Saturday, April 05, 2014


Hello again folks, now's the time for one of those longer than usual reviews that hopefully would assist you in your quest to purchase the correct car for the time being. Of course this is only for the time being as people change and tastes change along the way. Especially if you suddenly get that promotion and start thinking of cars bigger than the one you're driving at the moment. It happens. And before I start going on and on and on, I've just got my hands on the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 Hatchback and this is what I think about it. Do read on.

The design
The Volkswagen Polo 1.6 Hatchback is a 5 door supermini sized hatchback that is assembled by Volkswagen in Malaysia, thereby keeping the price down. It is styled in the same way most Volkswagen cars are styled. You have that same clean lines as well as the familiar Volkswagen corporate grille on its nose. This variant of the Polo does not come with a TSI engine but a normally aspirated 16 valve 4 cylinder 1.6liter engine that makes 105PS at 5250rpm and 153Nm torque at 3800rpm. The power is then put through the front wheels via a conventional 6 speed torque convertor automatic gearbox.

Aside from this major drivetrain difference, the Polo 1.6 Hatchback has the same amount of creature comforts as the imported Polo 1.2TSI variants but without the technologically advanced turbocharged TSI engine and a Double Clutch type gearbox which can be slightly problematic for some unlucky owners sometimes. So it is because of this simple, albeit slightly down on power and torque drivetrain that the Polo 1.6 Hatchback is something one should keep in mind when looking at a slightly premium supermini to purchase. Read on and find out.

The interior

The interior is typically Volkswagen. This means that is has been thought out thoroughly. The switchgear are laid out logically and within reach of most fingers and hands. There is good tactile feel on all the knobs and buttons. The perceived quality at a glance is very good even if it looks a little plain in terms of stying and design. The instrumentation is very legible during all times of the day with clear and standardized fonts throughout the car.

When it comes to equipment, the Polo 1.6 Hatchback gets 'Climatronic' automatic air-conditioning – very impressive for a small car even though it isn't dual zone in its controls. The reason for this is that the car isn't that large to need a more complex system. This brings up the size of the Polo; it is actually well designed in terms of space utilization. It feels large and spacious up front due to the sloping dashboard. You have good headroom up front even though the seats can be adjusted high up and in the rear, legroom and head room is good even if a driver is about 177cm tall.

The seats as well as the steering wheel which telescopically adjusts for reach as well as the usual rake (or tilt). It makes searching for a driving position quite easy in this car. Aside from that the boot is pretty large too. It is slightly larger than a Perodua Myvi (which beats it for interior space) and it is also miles larger than the one in the Suzuki Swift too (the Swift's boot is akin to a drawer), as well as interior space.

Material quality is good where you touch. The steering wheel and the gear knob is leather wrapped and very nice to hold and fondle (especially the gearknob). The armrests on the doors are lined by cloth. The only issue is that Volkswagen has cut some cost by making the whole dashboard in hard plastic. This actually differs if you sat in the Polo GTI. That gets a proper soft touch material so that everything feels slightly more luxurious. Of course, this IS the entry level Volkswagen here in Malaysia. That being said, the plastics are thick and not flimsy. The glovebox is a nice piece to play with and opens and closes well. And there are tons of space to put water bottles, wallets, cards and so on.

The audio system looks good and sounds good. It may not have 'Arkamys' like in the Peugeot 208 but I think it sounds better. And it has all the usual Bluetooth and USB support. It isn't one of those GPS equipped systems but it looks premium.

The four drawbacks to the interior. Firstly, the seats are a little too hard in its padding. I believe this is due to the fact that this being a small car Volkswagen designed the foam to be hard to compensate for the thinness and smallness that is required in a car of this size. It isn't uncomfortable, and actually makes travelling in the Polo bearable over longer trips. I suppose it is just the initial feel of the seats when you use the car on shorter trips. 

Secondy, some secondary switches like the cruise control and control for the information display on the meter cluster is a tad bit tiny. And since this is a base model, there are many, many, many empty slots for buttons in the middle of the dashboard underneath the air-vents. Of course, you still get tons of kit so I suppose those must be buttons for traction control 'off', sunroof controls, rocket launchers, ejector seat controls and so on. Not items you really need in your daily commute of course. 

