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What is it?

I LIKE three-cylinder cars – for many reasons, including efficiency, sound and nostalgia.

I first drove three-potters in the mid-to-late 1950s with a succession of those high-performing DKW 3-6 Sonderklasse two-strokes; about 40 years later I had a couple of Daihatsu Charades and now the joy has been relived with the Volkswagen Polo TSI.

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What’s it cost?

Polos come in quite a range, among them a hot GTI, but today we’re in the Trendline model, the most affordable of the clan, starting  at $17,990 for the five-speed manual. But we opted for the $20,490 dual-clutch auto to better cope with the ever-increasing traffic snarl.

It’s a cleanly-styled, attractive five-door hatchlet and it comes with everything that matters: aircon, cloth seats, a fine leather-rimmed steering wheel, keyless entry, central locking,  cruise control, reversing camera and daytime running lights.

To start up you actually need to insert and turn the key. That brought a smile to my face in these days of push-button starts – which I had on my Morgan back in 1958!

Tech stuff include an impressive piano-black framed 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-friendly, and which pairs with a six-speaker audio system.

There’s no sat nav, but you can link your smartphone to fix that.

The car looks very Golfy these days (it’s built on the same platform) and just the 15-inch steel wheels with plastic alloy-look covers show it’s at the bottom end of the price list.

No matter. It runs fine, does everything expected of a city car and if you don’t look too closely you’ll never notice those fake ‘alloys’ and it will still have the appearance of a car $10K above its price.

The interior treatment has a minimalist touch with a two-tone dash, and the steering wheel is of the sporty flat-bottomed variety.

Instrumentation is pretty good and easy to read and the big surprise os how much room it has.

The new Polo has gained 78mm over  its predecessor in length and 69mm in width, so it can actually accommodate a couple of Mac-fed adults in the back, or three kids.

Driver and front seat passenger, or navigator, depending on what the Polo’s being subjected to, get good seating with lots of shoulder and headroom, there’s a real handbrake (hooray), a couple of USB jacks and cup holders, a cubby and big door pockets.

Open the hatch and there’s again more space than you’d have imagined: 351 litres, which more than triples to 1125 litres if you fold the rear seats.

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What’s it go like?

The engine is a delight: a turbocharged 1.0litre three-pot, as used in the Up that chortles up 70kW and 175Nm, the latter from 2000rpm.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of muscle, but it can get the Polo moving pretty smartly in both acceleration and open road cruising, and use next to no fuel in the process.

It can run to 100km/h in a little over 10 seconds and if you can find an autobahn somewhere you can eventually run it to 200km/h. That’s big time speed for a motor the size of a shoebox and means you can easily tackle the long road around Australia in this little sweetie.

Fuel economy is quite an issue with the dollar dropping in value and petrol prices rising at a startling rate, and the Trendline used only 5.5litres/100km on test, which bordered on the phenomenal.

The suspension is typically Euro-firm, but still gives a comfortable ride, and the steering is light and accurate, great for parking and equally happy in faster traffic.

Also impressive is the sound isolation, which makes for a civilised interior, devoid of excessive road noise.

Safety-wise, the South African-built car has six airbags,  AEB with pedestrian detection, a fatigue-warning system and a tyre-pressure monitor, plus hill start assist, ESP and traction control.

The Polo comes with a three-year/unlimited km warranty, which is a bit strange given that a Kia Picanto offers seven years and many other brands are on five-year warranties.

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What we like?

  • Looks
  • Space
  • Quality
  • Lovely little motor
  • Economy
  • Flexibility

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What we don’t like?

  • Basic warranty
  • Steel wheels

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The bottom line?

One of those cars you immediately feel at home in. It’s well built, well priced, spacious, peppy, far from base – and if you like a nice thrummy sound, don’t bother with the radio.

CHECKOUT: Volkswagen turns up the volume

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  • 8.5/10
    Looks - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Safety - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Thirst - 9/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Comfort - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value - 8.5/10


Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.