BY ANDY ENRIGHT
It seems an aeon ago now when the Polo was that likeable little lightweight propping up Volkswagen's product range. As time went by, it became bigger and better built, getting an extra dose of maturity when in mid-2005, Volkswagen facelifted the post-2001 generation model with thorough revisions inside and out. By this time, the German company had introduced the little Fox citycar and to preserve sales, the Polo now had to be seen as a little more up-market. Customers paying for a Volkswagen badge expect a lot and they weren't disappointed by this more mature Polo, a car that makes downsizing attractively viable. Used car buyers looking for a classy small car should look here first.
This generation Polo's underpinnings actually date back to 2001 when Volkswagen launched a Polo that shared its chassis with the Skoda Fabia. This was by far the biggest revolution in the development of the Polo to date and the running gear was so accomplished that even today the basic architecture is still one of the most advanced in any small car. In 2005, which is where we begin our interest, the Polo was extensively facelifted with a deep grille forming the point of a V-shape which then continued up through the bonnet to the base of the windscreen pillars. The reshaped headlights lost the cute look of the old Polo in favour of something wielding a little more gravitas, the circular headlamp cutting into the bumper to give a resolutely contemporary look.
At the back, the glass design emulated the front-end's V-shaped theme, while the rear lights again reprised the design from the front, with large circular elements. Otherwise, apart from a few interior trim tweaks, Polo fanciers felt pretty much at home. The engine range was tweaked and a mock 4x4 'Dune' model was introduced in Spring 2006. The punchy 150bhp GTI model debuted about the same time, looking for all the world like a Golf GTI having undergone a hot wash cycle. 2007 saw the arrival of the economy-focused BlueMotion derivative and the Match trim level replaced the S a short time later.
What You Get
An integral aspect of the Polo's appeal is the drive to downsize. That may sound odd given that the car's girth has noticeably swelled, but it now caters very well to drivers no longer interested in running something Mondeo-sized, without making them feel as if they've suddenly become a member of the underclass. Swap from a Passat to a Polo and you certainly won't feel as if your station in life has taken a dive; you'll just feel as though you've taken an informed decision to drive a smaller car. No more, no less.
With 270 litres of boot space, the Polo, especially in five-door form, can realistically function as family transport, with rear legroom particularly generous. Park yourself behind the steering wheel and you'll witness a level of fit and finish that was once unseen on supermini class cars. It takes enormous corporate confidence to build something this tasteful and without resort to gimmickry to pull the punters in, but Volkswagen have pulled it off with aplomb. All models get power steering plus a tiltable and telescopic steering column, pretty much guaranteeing comfort behind the wheel. Plusher models get an adjustable height drivers seat.
Invisible laser welding makes the roof, rear wing and sills look all of a piece and also contributes to Volkswagen's claim that the Polo has better structural rigidity than any car in its class, although as a rather outsized Supermini, one hesitates to identify exactly which class that is. The key themes behind the Polo are the worthy (but slightly dull) avenues of safety and environmental friendliness. Both are top notch, all Polos being fitted with anti lock brakes with electronic braking assistance, twin front and side airbags, ISOFIX child seat mountings and a passenger airbag that can be deactivated when a child seat is fitted.
What to Look For
A nearly new Volkswagen is not a good place to start if you're interesting in hearing 'what went wrong' stories. The Polo is no exception, with no major faults having been reported. The new engines appear to be trouble free, and the older power units have a good pedigree. As with any car that sees its fair share of city driving, check for parking bumps and scrapes Otherwise it's hard to find fault with the Polo. Look for a main-dealer serviced car and you really can't go far wrong.
(approx based on a 1.4 TDI 70) Volkswagen spares have developed a reputation for costliness but you might be surprised at how reasonably priced they now are. A new alternator will set you back almost £245, while an ECU engine management unit is around £550. Other parts are far more reasonable still. An exhaust system is around ££95, rising to £500 if you need a catalytic converter as well. Front brake pads are just over £40 a pair, while a clutch is a little over £150. A new radiator will be around £90 and a new fuel pump is approximately £100.
On the Road
One obvious weak point in the old pre-'05 Polo line up was the inclusion of the archaic 1.9-litre 64bhp SDI diesel engine. We regularly advised buyers to steer well clear of this budget unit, a powerplant that could be wheeled out to show how far modern diesels had come. Wheezy, harsh but frustratingly gutless, this engine had little to recommend it and Volkswagen thankfully wielded the axe as part of the '05 facelift, replacing it with a far superior 70bhp 1.4-litre TDI unit. The old 75PS 1.4-litre TDI was swapped out at the same time for an 80bhp unit, creating a pair of three-cylinder TDI diesel options. There's also a 100PS 1.9-litre TDI turbodiesel and, like both the 1.4-litre diesels, it's fully Euro4 compliant. The diesel flagship is the 1.9TDI 130 unit.
If you'd prefer a petrol-powered engine, Volkswagen offered 55 and 64bhp 1.2-litre units with this particular Polo, plus an 80bhp version of the 1.4-litre powerplant. For those who must have the ultimate Polo and don't mind paying for it, there's a GTI variant featuring a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 150bhp. The Dune was offered in 1.4-litre guise with either the 70bhp diesel or the 80bhp petrol unit. Ordinary Polos came in either E, S, SE or Sport guises.
This Polo's handling will be a revelation for those used to older versions of this car, with far crisper turn-in and improved road holding. They may also notice that the electro-hydraulic power steering has been finessed for a more natural feel. The GTI is of course the car for the keener driver. Going head to head with the Ford Fiesta ST, this Polo offered a bigger midrange punch but a little less tactility. Make your choice.
With this generation Polo, Volkswagen refined the engine range down to the powerplants that really worked and cleverly made the car feel more upmarket. As a result, they ended up with probably the most accomplished line up of superminis of any manufacturer. Go on, pick one - any of them. You can't miss.