Volkswagen only recently re-entered the Philippine market, but the German brand seems determined to give other manufacturers a run for their money with a competitive lineup of beautiful cars. We took the new Polo Hatchback for a drive to see if the European comeback kid can cut the mustard on local roads.
It’s been quite a few years since I last drove a Volkswagen Polo, and back then it was an older generation model that belonged to my mum and had to endure the heavy right foot of teenage me on the twisty mountain roads surrounding my Bavarian hometown. When the chance came along to drive the latest version for When In Manila, Volkswagen didn’t have to ask twice and so, early one Saturday morning, we set off for a drive to Tagaytay in a shiny red Polo Hatchback from Volkswagen BGC, and in an effort to recreate the good old times of Bavarian mountain driving – minus the heavy right foot, maybe.
My first impression after getting behind the wheel was “My, have you grown!”. Not just in size, but in everything. What I remembered was a small, simple car with the basic features available and popular at the time (we’re talking late 90s here), but what I was presented with in this latest model was a grown up and much more sophisticated version of the same car. It hasn’t grown too much, though, and is still instantly recognizable as the popular hatchback it has always been – only these days it comes with all the usual bells and whistles, including double airbags, anti-theft system with immobilizer, park distance control and a radio that lets you play anything from a CD to MP3s delivered via SD card, USB drive or Bluetooth connection.
The weather soon gave our Polo its first proper test, as we got caught right in the middle of an angry thunderstorm with some of the heaviest rainfall I have ever experienced while driving here. The roads to Tagaytay quickly turned into rivers, with debris being washed onto the surface from the surrounding hills and flash flooding occurring all over the place. Right in the middle of it all was our little Polo, pushing on as if it was nothing. It’s hard to describe, but the car somehow gives you a great feeling of road confidence and so we simply whizzed past many other cars, dodged debris in best Hollywood action movie manner, and even left much bigger SUVs in our dust (or mud) thanks to the narrow tires and agile front wheel drive. Maybe the car’s rally genes came through on that occasion, seeing as the Polo is a two time World Rally Championship winner, but whatever it was, it made easy work of the treacherous conditions.
Under the hood of this hill climbing hatchback beats a 1.6-liter gasoline powered heart that pumps out 105 PS at 5250rpm, and 153Nm of torque at 3750rpm. Coupled with a smooth 6-speed automatic transmission, this gives the Polo plenty enough power to swiftly move things forward, while its Euro4 emission standard compliance means it’s kind to the environment at the same time. While the car has all the creature comforts you need, it seems the engineers in Wolfsburg have managed to still keep it light and agile enough to give it a distinct go-kart feeling if you’re looking for it. The steering is precise, the suspension firm but still comfortable, and the visibility is excellent all around thanks to the big windows. This is an easy and fun car to drive. Chuck it through corners on a mountain road or drive it into town to go shopping – it will do both jobs with ease.
German products in general, and German cars in particular, have a reputation for being of high quality, and while I am of course a little bit biased here (largely due to the German passport in my pocket), it’s fair to say that the Polo holds this reputation up rather well. On the outside, it features ultra tight panel gaps and a beautifully finished paint job, while on the inside, a cabin awaits that makes you feel like you are sitting in a car of a much higher price class. The leather steering wheel is a delight to hold, and the fabric and surface materials used give the interior a real premium feel.
The final test for its build quality came on the way home from Tagaytay. With wind and rain subsided, the car quietly made its way through the night. From the debris covered roads around Tagaytay to the world class streets of Makati, no matter how much the car was being shaken around, or how rough the driving surface turned out to be, on the inside there wasn’t the slightest squeak or rattle, or indeed any kind of noise that would indicate sloppy craftsmanship or build quality. This little Polo is rock solid and as quiet as a church mouse.
When it comes to storage capacity, car manufacturers usually quote trunk space in liters and VW is no different here, informing us that the Polo has a trunk volume of 280 liters in standard configuration and 952 liters with the rear seats folded over. Those numbers sound nice but are somehow hard to visualize. To give those figures a better real world meaning, we decided to measure the trunk volume in RBP instead of liters. RBP is short for ‘Rowena Buko Pies’ and we are pleased to say that in standard configuration, and without even removing the parcel shelf, the Polo can safely carry at least 72 RBP, while we estimate that it can fit around 300 RBP with the rear seats folded down. This VW, then, is big enough to carry food for a small army and it will handle your weekly family grocery shopping trip with ease. This is not a paid plug for Rowena by the way. We simply stopped by there on the way to Tagaytay, had an idea for a photo, and the good people at the shop went along with it.
Back home in Germany, VWs are of course a firm part of life on the roads and the “people’s car” (to use the literal translation) is more popular than ever these days. I learned to drive on an old Golf MK 1 and even passed my driving exam in a VW. Thanks to the driving school’s Golf Mark III Diesel and its easy handling in what were severe snow storm conditions many years ago, the stern looking examiner on the rear seat ended up handing me my motoring freedom after 45 minutes of intense and icy winter driving. Without those VWs back then I wouldn’t have been able to test this one now, and it’s great to see how the cars have only gotten better over the years.
Volkswagen builds cars for people who expect premium build quality and good value for money, and while owning a Polo will definitely make you stand out amongst your Japanese or Korean car owning neighbors, it certainly won’t break the bank to earn their envious looks. Of course, owners also benefit from the energetic yet fuel efficient engine that powers the Polo, which gives enough power to cope with demanding Philippine driving conditions while not sending you into a state of shock at the gas station afterwards. Really, the hardest question you’ll have to answer at the dealership is which color you want yours in. The Polo Hatchback is available in Copper Orange, Candy White, Night Blue Metallic, Flash Red (as driven by us) and Carbon Steel Grey. Head to your nearest VW showroom in BGC, Alabang, Quezon Ave. or Cebu to find out more and see how you can become the proud owner of a new Polo Hatchback: