VW Polo 1.2SE


Road tests in The Motor were essentially compiled by committee, although an author, by tradition anonymous, was responsible for drawing opinions together. This cloak of secrecy was set aside when Roger Bell, who wrote a less than flattering appraisal of the Mark X Jaguar, was hauled up before the management at Browns Lane to explain himself. Editor Richard Bensted-Smith had to make a contrite explanation although Roger, skilled and articulate, was perfectly capable of speaking for himself. His views were not only those of the entire team, they have been endorsed by experience.

The road test staff comprised the technical editor, Joe Lowrey, Charles Bulmer, Roger Bell and me. We were joined by Michael Bowler and Cyril Posthumus and worked from time to time with John Anstice-Brown, and the marvellously erudite Laurence Pomeroy. Generous, amusing and never patronising, Pom was occasionally theatrical yet one hung on his every word.

The principles of road testing at The Motor were carefully drawn. Cars were assessed from the point of view of a likely buyer. Personal prejudices were disallowed. We individuals preferred fast cars, slow ones bored us, but authors were prohibited from reflecting such narrow-mindedness. Objectivity was crucial. Some readers actively disliked fast cars and we had to take them into account. You described a car rather than set yourself up as a critic, we were compiling tests for likely buyers so we had to think as likely buyers and not young tearaways.

Judging by tyre-smoking pictures and jargon from racing drivers manqué it’s not like that now. I reflected how testing has changed when I was at the wheel of a 1.2 litre Volkswagen Polo SE this week. It is now safe to reveal that I was author of The Motor road test of another 1.2 litre Volkswagen in 1963, in which: “Cornering is accomplished with little roll but a certain apprehension as initial understeer gives way to a decided oversteer as the 41/59 weight distribution and swing axle rear suspension assert themelves.” This described the handling without exactly saying whether we liked it or not. The conclusion was perfectly clear. “Although economical the performance is poor for a 1200 and it is seriously affected by adverse conditions like a strong wind or a heavy load. Handling is suspect on account of oversteer, which asserts itself abruptly.” Nothing mealy-mouthed there.

What strides cars have made in 46 years. Top speed of my 1963 Beetle was 70mph, fuel consumption 26mpg, although we always included a “Touring” consumption, calculated from the steady-speed tests, since it took less account of the test staff’s fast driving. The VW’s was 42.75 (6.6l/100km) reflecting high gearing and low rpm. Maximum power of 34bhp (25.35kW) came in at only 3,600rpm, “at which the piston speed was only 1,510 ft per minute.” Pom was very big on piston speed.

The clever little Polo gives 69bhp (70PS) (51.48kW) at 5400rpm representing some 3,080 ft per minute, about twice what Pom would regard as acceptable. The difference is that the Polo is going 30mph faster, its little 3-cylinder engine spinning smoothly and faultlessly to give a combined mpg of 51.4 (5.49l/100km). The quality of VW finish and engineering has never wavered since the Beetle, and even though the Polo takes 14sec to reach 60mph, or about 4 sec less than the Beetle took to reach 50, it does not feel slow.

Putting myself in the shoes of likely buyers, they would surely approve.

I tried the diesel 1.6 TDI. It has a few extra horse power and a fourth cylinder, is just about as fast and should give 65.7mpg (4.3l/100km) but likely buyers might not enjoy it as much as the swifter-feeling petrol car.