Thirdly, the rear seats don't fold as flat as you would want them to. But unless you really need them really, really flat, it shouldn't be too much of an issue to those using it for regular commutes.

And finally, like some modern small cars (the Toyota Vios comes to mind), it does not have a water temperature gauge. This means, like the Vios you would only know you're in trouble when you're in trouble...i.e, when the red warning light comes on. For people like Yours Truly, this warning may be too late. But one must note that most small cars omit this gauge this days. Volkswagen isn't alone in this not so tiny detail.

The overall look and quality of the interior is up by at least half a notch against the Suzuki Swift if one were to compare. It however feels a little less luxurious compared to the Peugeot 208 though. Only slightly. The Myvi is nowhere close to this and looks like it came from the same factory that builds the pails you buy to store water in times of water crisis. The bottom-line is that you do feel quite good sitting inside of the Polo 1.6 Hatchback.

Driving the darn thing.

As stated above, it is easy to find a nice driving position in the Polo 1.6 Hatchback. The steering wheel adjusts nicely and is of a very nice shape to hold. It isn't overly chunky like in a BMW (especially those with the M Sport wheel) or too thin like the one on, say a Proton Suprima S. Once you are seated, you fire up the Polo with a traditional key. None of those start button nonsense here. You just twist and it starts.

Once on the move you would find that the car is very easy to drive. The car has more than enough power to keep up with normal traffic at the traffic lights and on highways it would easily cruise at the legal speed limits. The steering is a speed sensitive electronic power steering so parking is easy and light with rear parking sensors. At speed the steering gets weighted up a little. It is accurate and allows one to place the Polo where it should be in a corner. It isn't vague and does not feel over assisted like some electrically assisted helms.

The ABS and brake assist equipped brakes are good in their feel and easy to modulate if you're really hustling the car. They do not have an overly servoed feel like some Volkswagen/ Audis of yore. The 6 speed gearbox with its Tiptronic function is rather smooth in traffic and seems to be in the right gear most of the time. It can actually change down two gears when needed. Even when belting the car on some mountainside road the transmission copes with repeated and rapid gearchanges well.

The ride comfort of the Polo 1.6 is good. It actually smothers bumps and undulations quite well. It does not bounce over them like the Peugeot 208. It is better than the Suzuki Swift 1.4 which is sportier in its setup. It is slightly firmer than a Toyota Vios but overall NVH is better in that over speed bumps the car is more compliant. Wind noise is kept under control as is engine noise. According to long time VW fan and friend Ken, it has that typical VW'ish sound when on the move. The engine is less harsh than the Peugeot 208 at most speeds mainly due to having a 6 speed automatic over a 4 speeder in the Pug. In fact that 6 speed makes it quite fun to drive. Road noise is also quite well capped too. Overall the car is refined for a supermini or B segment car.

So how good is the Polo to drive? Quite high up there.

The car, which weighs 1020kg unladen is light and can handle direction changes quite well. The steering is effective in pointing the nose where you want it to be and when you do there is no unwanted movement within its limits. The 185/60/15 sized tyres may not be the last word in grip but is adequate for a car with 105ps. Although I would have to throw some caution to the wind as this tiny Polo came with Apollo tyres – which were made in India (where this base model Polo was designed for and where the CKD kits are imported from). A Polo with Apollo tyres. It rhymes! Now whilst they actually work well in the pouring rain (and flood) unknown tyre brands make me a little nervous in the wet. But throw it into a corner when things are dry and the Polo responds well. It may not be as adjustable as my benchmark favourite supermini in this price range, the Suzuki Swift 1.4 but it is predictable with a nose led neutral to understeer feel. The tail seldom comes into play even though you Good for most Malaysian drivers and acceptable for those willing to have more thrills. However, it is more thrilling to drive than the 4 speed automatic Pug 208 and obviously the local affordable favourite, the Perodua Myvi which is actually the shopping trolley for the masses.

