Friday, 15 April 2011

Polo GTi

John Floyd ponders on whether the new Polo GTi is a better choice than its Golf sibling

THE Volkswagen Polo GTi was a car that excited some but never really reached my emotional control centre. Capable as it was, it never seemed to live up to the GTi title that has been carried proudly by big brother Golf. However, at a launch of the new generation in the Western Cape last week my perception changed.

There is no mistaking that this is not your average Polo. Styling touches and detailing such as the honeycomb grille and air intakes at the sharp end, the red strips on the radiator grille, fender flares, a colour-coded rear spoiler, red painted brake calipers, the diffuser-styled rear apron, dual tailpipes and a set of 18 inch alloys ensure the Polo GTi stands out from its lesser family members.

The interior sports a black and brushed chrome finish; the roof lining, pillars, sun visors and grab handles are black, as are other panels in the car. The brushed chrome finish is used to accent air vents and all rotary switchgear and on the door handles, the DSG shift gate and the spokes of the steering wheel. Sports-style seats are finished in black Alcantara/Vienna leather with the leather gearshift boot, handbrake grip and steering wheel receiving the red-stitching treatment.

The GTi has a high specification level for a car in this genre. It has climatic air conditioning with glove-compartment cooling, a multifunction computer, cruise control, a new generation of CD/radio audio system, auxiliary input, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, heated front seats, power windows all round and electrically operated and heated door mirrors. A panoramic sunroof and rear park-distance control are available as options.

Safety is a high priority, with both driver- and front-passenger airbags and head and thorax side airbags, while curtain airbags are available as an optional extra. Add to this ESP, ABS, hill-hold, ASR, engine drag torque control, electronic differential locks and a tyre pressure monitoring system, and you realise this is not a stripped- out car just for performance.

The chassis uses a McPherson front end with semi-independent rear suspension, stiffer damping and specially modified springs that lower the car by 15mm, all of which contributes to a lower centre of gravity and consequently improved handling. The rubber on the road is 215/40 R17 87V,. which adds the necessary grip. With a mass of just 1269kg, the GTi becomes a very agile set of wheels.

The heart of this Polo is the 1390cc TSI direct petrol-injection engine, which is both turbo and supercharged. This 16-valve unit delivers 132kW at 6200r/min and 250Nm of torque between 2000 and 4500r/min. Performance is claimed at a top speed of 229km/h, 0-100km/h acceleration in 6.9 seconds. It is probably the most efficient GTi so far, with the combined consumption claimed at 5.9l /100km and a CO² emission level of 139g/km.

Drive to the front wheels is through a 7-speed DSG gearbox with XDS electronic transverse differential lock which reduces understeer and improves the handling during fast driving through those long bends. Gear-shifting can be fully automatic or manual utilising the gear lever or via the paddles on the steering wheel.

So how well does it stack up to the previous generation and its big brother the Golf GTi? On the road the Polo GTi is an absolute joy to drive. The engine is responsive and the TSI technology ensures that the power is on tap whenever you need it. You can forget about fitting a K&N air filter, this one produces the right amount of induction roar to satisfy the aural needs of a go-faster generation

The DSG gearbox has been refined over the years and provides rapid changes up or down when used with the paddles and in town — and when using the full auto mode it becomes an excellent urban cruiser.

Comfort levels are good, although the suspension is hard, not jarring the skeletal frame but very firm — but then if you want to experience a chassis that allows the adrenaline to flow freely then that is what you would expect.

I was with a colleague driving through a mountain pass and he was heavily committed to a specific corner when a driver of dubious ability, probably with a licence to match, approached with his vehicle more than halfway into our lane. This meant a very rapid change of line for us and the Polo GTi responded with aplomb — a quick flick of the steering wheel and the car changed direction to a new line without any loss of balance. Impressive!

The verdict is that the new Polo GTi cannot be compared with its predecessor. It is light years ahead, making it a car that deserves the GTi nomenclature. Sure, the price is R14000 more than before but take a look at the specification — you are getting R40000 worth of extra kit within that price.

As regards its senior sibling the Golf GTi, that is a difficult one, but perhaps I can best sum it up by saying that as an avid fan of the Golf version for many years the nimbleness and agility of the Polo GTi makes it the pony I would prefer in my stable.

Pricing: Volkswagen Polo GTi R259000 including a 3-year/120 000km warranty and a 12-year anticorrosion warranty. A five- year/60000km maintenance plan and a five- year/60000km service are available as options.

