Racy hatchback with tons of toys: VW Polo 1.2 TSI DSG review

2 years ago my wife bought herself an Audi A1 1.4 TFSI. She got a great deal as the one she bought came with a lot of extras that the dealership included in the base price. The car is very good around corners, loads of power at the bottom end of the rev range and acceleration is satisfyingly grunty. I drove her car a few times and really enjoyed the sporty nature of it, a nice lamb looking car with a wolf of an engine. Soon after I bought myself a Ford Ranger 2.2 XL turbo diesel, fulfilling my dream of driving a monstrously large bakkie with all the rugged accoutrement. I did sacrifice small things such as electric side mirrors, a 6 speaker entertainment system and a few other bells and whistles I had in my 2011 VW Polo 1.6 Tiptronic Comfortline. But who cared?! I could load a ton on the back and, if I had to, could tow 3.5 tons!

“…fulfilling my dream of driving a monstrously large bakkie.”

Look, I loved that bakkie, loading large amounts of stuff was no longer a problem and I could easily buy large appliances and furniture and skip the delivery fee as the cavernous load bay could take all the items on display in your typical Dion Wired. I also promised myself that I wouldn’t become an errand boy for friends and family, if they needed stuff hauled from one place to another, they could buy their own bakkie or get a moving company to do it. Yeah, that didn’t quite happen.

After 18 months I realised something, those small things I sacrificed to drive a lane filling bakkie, I was starting to miss them. Steering wheel controls, parking where I wanted to and not having to pay the surcharge at the car wash. Get over it, I said to myself, this Rangy is a damn fine way to make the trip to Randburg from Centurion every day. Diesel is cheaper, I got around 8l/100km from a tank and the car had a 5yr/60 000km service plan. Efficient to operate and very practical. Yet, something was bothering me.

Now I’m a bit of techy, I like my gadgets. When it comes to cars, I specifically like a good sound system (not aftermarket mind you, the manufacturers do a damn fine job of filling their chariots with auditory bliss these days), steering wheel controls and Bluetooth. Mid-tiered vehicles over the last few years have also started to include touch screens for the ICE, rain sensing windscreen and auto light functionality. Of course, when Apple announced CarPlay I was giddy with joy, being a bit of an Apple fan boy. Problem was, if I wanted all this in a bakkie, I would be looking at the top end models like the Wildtrack which are north of R500 000. That’s a lot of financed monies when you’ve just welcomed a new baby in the household.

So, do I stick with the bakkie or see if I could something that could scratch my itch for car tech and provide a great driving experience? To the internet I went! Based on my very specific search criteria, lo and behold, only one result ticked all the boxes. The new face lifted VW Polo 1.2 TSI DSG Highline.

“…lo and behold, only one result ticked all the boxes.”

So off I went to the dealership to test drive this singularly unique vehicle that would speak to my petrolhead heart. Boy was I not disappointed. Post test drive I instructed Jarryd from Strijdom Park VW to go ahead and find me one of these mythical beasts. A week later, between him and Nick Diamontopoulos, the deal was done and I was sitting in my white steed being taken through all of the features and functions of my new acquisition. Packed to the rafters with tech this model is, I said in my best Yoda impression.

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Let’s start with the tech and move from there. My Polo also came with a few additional extras that I didn’t have on my checklist. This seems to be a fairly common occurrence these days where you either wait weeks for the vehicle specced as you want it, or get it in double-quick time if you are prepared to do with or without extras you didn’t have or had on your list based on what’s rolling off the assembly line. Often you can negotiate to include some of these extras in the agreed upon price, but sometimes you will need to decide whether you are going to pony up a little extra for the bells and whistles included in the factory specced model. For the bulk of this review I will be referring to the Highline model, specifications obviously differ for the Comfortline and more so the Trendline models.

As mentioned earlier, the touchscreen based ICE was top of my list as an extra. The face lifted Polo has two options for your connectivity and audio needs. The standard item is a 4 inch monochrome touchscreen with 4 speakers on the Trendline where the Comfortline and Highline get the colour screen and 6 speakers together with MP3 compatibility through an auxiliary and SD-card slot. The one you want though is the 6 inch colour touchscreen model with all the above as well as a single CD slot loader placed in the glove compartment. This model also has a sensor bar below the screen which picks up your hand as you move to touch the screen and enlarges the bottom navigation bar. It’s easy to use, has a good tactile feel to it and picks up selections fairly well, although not on the level of smart phone based touch screens. The system covers all the bases from source selections, EQ levels (even going as far as to allow you to set where in the cabin the bass comes from) as well as Bluetooth options, car setup, radio station setup etc. The Comfortline and Highline models both come with Bluetooth as standard, being an option for the Trendline model. This system is truly great and but for a hiccup now and then with the Bluetooth has performed amazingly well, the sound quality is amazing and the steering wheel controls are responsive and tactile.

