Volkswagen's Polo is as staple to Mzansi as is pap ‘n vleis, morogo (wild spinach), and masonja (mopane worms); the people’s car’s people’s car as it were. The model continues to be a firm favourite both locally and internationally, the former underscored by the fact that in January alone, sold 1 455 units. This continues to remain one of the model’s inherent strengths, managing to stave off many would-be pretenders to the B segment hatchback throne. But what is it about the model that keeps its popularity?
We recently travelled to Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape to drive the updated Polo range to see what continues to make it the market-leader. As such, we visited the firm’s manufacturing plant in Kariega to remind ourselves why Mzansi continues to be the preferred manufacturer of the Polo, for both domestic and international markets alike. While the Vivo remains the bastion to satiate the local appetite, it is interesting to learn that the local facility is now the exclusive plant commissioned to produce the high-performance Polo GTI for all markets.
Speaking of which, it was this model I truly wanted to get behind the wheel of and it did not disappoint where it matters most - its performance repertoire. However, let’s dial things back and look at some of the upgrades brought to the spruced up range. These include, among others, IQ LED lights both front and rear, an updated grille that now features a light strip between the headlights. Meanwhile the cabin has received minor cosmetic upgrades that include a digital instrument cluster across the range.
As before, there are two engine derivatives; a 1.0-litre three-potter petrol turbo in two states of tune (70kW and 85kW). The least powerful is paired with a five-speed manual, while the more powerful is exclusively allied to a DSG transmission. The flagship GTI uses a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine pushing out 147kW and 320Nm allied to a six-speed DSG ‘box. Trim levels come in Standard and Life for the entry 70kW engine derivative, while the 85kW variant comes in Life and the sporty R-Line package.
We spent time in the 1.0-litre Life Manual, which we reckon will be the more popular offering due to its pricing point (R350 000) and specification. Stretch the budget to R370 000 and arrive at the 85kW DSG variant that not only adds more power, but also a quotient of convenience to boot, thanks to the self-shifting gearbox. Naturally, the model that managed to stir our adrenal gland was the ubiquitous GTI model and it did not disappoint in living up to the three letter nomenclature.
It pulled with so much conviction out of corners and displayed a notable propensity of eating away the kilometres on a whim. Dynamic Chassis Control, a lowered ride height and 17” Milton Keynes alloy wheels (although you can upgrade to 18” option) are standard fare on the updated GTI and so too is the autonomous braking system. At a sticker price of R489 000 the Polo GTI feels and drives every bit as the Golf V GTI, which incidentally made the same power output - if only 30Nm less.
Cars in general have become erroneously expensive and it is perhaps this hard-pill to swallow that sees more people buying down a segment, but without compromising on specification and safety. In a segment that is awash with mostly good cars, the Polo in general remains a cut above and the GTI in particular makes for a rather compelling package for those looking for something with a spirited performance streak.