Volkswagen Polo 1.6: Big on Fun

Being the third variant under VW’s localization program, the new Polo 1.6 had to carry on the VW tradition of superior German engineering but with a local price tag, so it had a lot of ground to cover to prove itself worthy to wear the VW nameplate after the Passat and Polo Sedan. (click to enlarge)

When we were invited to attend the new Volkswagen Polo 1.6 media event, it came a few months after the car was officially launched during KLIMS in November 2013, where it was showcased to the public, and subsequently officially announced as being available for sale from 24 January 2014 onwards. Being the third model under VW’s localization program, the new Polo 1.6 had to carry on the VW tradition of superior German engineering but with a local price tag, so it had a lot of ground to cover to prove itself worthy to wear the VW nameplate after the Passat and Polo Sedan. And that was exactly what Volkswagen Group Malaysia (VGM) had in store for the media, inviting us out for a day in the sun to put the locally assembled Polo 1.6 to an appropriate trial run.

With its dynamic and sporty design, the Polo 1.6 is targeted at young drivers who desire an engaging driving experience without compromising on comfort, safety and quality. Thanks to VW’s CKD efforts, the new Polo 1.6 comes in at an attractive price of just RM87,888, with 500 early birds getting an additional RM2,000 cash discount to bring its price down to an even more attractive level at RM85,888. At that price point, the Polo needs to appeal to consumers who are looking for a mix of space, quality and performance with an emphasis on fuel efficiency, which the new Polo 1.6 passes with flying colors, especially in the fuel efficiency department where the claimed combined fuel economy of 15.87km per liter is nothing short of amazing for a car with a 1.6-liter mill without any form of hybrid assistance.

Volkswagen Polo 1.6: Subtle Changes Without

On the outside, the latest CKD Volkswagen Polo has new headlight clusters that are now fully chromed compared to the smoked variety on the imported, turbocharged Polo 1.2 TSI. The front grille is also different, sporting two chrome lines running alongside the entire grille instead of one chrome line on the turbocharged Polo. However, the lower air dam lining that added a dash of bling on the current Polo TSI is missing on the 1.6. 15” Riverside alloy wheels are shod with 185/60 R15 Apollo Alnac tyres sourced from India. Incidentally, Apollo is the 17th largest tyre manufacturer in the world, catering to its home market as well as Europe and Africa. Initially, there were concerns from the media regarding the quality and performance of the mid range Alnac tyres, but our doubts flew out the window as soon as we got down to business. Polo 1.2 TSI owners are probably rejoicing that their cars are shod with 17-inch Boavista alloys with 215/40 R17 Continental CPC (Conti Premium Contacts). Other kits missing from the CKD Polo 1.6 include; the signal lights on the wing mirrors, intermittent wiper control and heat-insulating tinted glass.

It’s never easy when it comes to CKD programs in this country, where traditionally, owners of fully imported vehicles pay top dollar (due to a hefty tax penalty) for their rides. The last thing they want is for a manufacturer to suddenly decide to assemble the same variant locally, effectively eroding the value of said fully imported variants. A few years down the road, nobody’s going to care too hoots if your car was fully imported or locally assembled; pre-owned values between the two do not vary that much, certainly not as much as the difference between the two when newly bought. In some cases, the CKD variant of the same variant is marketed with even better trim and specs, at which point the early adopters who supported the variant in CBU form just can’t shake the feeling of being shafted. So in the case of the new Polo 1.6, VGM was careful to take care of its hard fought owner base by ‘dumbing down’ the CKD variant in order to justify the hefty price savings.

Volkswagen Polo 1.6: Not So Subtle Changes Within

Speaking of uprated specs, Polo 1.2 TSI owners aren’t going to be happy about this. The new Polo 1.6 comes with a new head unit in the form of an RCD 320 radio system with multi-language support, CD player (WMA/MP3 compatible), USB/iPod/Aux/SD connectivity as well as BlueTooth for audio streaming and telephony. A new ‘Climatronic’ automatic air conditioning system also takes the place of a manual system. Also present are auto up and down power windows (all 4), cruise control, height adjustable driver’s seat, superfluous chrome surrounds for switches and knobs etc, a multi-function leather steering wheel complete with multi-function display, speed sensing electronic power steering, cupholders, tilt, and a telescopic steering wheel and triple flash lane change indicator (where a soft touch of the indicator stalk would blink the turning lights 3 times).

Rest assured that VGM does indeed value its customers and the lives of those who ride in Volkswagens. Dual front SRS airbags, Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS) and anti-pinch power windows (all 4) are included in the sticker price, as are ABS with Brake Assist (BA) and Park Distance Control (PDC). The only thing missing is the ESP (Electronic Stability Program). So it does seem that with all the goodies that they took out of the Polo 1.6, it isn’t a car without merit. More importantly, it is a car that is big on fun, as we found out on a sunny day trip to Sepang Circuit.

