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Volkswagen Polo - The Car With No Holes

Apr 10, 2008
It always amazes me how efficient the Germans are. Whilst settling down to watch Grand Designs the other day, I saw an entire house built in a Bavarian factory, shipped to England and built in three days, all without mistakes and of course - with a top quality finish. It's the same story with sport, I bet Michael Schumacher could waltz back into the Formula One paddock, shake Lewis Hamilton's hand before demolishing him on the track, without breaking a sweat.

German cars are no different and a perfect microcosm of this can be found with one look at the Volkswagen Polo. Staggeringly this car has been with us for 33 years and is just as popular today as the first model was in 1975, which sold over 500,000 units worldwide in just six years. Originally a rebadged Audi 50, the Polo was sold alongside it's Audi counterpart but was cheaper to buy. Unsurprisingly, the Polo outsold it's identical twin and Audi stopped production of the 50.

Buoyed by it's success a face lifted Polo appeared in 1979, with subtle styling changes to bring the baby Polo into line with the design of the existing Jetta Saloon (this included square headlights on the top-of-the-range 'Derby' derivative). It was VW's intention for this to act as a stop-gap until the Mk II Polo arrived in 1981.

It's fair to say that Porsche are often criticised for having a lazy design studio, after all the 911 has looked almost identical for 40 years, but Volkswagen made a fair fist of clinching the title in 1981. The Mk II Polo was essentially identical to it's predecessor, although crucially what it lacked in originality of styling, it more than compensated for with build quality and reliability. Whilst it's main rivals the Renault 5, Fiat Uno and Austin Metro have long since gone to the great scrap yard in the sky, the Mk II Polo is still in plentiful supply on Britain's roads.

Built until 1994, the Mk II also allowed Volkswagen to pioneer new technology - most notably a G-supercharged engine that would later be the basis for the one found in the Corrado and Golf. As with the Mk I, the second generation Polo received a subtle facelift in 1990 for the final four years of production. Despite new headlights and bumpers it still bore a near identical resemblance to the original 1975 model. One notable feature however was the introduction of a removable stereo/cassette unit, allowing for increased security and was a hit with buyers and is now de-rigueur with all in-car audio units.

1994 finally saw a significant update of the Polo. Available in 3 and 5 door hatchback versions, the car sat on a new chassis shared in part with the SEAT Ibiza (VW also owning SEAT) and the Polo's big brother the Golf. Eight different engines were available, the largest choice yet in the Polo range and more contemporary styling was also on offer. The turn of the millennium saw the obligatory facelift with 70% of the components being changed, although this wasn't outwardly visible. The car certainly continued the tradition of being better made and having a more upmarket feel than its rivals and sold well. It also won a number of awards including best 'Supermini' from Top Gear, Auto Express, and Which? in the late nineties.

The Mk IV Polo was launched in 2002 and further built upon the heritage of it's predecessors. Again sharing a platform with the SEAT Ibiza and additionally the Skoda Fabia, the Polo's appearance was dramatically changed, with quad headlights similar to the smaller Lupo featured in the new design. No fewer than 11 different engine options were available, each with different levels of trim to complement. Despite early promise, the Mk IV didn't sell as well as previous Polos and faired poorly in many customer satisfaction surveys, including high profile ones such those conducted by Top Gear.

With this in mind, the Mk IV, was redesigned in 2005 and is the model found on the roads today. Subtle exterior changes were made for the car to again share the design style of others in the Volkswagen range, particularly the Passat and interior components were redesigned in the light of previous criticism. The latest model is the Polo Bluemotion, specifically designed to be more environmentally friendly, by reducing the vehicles weight, electronic equipment and engine emissions.

Reliability and value for money continue to be the Polo's standout features, although there is no doubt the latest model is a very classy looking vehicle. The best way to sum up this car is to steal the phrase from the German company themselves - "small but tough".
About the Author
Jake Delur is a motoring enthusiast who has a passion for all things Volkswagen. He is currently working to promote the VW Polo at Alan Day VW in London.
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