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Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion

The Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion on its Green Car guide road test

Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion Road Test

Model/Engine size: 1.2 litre CR 5 door
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 80.7 mpg

Beating Spirit rating:
8/10

The Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion can achieve 80.7 mpg along with emissions of just 91 g/km CO2; the key question is, do you have to make sacrifices for such economy?

The previous Polo BlueMotion was one of the first non-hybrid cars to provide excellent levels of economy and emissions (99 g/km CO2). However it was very agricultural in terms of noise and coarseness, it was certainly no fun to drive, and we actually found its level of grip (or more precisely lack of grip) from its skinny, low rolling resistance tyres to be bordering on dangerous.

The new Polo BlueMotion is now here in the UK. We think that its big brother, the latest Golf BlueMotion , is one of the best cars we’ve driven this year, certainly in terms of refinement and having no drawbacks for being green. So we were extremely interested to see if the genes of the Golf were also present in the new Polo BlueMotion.

In terms of appearance, then the new Polo certainly shares the new design style of the latest Golf. It looks very grown up for a supermini – although not hugely exciting. Like the previous version, this Polo BlueMotion comes with a body kit, blanked air ducts, reduced ride height, and special wheels. Although these are alloy wheels, they’re smaller than the alloys that you’d see on other Polos, and all this contributes to the car looking slightly weird, with the design not being as clean as the average Polo.

VW Polo BlueMotion

The refinement continues inside, in terms of design, materials and build quality; just don’t expect much design flair. However one of the first things that strikes you is that the steering wheel feels offset to the left, and at the same time, you can’t move yourself any more to the left to compensate for this because of a wide centre console at the bottom of the dash. There seems to be no obvious reason why it needs to be that wide, and it certainly makes the driving position feel unnecessarily cramped. Apart from this, space is sufficient in the interior and boot.

In addition to the alloy wheels, standard equipment includes manual air conditioning, cruise control and a leather steering wheel. The BlueMotion is also available as a more practical five-door, as per our test car, as well as a three-door.

When you start up the car, you’re immediately aware of how noisy it is. This is a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder diesel engine, and although at times it sounds vaguely amusing when revved, like some sort of household appliance on heat, it’s actually painful to live with on an ongoing basis. Things are particularly noisy when accelerating at low revs.

Accelerating at higher speeds doesn’t result in much improved forward progress. In fact in an attempt to overtake yet another car sitting mindlessly in the middle lane on an uphill stretch of the M6, a Transit van easily out-accelerated the Polo; there’s just no power. The longer gear ratios from its five-speed manual box are a factor in this lack of ability to accelerate. The danger is that you have to drive the car harder, and so less economically, to try and make decent progress. If you’re travelling at fairly constant speeds somewhere between 50-60 mph, then this car is easier to live with.

The road test – on wet country roads

Driving on wet or greasy country roads throws up exactly the same problem that we encountered with the previous generation Polo BlueMotion – a distinct lack of grip from the low-rolling resistance tyres. These tyres are said to save around 2-4 g/km CO2, but they mean that understeer can be a real tendency for this front-wheel drive car. The steering isn’t inspiring and the handling certainly can’t be described as fun (whereas lots of superminis do deliver fun in this department), and the ride, with the firm tyres and lowered suspension, is acceptable but not super-comfortable.

When you come to a halt then the Polo has a start/stop system, and this works well, with the engine normally shutting down. This system is responsible for saving up to 8 g/km CO2. Sitting at traffic lights is a good time to review your fuel economy, and despite all the aspects of this car that you may not like, you simply cannot argue with its capability to be super-economical. We didn’t achieve the official 80 mpg figure, but we did manage to see figures of up to 73 mpg, which is pretty amazing. The Polo should be capable of a range of up to around 800 miles on one tank in real-life driving.

Other ‘eco-technology’ includes regenerative braking that recharges the battery on over-run, which is claimed to save 2-3 g/km CO2. There’s also an indicator to tell you when to change gear, which may be a useful prompt for some drivers, but it can certainly result in instances when you’re instructed to change gear when the revs are too low.

The VW Polo is basically a good car. It should be; it’s the winner of the 2010 European Car of the Year award. It obviously won this award for being sensible and grown-up rather than for being a fun driver’s car.

The Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion gets a 10 out of 10 for economy and emissions, but it only deserves a 6 out of 10, at best, for the noise, roughness, lack of power and lack of grip. This means it ends up with a Beating Spirit rating of just 8 out of 10 overall.

If you want an out-and-out economical car then this could be the one for you. If you want a car that has no compromises in its driveability, then look elsewhere. Perhaps you don’t have to look too far. Both the Polo 1.2 TDI 75PS and the 1.6 TDI 90PS both emit just 112 g/km of CO2. We’d go for the latter, although this costs £15,740 in five-door form compared to the £15,045 for the five-door BlueMotion.

Fleets are likely to find the fuel economy and the low company car tax rates of the BlueMotion appealing.

Review and Summary

The Polo’s big brother, the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion, is one of the best cars we’ve driven this year. It emits just 99 g/km CO2 and it is incredibly refined with no compromises in driveability. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion. After the Golf, and indeed the Scirocco TDI, expectations were very high for the new Polo BlueMotion. Although the official fuel economy and emissions figures are excellent for the car, you have to make huge sacrifices with the noise, rough engine, lack of power, and lack of grip. Overall, the latest Polo BlueMotion just hasn’t moved the game on sufficiently from the previous model in terms of its areas of weakness. We keep hoping that the era of compromises with green cars is over, but seemingly it isn’t.

Paul Clarke

View of the VW Polo's dashboard from the driver's seat

The view from the Energy Saving Trust

Volkswagen has been one of the leaders in fuel efficiency technology and the BlueMotion models have consistently come ahead of the pack in terms of CO2 emissions. The previous Polo BlueMotion was one of the first very low emission cars available and the first to creep under the 100 g/km CO2 threshold. There were a number of performance compromises with the original Polo BlueMotion that were arguably excusable given its groundbreaking CO2 emissions.

The new Polo follows with even lower emissions at just 91 g/km and some improvements over the original. However, with other manufacturers introducing new low emission cars, many drivers will be less forgiving of cars where the compromise is too great. The new Polo’s driving characteristics are disappointing especially as the as the 99 g/km Golf Bluemotion is such a good car. The Polo BlueMotion will probably remain a niche model for individuals and fleets wanting to make a statement about their environmental credentials. With a wide range of very economical petrol and diesel engines available, the Polo still offers a fantastic choice of efficient models with little or no compromise.

Tim Anderson
Consumer Transport Manager – Energy Saving Trust

VW Polo BlueMotion car details and fuel economy data

Fuel economy extra urban: 91.1 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 67.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 91 g/km
Green rating: VED band A – first year £0
Weight: 1071 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 13%
Price: £15,045 (From £9,790 to £15,740)
Insurance group: 9
Power: 74 bhp
Max speed: 107 mph
0-62 mph: 13.6 seconds
DPF: Yes