As for performance figures, it is average. It has an 11second 0-100kmh time and a 184kmh top speed. It isn't a hot hatch of course but if you use it as what it is meant to be, a capable supermini for regular short commutes it performs more than adequately. In fact cruising at 130kmh is quite relaxing in this car with no stress to the driver whatsoever (I.e you don't need to concentrate too much to drive at these speeds allowing you to drive for a longer stretch without feeling tired). This makes it suitable for the occasional trips back to one's hometown or on roadtrips throughout Malaysia and more.

So did I find any other faults in the time I had with the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 Hatchback? Aside from the tiny switchgear, slightly hard padding on the seats, and the lack of a water temperature gauge, the car performed very well in traffic, on long commutes, on the morning school run, on shopping trips and even when belting through some tight hillside roads.

 It also performed well during the pouring rain except for one tiny leak on the driver's side window frame when stationary during the rain induced traffic jam when we were travelling on Jalan Duta. It did not leak when we were on the move and it did not leak again after I got home and started meddling with it, pushing and fiddling with the seals on the door as well as trying to replicate it with water from a garden hose. I suppose I must have fixed it. So this must have boiled down to some quality control issues at the factory and is easily sorted out.


For RM87,888 (without insurance) the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 Hatchback is indeed a nice car to own. If anyone is looking for a car in this RM90,000 region this is one of the cars you should look at. Of course being Malaysia the tax structure is darn frustrating as you could buy a Proton Inspira which is a larger car and is actually a better buy. The Polo is very well designed and has a certain perceived quality in a car that is not from this price range. If you want this car as a capable second car, one that you could use for outstation trips, this Polo is it. If you are one that does not travel outstation and want a nippy city car. This car would do well too. More than you'd think too.

Aside from the usual fears of Volkswagen being an expensive owner experience I highly doubt that this could happen if you bought this Polo 1.6 Hatchback or even its sedan variant. These cars have very little technology to go wrong and I expect servicing costs to be affordable too. In the time I had the Polo nothing really big went wrong.

Even after taking the car up and down Genting Sempah and using it in 'manual' tiptronic mode, flicking it in 2nd and 3rd and revving it almost to the red line, the little VeeDub kept going and performing without a hiccup. This was after a trip to Shah Alam and back before heading up to the highlands. And it had about 12,200km on the clock too.

Again, this Polo 1.6 Hatchback and the Polo 1.6 sedan are the only Volkswagen cars I would seriously recommend my friends (I would recommend my enemies some other model though). As such, the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 Hatchback gets my seal of approval. IF it means anything these days that is.

Anyway, if you haven't caught this short video of Yours Truly driving the Polo 1.6 Hatchback, here it is again. 

Base Price: RM87,888 (w/o insurance)
Body: 5-door Hatchback
Mechanical Orientation: Front Wheel Drive
Engine: 4 cylinder 16 valve fuel injected 1.6-litre normally aspirated
Power: 105PS
Torque: 153 NM
Transmission: 6 speed automatic with Tiptronic
Weight: 1020kg
0-100 km/h: 11 seconds (tested)
Top Speed: 184 km/h (manufacturer's figures)
Fuel Consumption: I got an average of around 8ltr/100km even with a very heavy right foot. It would easily make 7ltr/100km if someone with a lighter right foot drove it. Very, very economical.

For: Equipment, intelligent design and layout, quality, boot space, comfort, good ride and handling, class leading NVH, economical, basic engine and gearbox ensure lower maintenance costs than TSI and DSG models, decent performance

Against: tiny switchgear, slightly hard padding on the seats, and the lack of a water temperature gauge, some build quality issues on the test car, rear seats don't fold really flat


Anonymous said...

nice review

Anonymous said...

Stumbled upon your site while considering which VW model to buy. Also read your blog about the Golf 1.4 TSI. They are good reviews, you write well and to the point, bringing out issues many other reviewers are not willing or unable to highlight. Keep up the good work; I look forward to reading more of your reviews.