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Road Test: Volkswagen Polo TDI

By Damien Tomlinson - 20/Oct/2006

Volkswagen Polo TDIThe Volkswagen Polo is a very small car. It measures less than 4 metres long and only 1.65 metres wide, and competes for market share against similar sized vehicles like the Toyota Yaris, Peugeot 206, Mazda2, Holden Barina and Ford Fiesta. Unlike most of these cars however, the Polo has two very neat tricks up its sleeve.

The first is the GTI model, powered by a turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol engine. Feann reviewed this one and gave it an 80% score, which you can read about here. The second neat trick in Volkswagen Australia's Polo range is the TDI model. This cheeky little German car is powered by a 1.9-litre turbo diesel engine, giving the vehicle incredible fuel efficiency figures, an impressive cruising range and plenty of power. 

And at the time of writing it has no direct competitors. 

Until Peugeot releases it's new 207 model in Australia, which will include a diesel model, the VW Polo TDI has free reign in its market segment and unless you go up a level to the B-segment, where vehicles like the Fiat Punto, Peugeot 307, Holden Astra and Volkswagen Golf exist, you will not find any other diesel options.

With solid build quality, good standard safety systems, and having recently benefitted from a new exterior style, the Polo is an attractive proposition if you don't mind spending a bit more on your new car. Priced at $22,990, this model is more expensive than most compact cars, yet is the lowest entry price for a diesel passenger car in the Australian market. Worth the money? Follow me:

Make: Volkswagen
Model: Polo TDI
Price: $22,990
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Engine: 1.9-litre, inline 4-cylinder, turbo diesel
Seats: 5
Safety: 2 airbags (driver and front passenger airbags), ABS, EBD

Volkswagen Polo TDI

Volkswagen's Polo is a cost-effective way to
get into a diesel car, and is almost as frugal as
some hybrid cars, and more powerful to boot

Engine: VW Turbo Diesel 1.9-litre 4-cylinder

The transversely mounted inline 4-cylinder diesel engine has a 1.9-litre (1896cc) capacity, with dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) that actuate a total of 16-valves. The direct injection diesel motor has an 19.0:1 compression ratio and features a turbocharger to improve torque levels, and has a 45 litre fuel tank.

Claimed Fuel Consumption: 5.0L/100km (combined)

Max Power: 74kW @ 4000rpm
Max Torque: 240Nm @ 1800-2400rpm
Max Speed: 188km/h
0-100km/h: 10.7 seconds

Volkswagen's Polo TDI is the most cost effective way to jump on the diesel bandwagon and take full advantage of the economy and grunt these engines have. I reckon it is only in smaller-capacity diesels that you reap the benefits to the full, and the Polo's 1.9-litre 74kW engine is more than capable at pulling the car around at oh-so-low revs, albeit with that somewhat agricultural noise from the bonnet region.

The benefits of these engines can be markedly lessened when there is a bigger car attached. Take Audi’s A4, whose 2.0-litre diesel works so hard that its fuel benefits are almost negated in all but city driving.

But the Polo TDI is a wonderful city car, and the diesel is the perfect accompaniment for this bantam cruiser, weighing 1222kg. Here is a zippy small car that is practical for city applications, it is comfortable, refined and, with combined consumption of just 5.0 litres per 100km travelled, will only need a drink every 900km or so. 

This 5.0L/100km fuel efficiency rating is not far off the Honda Civic Hybrid's startling 4.6L/100km, which gives you a good idea of frugal diesel engines can be.

The TDI model gets none of the Polo GTI’s luxury or performance enhancements; it ships with 14-inch steel wheels with hub caps, cloth trim and grey rub strips. That said, it does gains solid rear disc brakes over the the base 'Club' variant's rear drum brakes, and benefits from braking aids such as ABS and EBD and gets a couple of airbags too, and is in fact the most expensive of the three 'normal' Polos.

But with its strong pulling power and efficient engine, this price is more than justified, and being a German designed car (built in South Africa) it's more likely to hold its resale value better than something like the Korean-built Barina and other vehicles built of its type.

Due to the diesel engine's low end power - it generates 240Nm @ just 1800rpm - this means you can leave the car in third gear when coming to a crawl in a traffic jam, and then just tickle the clutch and wind in the power and off she goes. It's pulling power is great, and overtaking at freeway speeds is much less frantic than trying to stir a 1.6-litre petrol engine into action.

The Volkswagen Polo TDI will race from 0-100km/h in 10.7 seconds on its way to its 188km/h top speed, which is pretty quick for such a small car. Inside the vehicle, the cloth seats are a little unsupportive and flat, and the shifter is a long drop down from the wheel, but you'll still have fun giving the diesel a workout.

Other than the flat front seats and low gear shifter, the interior of the Polo TDI is better than most compact cars. Everything is well polished, from the sporty blue-lit instrument cluster to general fit and finish, and though the boot has only 270 litres of space, it opens up to 1030 litres when the 60:40 splitfold rear seat backs are folded back. There's also a 4-speaker stereo with a CD player and climate control air conditioning to keep occupants happy on long, hot journeys.

As far as driver's cars go, the Polo probably isn't going to make it into the top 20 most desirable cars in the world. It understeers often and the steering isn't communicative enough to inspire confidence through fast corners. But that's not its purpose. At $22,990, the Polo is only ever going to be a car for the missus or your daughter's first car, but it really deserves more than that. The plucky turbocharged diesel is a lot of fun to punt through the gears (5-speed manual only) and it's as comfortableand as stylish as anything else going around at the moment with a fairly smooth ride.

Overall: 3.5/5


Overall, the Polo succeeds in achieving its purpose – great fuel economy, good levels of equipment and safety in a well-styled and compact package. With the breaking down of barriers that once barred Aussie drivers from access to decent passenger diesel cars, the Polo TDI is a great way to take advantage of all that this “new” technology offers. If you find the idea of a 900km cruising range appealing, not to mention the kind of power delivery that makes driving completely effortless (yes, even in a manual), then you should seriously consider this compact diesel car.

With competition non-existent in the compact diesel car segment - Peugeot will begin selling a diesel here in its new 207 range in '07 - there's really no reason why you shouldn't check this out if you're in the market for a fuel-efficient compact car. It's well built, looks stylish, and everything works. Worth the money? I think so.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Style
  • Fuel Economy
  • Fun To Drive
  • Boring Seats
  • 5-speed Manual Only

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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