VW Polo review
Polo, just like Marco, an adventurer
ONE of the best ways to truly experience a new destination is to get behind the wheel and hit the open road, waking up somewhere new every day and stopping at whichever city, town, village, landmark or historic site which grabs your attention.
Over the past 56 years thecountrydriver.com has ticked off just about every A, B and C highway in North-East Victoria and the Southern Riverina, plus goodness knows how many other tourist routes, minor roads and bush tracks throughout the region.
It was time to leave our comfort zone and head further afield, with an up-coming project pointing us towards the Central Tablelands of New South Wales and the historic city of Bathurst.
No, not to do laps of Mount Panorama in our review Volkswagen Polo Comfortline - OK, we did drive around the famous circuit - but to retrace as close as possible that part of the route between Bathurst and Albury-Wodonga motoring pioneers Herbert Thomson and Edward Holmes took in 1900 in the first long distance motor car trip in Australia.
Their trip, which finished in Melbourne, wasn’t in a car as such, but a home-built steam phaeton which covered the 780-kilometre distance in 10 days.
We could have done the Bathurst - Albury-Wodonga section in five or six hours, but we broke the drive at half distance, Cootamundra, birthplace of cricketing great Sir Donald Bradman.
The round trip of 960-kilometres of freeway, highway and minor roads driving was through the rolling to hilly countryside of the Southern Riverina and the Central Tablelands.
But to get there we had to collect the Polo from its Keilor Park, Melbourne, digs and drive back to Albury-Wodonga along the Hume Freeway, cutting through some of Central Victoria but travelling mainly through picturesque North-East Victoria.
Our pure white Polo hatch which, along with the Trendline and GTI variants competes in the micro and light passenger segment, was fitted with an optional sound and vision package worth $1900.
Add that to the Comfortline’s $20,290 sticker price and it upped the ante to $22,190, plus the usual on-road costs.
But that extra money gave us such niceties as a high-resolution, 10.25-inch digital instrument colour display with customisable displays, a 300 watt Beats premium sound system with eight-channel digital amplifier and subwoofer, sat-nav, and inductive wireless phone charging.
The perfect accompaniment if you do a lot of long-distance driving.
Our Comfortline also benefitted over the Trendline in that its 1-litre, three-cylinder, turbo-petrol 85TSI engine pumped out 85kW/200Nm as against 70kW/170Nm, and it rode on a nice-looking set of 15-inch alloy wheels instead of standard steel rims.
Trim materials were of a higher quality and there were several other upgrades, but with the sound and vision package comes sacrifice – 46-litres less boot space owing to the subwoofer which sat beside a full-size (steel) spare wheel.
Still, we managed to get two large bags, photographic equipment and some other gear under the rear hatch and secured by a net attached to four tie-down hooks, thereby keeping the back seat clear.
A plus for the Polo, and in fact any Volkswagen, is that you get in, shut the door and drive off, without you having to go looking for where everything is or should be.
Once in a VW, always in a VW.
Our run along the Hume Freeway saw the Polo consume an average 4.6 litres of 95RON for every 100 kilometres travelled.
We were not surprised, as a VW up! (the littlest Volkswagen) lives in our garage and its non-turbo three-cylinder engine consistently returns 4.5L/100km on a country run.
But were we going to see a similar return once we crossed into New South Wales where the terrain is much different the further north-east you travel?
The sixth generation Polo launched in Australia early 2018, with improvements in styling, cabin space, technology and engines.
The previous 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine is replaced by a three-cylinder turbo-petrol of 1-litre capacity which is mated to a seven-speed DSG gearbox.
You can go one better with the Polo by opting for the GTI variant whose 2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine punches out crazy totals of 147kW/320Nm.
Polo plays in the same sand pit as the Mazda2, Kia Rio, Honda Jazz, Toyota Yaris and segment-topping Hyundai Accent, with the German veteran coming out tops in quality, space, efficiency, safety and refinement.
Ok, so it has a three-cylinder engine, but the 85TSI punches well above its weight and we had no qualms about taking it out of its natural habitat of suburbia and pointing it towards the western slopes of The Great Dividing Range and Bathurst, 455 kilometres away from Albury-Wodonga.
It had already proven its ability to run solidly with freeway traffic on the 305- kilometre leg from Melbourne, so the run to Bathurst should be just as easy.
Refuelled and boot packed, we headed out of Albury-Wodonga along the Hume Highway (which the Hume is known as in NSW and not Hume Freeway) to our chosen lunch stop of Gundagai or, to be more precise, five miles (8km) north at the town’s most visited tourist attraction, The Dog on the Tuckerbox.
The highway through the villages of Mullengandra and Woomargama and the township of Holbrook crosses mainly flat country, but from Tarcutta to where we turned off at Bowning just south of Yass, is through undulating to hilly country.
The Polo took it in its stride, with fuel consumption climbing ever so slightly to 4.7L/100km.
The cabin was well isolated from the constant bump, bump, bump of the joins in the concrete which most of the highway is constructed, thanks to the finesse and fine tuning of the Polo’s garden variety MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension.
Another feather in the little car’s cap was its quietness, the peace only shattered when we decided to hear what the Beats sound system could do with our collection of 60s music.
In a word.
With the sound system turned off it was also a pleasure to hear that little engine beat out its tune of something bigger than what it was.
It did more with its 85kW/200Nm than some cars can do with 100kW/240Nm.
Its power delivery was available from very low revs and throttle inputs were instant, with the DSG working in tandem to keep everything on the boil.
And one thing we didn’t have was the tendency of most DSGs to hesitate in the lower gears when crawling along in slow traffic.