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My vehicle also came with PDC (park distance control) front and rear although not a rear-facing camera. The integration of the information is well done on the touch screen and also includes a separate physical button above the screen to toggle PDC on and off. Here there have been a few strange snags as the PDC normally switches off once you have cleared obstacles front and rear and returns to the last used screen, but every now and then will remain on the screen showing your turning angle even though you are on the road. This could well be fixed with a software update.

Also an extra that wasn’t on my wish list was the sunroof that came with my vehicle. What a pleasure this feature is! Having the Gauteng summer sun pouring in through the roof is absolutely vacation-feeling inducing. The sunroof has various levels of retraction and at its last setting gives a glorious view of the sky. As a nifty extra feature, when one presses the unlock button on the especially large key twice and then press and hold a third time, all four windows as well as the sunroof open up a few centimeters to allow air to escape the vehicle and cool it down before you enter the car. Great for the sweltering summers in the Northern and Eastern parts of South Africa.

Other than these main highlights my vehicle also came with the auto lights function which switches the lights on and off based on ambient light levels as well as rain sensing windscreen and an auto dimming rearview mirror. As for the rest of the interior, it has been well and truly improved and features soft touch plastics, cloth and chrome inserts and leather steering wheel, sport seats and piano black polished inserts on the steering wheel.

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Now that we’ve got the toys out-of-the-way, let’s chat about the driving! My word does that little 1.2 TSI pack a wallop! I’m assuming between VW and Audi and with the ownership of Porsche in the group, VW has been taking a leaf from the other marquees’ Le Mans playbook and gave us this little gem. While there will always be a little turbo lag at the bottom end of the rev range, it is fairly limited here and boost kicks in from lower down than expected and, when you rock the gear selector into Sport mode, peak torque is available all the way to 4500 – 5000rpm and the little screamer still wants to go to the redline. On the DSG model you get 3 driving modes, normal drive, Sport and then manual which is basically the flappy-paddles on the steering wheel. While in auto you can use the gear selectors on the steering wheel and once you have finished gleefully laughing at the acceleration hold the + paddle in for a second and it’ll switch back to auto. You can also shift the gear knob to the left once to engage manual in which case the car won’t revert to auto and you’ll have to manually click it right to get back into auto mode. And what a silky gearbox this is, the same one from the Golf 7 in 7-spd guise. Do yourself a favour, pull away from the traffic lights at normal city driving speeds, hit 60km/h and then look at the gear indicator. You should be up to 7 and I bet you wouldn’t have felt a single change.

“…all-important punch to the abdomen when you press the loud pedal.”

Acceleration is smooth but still delivers that all-important punch to the abdomen when you press the loud pedal down hard and gives you 81kw @ 5000rpm, and the breaks are great too with ABS, ESP, ASR, EDL and EDTC sporting disc brakes front and rear that give very good stopping power on top of the safety features. The chassis is stiff and taught and has a very sporty feel to it but does not compromise on a luxurious ride even on pockmarked SA roads. So you won’t be getting punched in the kidneys driving around suburbs where speed bumps are all the rage, and should you ever decide to attack a corner on a track the wide wheelbase and clever suspension will make sure you get back home in time for the rugby. The rest of the mechanicals feel sturdy, as VW cars always tend to do, with the exception maybe of the Polo Vivo which does sound a bit buckety. Doors close with a satisfying thump and the steering feels responsive with knobs and levers having the required meaty feel.

Due to the let’s-go-faster feel of the engine, you might initially want to play around with the acceleration a bit, which is going to affect your fuel consumption. VW claim a combined cycle of 5.1l/100km, I matched that on a trip to Rustenburg. If you’re a highway warrior driving to Johannesburg from Pretoria every day, expect between 6.0l and 6.5l per 100km depending on traffic. I have seen my consumption come down slowly over the last week with the car and it might be possible to come in under 6.0l in typical M1 conditions.

Other than these elements the car as a whole is a joy to drive no matter the extras you’ve ordered or taken the stock model. Peace of mind comes in the form of a 3yr/120 000km manufacturer warranty, 12yr anti-corrosion as well as 3yr/45 000km service plan.

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