Will the new Polo take Volkswagen to number one in Britain?

Will the new Polo take Volkswagen to number one in Britain?

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Volkswagen Group South Africa still builds the fourth and fifth generation Polos at its Uitenhage factory near P.E. in the Eastern Cape. Following a major investment in the MQB A0 architecture, the plant is now also producing the new, sixth generation model for export to other RHD countries. The made-in-Africa Polo is now available in Britain.

The first cars were delivered to dealers in LHD European countries from October. These are built in Spain.

The new Polo was revealed to the media last June, its public debut taking place three months later at the Frankfurt IAA. The first cars were delivered to dealers in LHD European countries from October. These are built in Spain. The Navarra plant in Pamplona is probably going to also be where the future Polo-based T-Cross for European markets will be manufactured.

South Africa and Spain aren't the only places where the new Polo is made. VW do Brasil commenced sending vehicles to its dealers from last October, the car having gone into production at Anchieta/São Bernardo do Campo around the same time as the made-in-Spain Polo. The VW Virtus, meanwhile, is the sedan. For the moment, that one is restricted to South America but it seems likely to be built in India too.

The five-door hatchback is 4,053mm long, 1,751mm wide and 1,446mm high. Which makes it 81mm longer, 63mm wider and 7mm lower than its predecessor. The boot's capacity is expanded by 71 litres and is quoted as being able to hold 351 litres. A Ford Focus - yes, a Focus not the Polo's rival, the Fiesta - will only take 316 litres.

What's the bad news about the Polo's interior then? Suspicious that rear seat room might have been sacrificed so as to improve the boot's volume, 178cm me sat behind the driver's seat which I had positioned for myself. Was there enough space? More than enough. Even better, the seat backs have no hard plastic to bash your knees on, and the door pockets are deep and softly lined. Headroom? Excellent.

This is a larger car in every dimension than the fourth generation Golf, the only exception being length.

Volkswagen told the media on a recent driving event that the new Polo is a larger car in every dimension than the fourth generation Golf. With one the exception: length. I can believe it. All five generations were displayed and the first and second in particular, looked tiny. Which they were.

The introduction of the MQB A0 architecture model is probably why the production ramp up is being spaced out over four or five months. For the moment, only petrol engines are available. The TDIs will land by March, and then comes the GTI which should be here in May. Eventually, the range of power outputs will stretch from 65PS to 200PS.

I tried the 1.0-litre TSI in both 95PS and 115PS forms. The second is noticeably peppier and therefore recommended, whereas the other choice, a 65PS version, is economical but sluggish as all three tip the scales in excess of 1,100kg (1,190 for 115PS cars).

Volkswagen UK suspects that the majority of buyers will go for the 1.0-litre petrol engines. No sales forecast could be drawn out of the VW staffers on hand at the media launch event but last year, the Polo was VW UK's second best seller, with deliveries of 47,855 cars. Even with the lack of a three-door body, the Polo could well push a fair bit beyond 50,000 units this year. Provided of course that the British economy continues to thrive thanks to the weekly GBP350m cash infusions and our imminent economic boom courtesy of a trade deal with Tonga.

Ibiza Threxit was mainly due to the way people now buy cars, plus of course the rise of B segment SUVs. In any case, the three-door was never a big seller. It's the same reason why higher trim levels and dual-clutch transmissions are becoming ever more popular: customers can easily spec their car online, see the cost of extras, their impact on the CO2 average, and how all this affects the monthly payment on a PCP deal. For most, having the convenience of additional doors and no tiresome clutch pedal for all the in-town driving that most of us must endure costs very little extra when looked at over three years.

Volkswagen says there won't be an all-wheel drive Polo.

How is the industry managing to keep its profits high with buyers now so canny and willing to shop around more than we all did even two to three years ago? Manufacturing cars in countries where labour is cheaper is one big reason. Another is huge economies of scale from low-cost vehicle architectures.

The Polo launch took place during the same week when I happened to be driving the new SEAT Ibiza. It was fascinating to look at the interiors and exteriors and see the shared components - and there are many - as well as notice things which are missing. Both of these A0 architecture models lack the usual three or four grab handles in the ceiling. Volkswagen AG will have surveyed people about items they use and it seems not many named these.