The 85TSI is geared perfectly for relaxed highway driving and we could not fault the Polo’s powertrain.
Apart from good all-round vision, our Polo was fitted with a full suite of driver and safety aids such as autonomous emergency braking, driver fatigue detector, low tyre-pressure monitor, reversing camera, cruise control, front and side curtain airbags, rear seat ISOFIX mounts, and four-wheel-disc brakes.
The Comfortline’s creature comforts and tech included reach and tilt steering wheel adjustment, an 8-inch central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, digital speedo, leather steering wheel, virtual cockpit instrumentation, manual air-conditioning, power windows, electric and heated exterior mirrors, two USB ports, a 12-volt outlet, and auto on/off headlights and wipers.
Unfortunately, there were no front or rear parking sensors, but the rear view camera had great clarity and the car’s compact dimensions and excellent glasshouse made it easy to park.
From Bowning we followed the Lachlan Valley Way through Boorowa to Cowra, then turned on to the A41, or Mid-Western Highway, which took us through Blayney and on to Bathurst.
And you do not go to Bathurst without doing a lap or two of Australia’s most famous racing circuit, Mount Panorama.
For most of the year the track, which hosts the annual Bathurst 1000 motor race, is a public road and is subject to a 60km/h speed limit.
The circuit is 6.213-kilometres in length, and you climb 174-metres from pit straight to the top of Skyline.
A hefty ask for a 1-litre hatch weighing 1152kg, plus two passengers and luggage.
This was where the DSG’s manual mode came into play.
If one road in Australia is going to bring out any deficiencies in a car’s handling and suspension it is the road that goes up, across, and down, Mount Panorama – even at 60km/h.
Polo in Trendline and Comfortline trim is no sports hatch – was never meant to be, but with so many development years under its belt it has matured into a well-balanced, good-handling little car that drives very nicely in inner-city streets, but is also up to it when you point it at something like, well, Mount Panorama.
You need a lot of grunt to get up Mountain Straight, which the Polo doesn’t have, and the further you climb and turn and weave, you are doing good to keep the digital speedo showing 60km/h.
The electric rack-and-pinion-steering was light without being razor-sharp and turned the car into each corner with precision, while it was good to know there were four-wheel-disc brakes and a plethora of driver aids if you needed them.
Through the Esses the car went where it was pointed without drama, giving us plenty of time to enjoy the Bathurst skyline from high above the city while keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic (yes, the road on non-race days is two-way traffic).
Reasons for going to Bathurst completed, a good night’s rest, us and car refuelled, and we were back on the Mid-Western Highway, back-tracking to Cowra where we would then follow the Olympic Highway back to Albury-Wodonga.
In a diary written by Edward Holmes of the first long-distance motor car trip, he makes mention of Fitzgerald’s Mount, a long, steep section of windy road between Bathurst and Blayney.
It still is a taxing climb, but the Polo had one more cylinder than the Thompson steam car and 81.27kW as against its 3.73kW, so in comparison the climb was a breeze.
Unlike the drive up Mount Panorama where we used manual mode for the DSG, we left it to its own devices where it excelled in the way it managed to keep the power on and not letting us slip back into the clutches of following traffic.
Our first stop was in the picture-perfect village of Carcoar, ‘the town that time forgot’.
This charming little town of 200 people is the most intact historic village in Australia and even though it is bypassed by the highway, it was well patronised on the day by tourists, many walking the quaint streets or sitting on the sidewalk having a coffee.
The well-preserved railway station sited on a hill above the town is worth driving, or walking, to as the views across the village are magical.
‘Carcoar is built in a hollow and a very steep hill had to be ascended out of it,’ wrote Holmes.
Same applies today.
Thankfully for us there were plenty of pockets, bins and hidey holes scattered around the Polo’s cabin for the myriad bits and pieces picked up along the way, plus there was a large glovebox, an overhead sunglasses holder, and a lidded bin between the front seats.
For reasons stated earlier, reverse parking to the kerb (the norm ‘out west’) was easy, while the car’s 10.6-metre turning circle made light work of some of the narrow streets in the villages we stopped in at.
As mentioned, we overnighted at Cootamundra, birthplace of cricketing great Sir Donald Bradman.
Unloading, then reloading our luggage was easy thanks to a wide hatch aperture, high-lifting rear gate, and low lip.
The bi-level boot floor would have been great to store smaller items such as laptops and some books we had purchased, but that is the trade-off if you opt for the sound and vision package.
Still, the boot of this latest generation Polo is almost 25 per cent larger than before, making it one of the largest in its class.
As is its stylish, fuss-free, comfortable cabin which has gained in length and width thanks to the stretching of the Polo’s wheelbase by 94mm.
To say the Polo is a five-seater is stretching the friendship, but four adults, or two adults and three children, will feel at home.
Our route from Cootamundra to Albury-Wodonga took us through Bethungra (just to the north of the town is the Bethungra Spiral, a rail spiral built on the main Sydney-Melbourne railway line to ease the gradients when the line was duplicated between 1941 and 1946), Illaboo, Junee and the ‘capital’ city of the Riverina, Wagga.
After almost 1000-kilometres of driving in two days, we arrived back at home base just as refreshed and with the Polo’s on-board computer showing an average fuel consumption of 5L/100km.
Now that’s economical motoring.
Despite its little engine that could, the Polo Comfortline proved it could tackle the Australian landscape with the best of them.
Yes, the sound and vision package added more tech and we would have liked LED headlights for safer night-time rural driving, otherwise the Polo was a user friendly, no-nonsense, compact package that enjoyed its adventure with us as much as we enjoyed being in it for the ride.