Formally unveiled today in Berlin, the sixth generation Volkswagen Polo is out. For over 40 years the Polo has been the humble subcompact backbone of the VW portfolio, especially in Europe. As the Golf has grown, so has the Polo, and the latest one is about the size of a 1990s Golf.
For American VW customers, the Polo is largely unknown, despite the first, Audi-based one hitting the European market only a year after the first generation Golf. Around 14 million Polos have been built since the mid-1970s; the closest thing to the Polo the United States received was the technically unrelated, Brazilian-built Fox from 1987 to 1993.
Compared to the earlier generation which was still based on the 2001 PQ25 platform, the 6th generation Polo’s wheelbase has grown 3.7 inches thanks to its transition to the MQB setup, and the car looks even more like a smaller version of recent Golfs. VW plans for it to be the strongest seller of all the cars it will bring out this year, fighting the Ford Fiesta in the European market. The highlight of the new Polo range is the 2.0 GTI version, which produces a handy 200 horsepower. All Polos will have five doors from now on.
With the Polo’s inevitable sneak upmarket, Volkswagen has introduced smaller models to take the place of entry-level Volkswagens, and after the round-headlight Lupo of the turn of the millennium, the current smallest offering is the three-cylinder Up! hatchback. Both have been available as GTI versions, just like the Polo.
The Polo has been more than just a smaller Golf over the years, as Volkswagen has introduced some interesting versions in the past. Even the first Polo was available as a brisk GT version, but it took until the near-identical second generation car for a really quick one to become available. Using a similar G-Lader supercharger as the later Corrado, the Polo G40 doubled the power output of the basic 1.3-liter four to 115 horsepower. Only 500 of these were made at first, but the facelift 2F G40 was available as a non-limited version during the early 1990s.
In addition to funky special models like the Genesis – which was a purple Polo endorsed by, yes, Phil Collins – Volkswagen has also played with the Polo’s color schemes. For the all new third generation car, VW gave the Polo the same Harlequin treatment as the US-version Golf. By swapping body panels, the Polo gained a multi-colored look in four different schemes. Later Polos haven’t been as weird, but the Cross Polo models have at least been somewhat adventurous, with beefy body cladding giving them a faux-4×4 look. And the last, successful years of Volkswagen Motorsport rallying were accomplished with a Polo WRC.
I’ve owned a second-generation Polo for a number of years now, and while it is unbelievably basic even for a car built in 1986, it is a stoutly built, fun to drive, creak-free little car with an enormous trunk and a strong will to live. It is unlikely the new car stands for no-frills transport in a way these early cars do, but for European customers, the Polo remains justified as a solid all-rounder, no matter how big or small it is.
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