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Toyota Aygo

Where you go is where Aygo 

Motor News found that the new Toyota small car is a pick-me- up on four wheels

 TOYOTA has been conspicuous by its absence in certain segments of the market over the past few years, says Calvyn Hamman, senior vice-president of sales and marketing at Toyota SA.

He is quite right. Since the demise of the Tazz the company introduced the Yaris, which quickly rose in price, and then it hastily introduced the Yaris Zen, essentially the same car but at a reduced price. Meanwhile the likes of the Hyundai i10, Ford Figo, Chevrolet Spark, Suzuki Alto and Volkswagen Polo Vivo charged in and took some of Toyota’s market share.

Hamman admits that a buying- down trend occurred in the market and that his company was simply "not there".

However, he says that "we are doing everything to make sure that Toyota takes its rightful position in the market".

Apparently its first step in regaining its place in the market is to launch a six-year-old car.

I should clarify that, though. The Toyota Aygo, launched last week in the Western Cape, is new to SA — sort of. I say sort of because it is the same car as the Peugeot 107 and Citroën C1 that have been on sale here for ages. Even more interesting is that all three will be replaced by new models to be unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

Is Toyota dumping old product on good old trusting SA? Not according to Hamman and his team, who said we will have the current Aygo for the next two years — while the rest of the world has the new one. Interesting.

What is also interesting is that Toyota SA is expecting to sell 300 units a month of its new baby, making it the current entry-level model, as the company said at the launch that Yaris Zen is just a run- out model and will disappear when the new Etios arrives later this year ahead of the new Yaris.

Last month Citroën sold just 26 C1 models and Peugeot just 13 of its 107. I have no doubt though that the same car wearing a Toyota badge will do better, which just shows how different our market can be to the rest of the world. In defence of the buyer though, Toyota does have more dealerships — but one still wonders.

However, when all is said and done I have to admit that I love the Aygo as I loved the Peugeot and Citroen too. It may be a little A- segment car but it is such fun to drive. Its 1l engine pushes out just 50kW and 93Nm, but it is the way it does it that makes all the difference. It sounds like a little Porsche Boxster as the three-cylinder engine does its best to roar, and while the 0-100km/h figure will hardly set any records, the fact that the car weighs about as much as a stress-ball means that you find yourself whizzing around town with a big grin on your face feeling like a Formula 1 driver . I know you may think I have gone completely crazy, but seriously, drive one after a hard day at the office — it’s better than therapy.

At present there are two models available — the Aygo Fresh at R109900 and the Aygo Wild at R120100. The Fresh has steel wheels, manual air-conditioning, electric power steering, driver and passenger front airbags, ABS, EBD and brake assist.

The Wild adds a radio, which is optional on the entry-level model, alloy wheels and side airbags.

Both models have a 4- year/60000km service plan. Currently they are only available as 5- door derivatives. but later this year the 3-door models will arrive.

There are a number of options available to personalise your Aygo, from spoilers and body-kits to graphics. Hamman confirmed that they will offer an optional rev- counter, and, given the target market, there is also an optional iPod connectivity kit.

Inside there is a decent amount of space for the front passengers, which, given that the car is aimed squarely at the youth, is probably fine. The rear is a little more compact and the boot space is only really going to work for trips back from shopping at the Young Designers Emporium.

The plastics are a little on the cheap side in places, particularly around the air-conditioning unit which looks as if it was designed by Fisher Price, and the gear-stick must surely have come from Peugeot because it wobbles around like a wooden spoon in jelly. There is no glove box and no luggage cover, so you may have to stash valuables under the front seat, but there are cup holders for those energy drinks.

So does Toyota have a winner? I am not sure about that. Yes, it is a fantastic little piece of kit, but here I must stress the word little. The Peugeot and Citroën are not volume sellers, in part because of their size, and just like Americans we in SA like bigger cars that protect us from kamikaze taxi drivers and idiots who do not know the rules of the road. The Aygo may be packed with safety features but it is all about perception, and many drivers do not even perceive that a seat-belt could save their lives.

If you live in the city then the Aygo is a wonderful option, and even if you want to scream through Franschhoek Pass it should be good fun.

I suspect that the mighty Toyota marketing machine will do all it can to make sure it sells in droves, and I look forward to hearing the sound of that little three- cylinder engine in our cityscapes.

The car weighs about as much as a stress-ball and you will whizz around town feeling like a Formula 1 driver

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