Jaco Van Der Merwe
Despite a few hiccups of late due to part and stock shortage, the VW Polo has been outselling other passenger cars in South Africa for a long time.
Having been around for over a quarter of a century, the VW Polo has become as synonymous with South Africa as braai, bakkies and blackouts.
But what about this car makes it so popular among South African buyers? It turns out quite a variety of things. The Citizen Motoring breaks down the many factors that contribute to the Polo’s success.
It all started with the people’s car, the Beetle, more than seven decades ago. The Beetle became enshrined into automotive culture the world over with South Africa being no different. But all good things eventually come to an end and the Beetle was replaced by the Golf I.
As the Golf evolved over the years in reaching its current eighth reincarnation, the Golf I co-existed alongside its bigger sibling as the CitiGolf.
To fill the gap between the Golf and CitiGolf, Volkswagen South Africa introduced the Polo in 1996. When the car was introduced to Mzansi, it was already in its third generation. The sedan was called the Classic and the hatchback the Playa.
When CitiGolf reached the end of road in 2009, the fourth generation Polo was offered locally – was reincarnated as the Polo Vivo and sold alongside the fifth-gen VW Polo.
Continuing to produce a more affordable previous generation alongside a new model under the same badge is common practice for carmakers. Toyota and Ford are two others that went down similar roads with the Corolla Quest and the Fiesta Figo.
When the current generation Polo – the sixth overall and fourth in South Africa – was introduced in 2017, the fifth-gen VW Polo was introduced bearing the Polo Vivo nomenclature.
The Polo pair has shared the top two steps on the podium as South Africa’s top-selling passengers for the majority of the last few years.
Despite some feisty competition in the form of the Toyota Starlet, Corolla Cross and Suzuki Swift over the last year, the Polo pair remain as popular as ever.
In the past, the Golf line-up comprised various derivatives from entry level up to the Golf R. But with the introduction of the latest generation Golf, Volkswagen South Africa has decided to, for now, only offer the two performance derivatives, the GTI and the R, in Golf 8 guise locally.
While buyers are spoiled for choice with the influx of new VW SUVs – The T-Cross, T-Roc and Taigo – without standard Golfs on offer, the Polo has kind of become the new Golf. Albeit somewhat smaller, it definitely has a more affordable price tag than the 1.0-litre TSI Golf would have had.
No Original Equipment Manufacturer will invest in assembly plants if there isn’t a local interest in the vehicles it intends to built no matter what percentage is earmarked for export.
Similar to other locally-built cars, like the Ford Ranger and Toyota Corolla Cross, to name but a few, the Polo’s local popularity justifies VW’s Kariega (formerly Uitenhage) plant.
The plant has been building the VW Polo since 1996 and last month achieved the milestone of assembling the 1 000 000th unit wearing the Polo badge.
The Polo, the Polo GTI and the Polo Vivo are built in Kariega. In fact, the Eastern Cape facility is the world’s sole manufacturer of the Polo GTI.
The VW Polo might not be a premium product, but compared to some of its rivals, does a damn good job in its ambition to strive towards being one.
The car feels rock solid on the go, with an excellent suspension ready to smooth out the most uneven South African roads.
Its interior is well-crafted with mostly quality materials on offer with the use of hard plastics kept to the minimum. Which ever way you look at it, the VW Polo smacks of good built quality.
It really is a case of catering for everyone in the current Polo family. The 70kW derivatives offer good value for money and is easy to drive, the 85 kW offerings pack an additional punch with added comfort and the GTI is everything a boy or girl racer would need in an everyday car.
The 70 kW Polo is offered as a base model (R315 000) and in spruced up Life spec (R353 600) with the sole transmission option being five-speed manual.
It is powered by a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine which sends 70 kW of power and 195 Nm of torque to the front wheels. VW claims that it will only sip 5.4 litres of fuel for every 100 km.
The uptuned 85 kW models are offered in Life (R374 400) and R Line (R426 100) trim levels which are only mated to seven-speed DSG transmission.
These models are powered by a 1.0-litre turbo petrol mill sending 85 kW and 200 Nm of torque to the front wheels. Claimed fuel consumption is also 5.4 L/100 km.
With the price of the Golf 8 GTI creeping up towards R700 000, the junior GTI has become an attractive hot hatch alternative at R494 600.
Powered by a peach of a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the Polo GTI produces 147 kW of power and 320 Nm of torque. This is sent to the front wheels via seven-speed DSG box.
ALSO READ: Polo GTI a race car straight off the showroom floor
As the Polo GTI features the same hardware as the units that races in the national PoloCup series, it is virtually a race-ready car that can be bought off the showroom floor. VW claims that it can sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in an impressive 6.7 seconds, with a top whack of 238 km/h.
Believe it or not, but with the Arteon, Passat and Jetta not offered in Mzansi anymore, the Polo sedan is the only sedan in Volkswagen’s current local portfolio.
Still offered as the previous generation model, the Polo sedan is available in five derivatives. Both the naturally aspirated 63kW/132Nm 1.4-litre petrol engine and 77kW/155Nm 1.6-litre mated to five-speed manual transmission are available in Trendline in Comfortline trim. The 1.6 Comfortline also offers the choice of six-speed Tiptronic gearbox.
With pricing ranging from R265 800 to R330 400, the Polo Sedan offers good value for money and is an attractive option for both commercial and private transport.
With pricing starting at R235 200, the Polo Vivo offers good value for money.
The five-model range starts with the 1.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine producing 55kW/130Nm in Trendline (R235 200) and Comfortline (R253 900) trim level. Both have five-speed manual transmission.
Next up are the 77kW/153Nm 1.6-litre naturally aspirated models offered in Highline manual (R281 600) and Comfortline auto (R282 100) spec.
AT the top of the tree is the Polo Vivo 1.0TSI GT at R317 400. The GT’s three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo petrol produces 81 kW of power and 200 Nm of torque which is sent to front wheels via six-speed manual box.
Like on other models, the German carmaker offers a generous list of optional extras on the VW Polo to give every buyer the opportunity to accessorise the car to their liking.
These extras range from bigger alloy wheels to sunroofs, entertainment systems and safety specifications. Factory-fitted are not only a popular choice on the Polo, but is according to Volkswagen to most sought-after factory-fitted accessory.
By virtue of a data plug connected to the Polo’s on-board diagnostics system, Polo owners can connect to their cars through the WeConnect Go app on their smartphones.
The WeConnect Go app enables the owner to remotely access important vehicles information like fuel level, mileage and battery voltage, make service appointments and 24-hour roadside assistance.
All VW Polos and Polo Vivos are sold with a three-year/120 000 km warranty. The VW Polo also comes standard with a three-year/45 000 km maintenance plan, while service and maintenance plans are offered as optional extras on the Polo sedan and Vivo.
VW’s EasyDrive Plans can also be extended up to ten years or 400 000 km. Added peace of mind is Volkswagen’s comprehensive dealership network across South Africa and also in Namibia and Botswana.
It’s easy to see why the VW Polo is an all-time South African favourite. Even with the influx of compact SUVs – some from within its own stable – the car has managed to hold its own in the hatchback segment.
While it might be argued that price tag north of R300 000 for the entry level VW Polo hatch might be a bit much, the fact that it is a quality and durable offering can’t be contested. Neither the fact that it has become a sort of status symbol for the middle class.
There is no doubt the South African love-affair with the VW Polo is far from over.
For more information on the VW Polo, visit the manufacturer’s website.