Volkswagen recently held a mega event for media, dealer staff and fleet customers last week at the Yas Marina circuit to celebrate their best ever sales period in the Middle East, witnessing 22% growth for 2012 over last year. The event consisted of an overnight stay at the Yas Viceroy hotel with various activities the next morning, such as track time with the VW Scirocco, drag time with the VW Passat CC, and skid-pad time with the VW Golf GTI. Now, the problem with attending a mega event means that there is a lot of standing around doing nothing, with limited seat time in the actual cars. Still, the most interesting thing we got out of it was our first wheel-time with the 2013 Volkswagen Polo Sedan.
The VW Polo was discontinued years ago in the GCC due to slow sales, not least of which due to its relatively high price for what is essentially a sub-compact. Back then, the European-built runabout was only available as a hatchback, and still is in Europe. Now for this year, the VW Polo started being built in India as a sedan for that market, and it is this car that is being shipped to the UAE and neighbouring Gulf countries.
The transformation from the slightly-premium European Polo hatch to the more-affordable Indian Polo sedan hasn’t been particularly kind. The shape is tall and awkward, while the interior is as cheap as it can get in this segment. We have no clue whether the Indian factories follow the same quality standards as the European factories, but at first glance, the build quality looks fine.
The cabin looks very Golf-like at first, but start touching the surfaces and it’s all hard plastic. Even the armrests are just a thin layer of cloth wrapping a hard surface, and the only bits of padding were on the leatherette steering wheel, the cloth seats and surprisingly, the leatherette handbrake lever. There are also a pretty LCD screen within the gauges, while all other controls are nicely laid out, from what we can remember of our 2-minute test drive.
But damn is it spacious. The Polo Sedan follows the same philosophy as the Jetta and the Passat, which is to cut costs some ways and make the car larger than anything else in its class. So it is superbly spacious for a sub-compact, even in the back.
In our brief round that involved driving through a pool of water after having the rear wheels “kicked” from the side by a mechanical contraption, we were told that this was a demonstration of the stability control systems of all the VW cars. I skipped the other cars and chose to drive the Polo. Indeed, after getting “kicked” at around 30 kph, I brought the little sedan back under control very easily. It’s only later that I realised, after reading the spec sheets, that the Polo doesn’t even have stability control. So the car was controllable simply because it was an easy handler.
Also, on the dry parts of the skid pad, the fully-adjustable steering felt reasonably sharp but offering an isolated feel, sort of like what you’d expect from luxury sedans. So it felt like driving a larger car. The 105 hp engine was as buzzy as expected in this class, while the ABS-assisted brakes are better than what the Japanese offer, even if they’re still drums in the back.
That’s about as much as we took from that brief sojourn, but it seemed impressive enough for a car that will compete against the likes of the Toyota Yaris, the Nissan Sunny and the Kia Rio. The only issue we can foresee is a base price that starts at where the others top out. We’re not sure how it rides on the road, but pricing will always be a big deal for buyers in this segment.
For detailed specs and prices, visit the Volkswagen Polo buyer guide.