Volkswagen Polo 1.6: Mechanical Considerations

There are no surprises here, for the same engine and gearbox combo power the Polo Sedan. The 1.6-liter 16-valve Multi Point Injection engine in the Polo develops 105PS @ 5,250rpm and a healthy 153Nm of torque at a low-ish 3,800rpm to pull a vehicle with a kerb weight of only 1,020kg. This translates to a manufacturer’s rated century sprint timing of 11.1s on to a decent top speed of 184km/h. For comparison’s sake, the Polo 1.2 TSI dispenses with the century sprint in 9.7s with a 190km/h top speed. Ostensibly, the naturally aspirated Polo loses out in outright performance on paper, but if you were to pit both cars on a track, the differences may not seem that apparent. Nonetheless, a win is a win and in this respect the blown Polo rules. The writer input if the performance variance between them might have whittled down further if both cars had come with the same gearbox (DSG). As it stands, the Aisin derived 6-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox with torque converter does an admiral job keeping the Polo 1.6 revving along happily and fuss free. The writer further input that apart from a slight hesitation while engaging Drive from rest (Neutral or Park), the Aisin 6-speeder in the Polo 1.6 was pretty smooth throughout the Sepang test run. One other point to consider, is that the Polo 1.6 is a good 106kg lighter than the Polo TSI (1,020kg vs 1,126kg), so in practice the naturally aspirated variant might feel zippier and less nose-heavy around the bends.

Volkswagen Polo 1.6’s driving fun in the heat

Media journos tend to get jaded after attending drive after drive with the same SOP (standard operating procedures), so for this particular drive VGM decided to ramp up the fun factor, in keeping with the tagline for the Polo 1.6, “Big on Fun”. The invitees were grouped into the usual 2-3 to a car, but this time there was a twist. The guys were to drive the compact in a way that best simulated the behavior of the general motoring public on various road conditions that included highway runs, back roads, hilly terrains with a traffic crawl or two thrown into the mix. Their first objective was to try and beat Volkswagen’s claimed fuel efficiency figure of almost 16km per liter. The journos were told not to coast the car, leave the air conditioning temperature at or below 21C to eliminate as many variables as possible. The writer, along with 2 other sizeable dudes, managed to easily best that figure with a 16.7km/l result without really trying. As if that wasn’t enough, the winning team managed to eke out a victory by clocking in a staggering 18.2km/l without the usual hypermiling techniques employed.

When the entourage got to Sepang a whole set of new challenges awaited. Working in teams of 2, they were asked to perform various maneuvers to truly test out the Polo. The cars used in the tests were actual Polos being sold; they weren’t specially prepared for the event. In the ‘Zippy Fun’ trials, the guys were asked to drive the Polo around a short circuit complete with sweeping bends and through a slalom. Going around that track one could easily conclude that the Polo 1.6 was indeed exemplary, dispensing the cones with relative ease via a simple flick of the wrist. The writer felt that the EPS lacked appropriate feedbacks, but somehow he never got into a tough or close shave situation. The Apollo tyres protested slightly as he swung the car in and out through the makeshift track right outside the track, but it never lost traction. Perhaps the writer didn’t push hard enough. Nevertheless, the solid chassis of the Polo did not disappoint as it took the abuses thrown at it without breaking a sweat.

Next up, the ‘Gravel Fun’ route was an activity purportedly designed to try and raise the drivers’ heartbeats which were monitored via an RFID bracelet strapped to their wrists. The idea was to see who among the fearless journos would lose their cool (and balls) while being driven around a dirt track by a seasoned rally driver whose idea of fun was to kick up as much dust as possible while trying to make them scream like little girls. Although the ‘rally car’ had all the livery of the actual car running in the WRC (World Rally Championship), the one that the rally driver drove was but a regular Polo 1.6, complete with Apollo Alnac tyres. In the hands of an experienced off-roader, the Polo 1.6 showed the guys that they could easily have tons of fun driving the Polo in such punishing road conditions without skipping a beat. Here, the guys managed to experience the sturdy suspension system of the Polo 1.6 that not only took care of the harsh offroad conditions but took care also not to jar its occupants by keeping the ride supple yet progressively firm.

As with most CKD programs, regardless of manufacturer, you win some, you lose some. In the case of the Polo 1.6, it comes in right smack in the middle of the competition among other strong B-segment contenders from Asian manufacturers. For the Wolfsburg-based marque, it is something that they haven’t encountered before as VW cars are usually priced one segment above the competition owing to its imported status. Even the Passat in CKD form, only managed to shed around RM10,000 off the CBU sticker price, while this Polo lobs off nearly RM30,000 to bring it within striking range of the usual suspects in the hotly contested and crucial B-segment market. All of a sudden, the crowded B-segment just got a little more crowded, as the new Polo 1.6 hits almost all the right notes for this group of buyers.

At RM87,888.00, the new Volkswagen Polo 1.6 is a very attractive proposition, aimed at the young and young at heart who want to get in on the Conti experience without having to pay a huge sum. Sure, it’s not a turbo. Sure, it doesn’t come with a DSG. But you are getting genuine German engineering in a car steeped in tradition since the 70s, and that alone justifies a lot…

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