.
- RCD 210 radio controls unfathomable, cost-cutting abounds.
- Expensive when optioned up.
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Old 12-08-2012, 09:17 AM
AutoUnion's Avatar
AutoUnion AutoUnion is offline
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Location: USA
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,676
Mein Auto: Deutsch Automobil
I drove a Polo TDI a couple years ago in India when they first launched. It's a shame VW won't bring it here because it's an awesome little car. It just costs too much to make sense. As you said, once you start adding simple options, the Golf is about the same price.
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Old 12-11-2012, 05:56 AM
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Andrew*Debbie Andrew*Debbie is offline
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Location: Anglesey
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 6,257
Mein Auto: Leaf Tekna
Good review. We've looked at the Polo and I have to agree. VW 3 cylinder diesels are not the best for cruising. Adding the options we wanted to a 4 cylinder Polo had us looking at a Golf. A few minutes later we were sitting in a Passat. In the end we got a Z4, in part because the lease payments are lower than a Golf.

We had a similar experience with the VW Caddy small van. We test drove a basic low trim one with the 75PS diesel. It was well made but underpowered and underwhelming. The Caddy is based on the Mk5 Golf, but the interior feels more like a Polo. I took out a 102PS 1.6L TDI and was much happier. But the base price is 17,204 and the interior is still Polo-ish. Handling is only so-so too. Add in a few options and the price zooms to 20,000. The Caddy is well built and the new 1.6TDI is one of the better diesels I've driven. But it simply isn't worth the price when I can get a similar Peugeot for about 12k.
The models and equipment (standard and optional) illustrated in this post reflect my misunderstanding of vehicles supplied by BMW AG to the German market. In other EU member states, the truthyness of my posts may vary. Please ignore this post. Subject to change.

Last edited by Andrew*Debbie; 12-11-2012 at 06:12 AM.
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