The Volkswagen Polo needs no introduction, it is the second best-selling passenger car in South Africa, after the Polo Vivo. Both vehicles are built in VW’s Kariega plant and the Polo is exported to all right hand markets worldwide, with the Vivo being a South African exclusive.

The VW Polo GTI on the other hand, is the solely manufactured in Kariega, and 80% of the volume is exported to international markets worldwide. South Africa also happens to be the second biggest market after Germany for the Polo GTI.

The new Polo went on sale in January 2022, with a local media launch held earlier this week in Gqeberha. I attended and was fortunate to be also taken on a plant tour in Kariega (previously Uitenhage) to see the production lines of the Polo models are built there. It was a pretty special experience for me, as I love plant tours.

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Scroll through for pics from the plant of me helping “build” a Polo GTI. Photo credit: Mpumelelo Macu.

New Polo Highlights

The new Polo is available in four variants: Polo, Life, R-Line and GTI. At the launch event, we drove the Polo Life and GTI variants. Its main highlights as standard include a front bumper design with new fog lights; rear bumper with reflectors; LED headlights; new taillight design; digital cockpit; new seat and interior inserts; and multi-functional steering wheel.

Options for the new Polo include panoramic sunroof; IQ.Drive technologies; Beats sound system on the R-Line and leather seats for the Polo GTI.

They are available in 8 colours: Ascot Grey (new), Smoky Grey Metallic (new), Kings Red Metallic (new), Vibrant Violet Metallic (new), Pure White, Reflex Silver Metallic, Reef Blue Metallic and Deep Black Pearl Effect. The GTI in particular comes in four shades: Pure White, Deep Black Pearl Effect, Kings Red Metallic and Reef Blue Metallic.

I love the redesigned taillights; it is instantly recognisable with the not so new VW logo with the model name – POLO beneath it, as with all models now.

New Features

POLO: (Previously Trendline) – Eco headlights and tail lights; multi-functional steering wheel; power adjustable and heated exterior mirrors; rear power windows; digital cockpit.

LIFE: (Previously Comfortline) – Eco headlights and tail lights; digital cockpit;  folding exterior mirrors; park distance control (front and rear); cruise control; 15″ Essex Alloy wheels.

R-LINE: (Previously an option on the comfort and highline) – Eco headlights and tail lights; digital cockpit pro;  folding exterior mirrors; 2-zone climate air conditioning system; park distance control (front and rear); leather multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles; 16″ Valencia Alloy wheels.

GTI: IQ.Light LED matrix headlights; digital cockpit pro; folding exterior mirrors; multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles; 2-zone climate air conditioning system; part leather “art velour” heated seats; park distance control (front and rear); front assist; dynamic chassis control; dynamic cornering lights.

Under the hood

There will be three turbocharged petrol engines available at launch in SA.

The first is the 1.0 TSI engine available in the Polo and Polo Life specs. It has a three-cylinder engine mated to 5-speed manual transmission, with a total output of 70kW and 175Nm of torque. It goes from 0-100km/h in 10.8 seconds.

The second is the 1.0 TSI DSG engine available in the Polo Life and Polo R-Line specs. It has a 7-speed DSG transmission and a total output of 85kW and 200Nm of torque. It goes from 0-100km/h in 11.3 seconds.

The third is the top of the line Polo GTI with a front-wheel drive, in a 2.0 TSI engine with a total output of 147kW and 320Nm of torque. It goes from 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds.

The drive

We drove both the Life (70kW) and GTI at the launch even around Gqeberha to the VW plant in Kariega and around the city, stopping at Jeffery’s Bay for lunch. I hadn’t driven a manual car in a while; it was a pleasant ride, but it was the GTI for me. A hot hatch has my name all over it and the drive on the GTI was just incredible. So smooth and comfortable, and at times you didn’t need to listen to the radio because you were just enjoying the drive. It has four driving modes: Eco, Individual, Normal and Sport.

It had the right amount of extras to make driving on the day even better, like seat warmers when needed, a sunroof, a fancy infotainment system and digital cockpit. This was the first time I’ve driven a Polo at a local launch event, and can see why South Africans love this car. There were plenty of nooks for our water, and bits and bobs you need in Covid times that were easily accessible when needed. These types of comforts are big for me. However, we only got to drive these vehicles on one day, and do wish I could spend more time with it to get a proper feel.

The tech

I loved the modern insides that featured a digital cockpit, a multi-function steering wheel, a new-generation infotainment system with optional wireless App-Connect. There really is something to suit different budgets with three choices of infotainment systems: a standard 6.5-inch (on the 70kW and 85kW on the Polo and Life); an 8-inch display (standard on 85kW R-Line and Polo GTI); and an optional 8-inch Discover Media System with navigation, wireless App-Connect, voice control, inductive mobile charging and a multi-colour Digital Cockpit Pro for Life, R-Line and GTI.

Pricing

Model Price
Polo 1.0 TSI 70kW manual R311 800
Life 1.0 TSI 70kW manual R350 000
Life 1.0 TSI 85kW DSG R370 700
R-Line 1.0 TSI 85kW DSG R421 900
GTI 2.0 TSI 147kW DSG R489 400