I wonder will this penny pinching eventually be regretted? After all, Europe is a region where the average age is rising. In the UK, people tend to be less active than say, most Scandinavians, and therefore agile. Let's see if customer feedback sees those handles appear when the Ibiza and Polo are facelifted in a few years' time. Or if they'll be quietly slipped in to the standard spec of the next three major models for MQB A0: Audi A1, VW T-Cross and Skoda Fabia.

There is only one diesel, though this 1.6-litre TDI comes in two outputs.

So as to keep R&D and manufacturing costs down, Volkswagen says there won't be an all-wheel drive Polo. MQB A0 is however, compatible with AWD.

Lowering costs is one thing, and lifting margins is the other key part of making money out of small cars in a crowded European market. Higher transaction prices are being given new impetus by various Polo vanity options. Such as? Dashboard panels in bright colours, gloss black exterior detailing, and a couple of packs with components which include cornering lights, electrically folding mirrors and sports seats. Oh, and 'Art Velour' upholstery. Yes, it's 1972 all over again.

The engine choice in European markets consists of naturally aspirated (MPI) and turbocharged (TSI) 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol units available with a total of four power outputs. There is also a 1.5-litre four-cylinder TSI and a 2.0-litre TSI. The latter replaces the turbocharged 1.8-litre unit which powered the old-shape GTI. There is only one diesel, though this 1.6-litre TDI comes in two outputs. In some countries, there is also a 1.0 TGI which runs on natural gas.

Gearboxes are five- and six-speed manuals and one DSG which has seven ratios. Great news: the changes are beautiful now, clunks and shudders and strange noises all having been at last ironed out. The manuals too, are first rate. Perfectly sprung for a satisfying gearchange action and no big gaps into the spread of ratios. Just don't think of any of the 1.0-litre engines as being rev-happy like a Honda unit of the same capacity and you won't feel short changed.

In Britain, the eventual engine sales split should be 95 per cent in favour of petrol, Volkswagen believes.

The 1.6 TDI, which is the sole diesel, will likely be a rarely seen Polo, as it is only available in SE, beats (as in in the Apple-owned headphones brand) and SEL model grades. Worse, it comes with a five-speed manual transmission and there is no DSG option. It has 80PS in the SE and beats but 95PS in the SEL.

The diesels are the CO2 champions of the range, their averages being 97 and 99g/km. Even the GTI and GTI+ have good numbers though. Both are officially rated at 134g/km when paired with a DSG. Figures for the manuals are as yet unavailable.

In Britain, sales should be 95 per cent in favour of petrol, Volkswagen believes, while the Retail/Fleet percentage split will likely be 70/30. Pricing starts at GBP13,855.

Volkswagen boasts that the new model offers 'premium segment technology' in the form of an optional Active Info Display, which is jargon for digital instrumentation. The dashboard's central air vents have been dropped by about 10cm so as to make room for the infotainment screen, which is positioned next to the digital gauges, the idea being a flowing display in a long, landscape format. Interestingly, the Ibiza lacks this and instead has its centre-of-dashboard vents in the usual position. These are therefore in line with those on the ends of the dash, which to me, looks better.

Vauxhall will rightly be concerned about the threat to the segment's number two: the Corsa.

The model grades consist of S, SE, beats, SEL, R-Line, GTI and GTI+. The last of these doesn't mean extra power. It will have the same 200PS as the GTI, but there will be more standard equipment. The GTI is to be priced from GBP21,140 with a DSG and an additional GBP1,500 for the GTI+. Volkswagen is yet to publicise prices for the six-speed manuals.

So then, the big question: is this the new segment leader? If it's driving fun, then the Fiesta isn't being knocked off its perch. Does that matter to the majority of Polo prospects? No it doesn't.

The Volkswagen's XL-sized boot, the comfort and appearance of its seats, the updated but by no means radically changed exterior, good CO2 averages and economy plus of course the allure of the VW badge might just see this new Polo become a seriously big seller in Britain.

The Fiesta may be safe for now, but Groupe PSA should rightly be concerned about the threat to the segment's number two: the Vauxhall Corsa, which has another two years of production remaining.