Tested: 2018 Volkswagen Polo TSi Trendline

The regular stuff

I’ve long held the belief that entry-level models need not be rubbish, especially when they’re made by the Volkswagen group. A few years ago I tested the most basic Golf; and loved it. Same thing with the equivalent New Beetle or Audi A3 and A6; the cheapie models are excellent. So what’s the most affordable Polo like?

Before we get to the good bits, I do have to vent and lament yet another affordable hatchback ruthlessly growing into the premium segment. D’you remember the Polo Playa or Classic? Yeah, this is nothing like that. When it comes to refinement and efficiency, this new Polo wipes the floor with its ancestors.

Of course that’s a good thing… but I miss the days where a Polo was nothing special; student fodder and not worth worrying about where you parked it. You could argue that the Vivo has taken its place but even that’s just taken a generational leap in terms of quality and design.

Where will this end?

I’ll tell you where – at the doorstep of the Golf, which won’t have any room (or quality) to move away from an ever-improving Polo range. Happily, most Golfs in Southern Africa are GTi’s or R’s anyway so nobody will miss the regular stuff when it’s removed from the price lists. Myself included; this new Polo really is that good.

All surfaces, gaps and finishes feel properly premium; concreted by my very recent test of a direct Japanese competitor which felt flimsy and low-rent by comparison. And don’t think that this el-cheapo edition feels disappointing in any way – the cabin’s black plastic and sturdy fabric are top class.

So perhaps it’s boring to drive? Meh, that depends entirely on your definition of the term but I grew fond of this 1L three-pot turbo-petrol engine with 70kW and 175Nm. Outright performance is average (we clocked 0-100 in 10,88 seconds) but the mid-range turbo torque is well usable over five widely-spaced gears.

The brakes are excellent for this segment while pedal and steering feel is tight yet not too light with decent feedback; despite this car’s high-profile tyres. 14-inch rims are wrapped in generous 175/70 rubber which may not impress university students but adds something most grown-ups will cherish: a comfortable and reasonably predictable ride.

Personally, I did not cherish the gear change suggestions (I seldom do) and the consequences of actually obeying them. Yes, this little engine has amazing torque from just over idle but the resulting low-revolution engine vibrations engulf the whole car and lend a decidedly un-Volkswagen-like shudder to the cabin.

Other than that, I was most impressed with the new Polo in basic trim. I did not miss auto-closing gadgets, scorching black leather or the latest satnav; quite the opposite. Its halogen lights are decent, every one of its few controls is logically placed while the driver-focussed dashboard with basic touch-screen looks great and works flawlessly.

More positive notes I made were the generous amount and size of cup holders, cubby holes and other cabin storage bins, as well as clear instrumentation with a comprehensive trip computer. There are many more options slumbering in the media system so new owners would do well to spend a few hours fiddling in their car.

I love fiddling, don’t you? Anyway. That proves yet again that the most basic Polo is not that basic anymore; it has grown up to premium levels and should please even the most spoilt motorists on a budget. Included in the price of around R236,000 is a 3-year/120,000km warranty and 3-year/45,000km service plan.

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