Volkswagens durable mainstreamer, part of the motoring scene since 1975, is now in its sixth generation, reports Iain Robertson, who is impressed with many elements of its design and engineering, not least its amazing ACT.


Volkswagen is a past master of the art of producing cars that retain a strong identity and feature organically altered styling that affords them a timeless appeal. However, before you start mithering about the rightness and wrongness of ‘exhaust emissions’, bear in mind that this test car is petrol, not diesel powered. Let’s move on.


In case you had not noticed, this version is the BlueGT and not the all-singing-and-dancing GTi and, as such, is powered by a 147bhp 1.4-litre, rather than 180bhp 1.8-litre engine. It is the ‘softer’ option and, despite its model name, it will not emit a tirade of cuss words, either with, or without encouragement. However, it is also one of the smartest and most appositely tuned lukewarm hatches sold today, thanks to its Active Cylinder Technology, or ACT, and it is a pretty tough ACT to follow.


In essence, under certain load conditions, such as light throttle applications, the engine management system cuts off the fuel to two of the four cylinders and reports the fact to the small graphics box located between the two main instrument faces. When doing so, the engine uses less fuel (upwards of 70mpg) and emits lower exhaust emissions, being rated at 110g/km, not a bad figure, in light of the car’s performance potential.


Tipping the scales at 1.2-tonnes, weight that arises from the compact car’s outstandingly solid build quality, allied to the high level of equipment, it is still quite surprising to catch a glimpse of the fuel economy read-out ahead of the driver and note that the car is running in 2-cylinder eco-mode, returning 135mpg! Very few VW products disappoint on the fuel consumption front and, tackling my 50-miles test route, through a mix of town, cross country and motorway speeds, the Polo BlueGT defied its 68.9mpg Official Combined figure by obtaining an outstanding 78.3mpg (brim to brim). Yet, it is worth highlighting that driving the identical route but extending the performance somewhat, the figure dropped to 34.1mpg, which highlights the downside of turbocharged induction.


The car’s Bluemotion economy credentials are helped by the automatic stop/start facility, which, even at extended red traffic-lights, did not restart the engine until the clutch pedal was depressed, which suggests to me that the Polo is also equipped with a decently durable, semi-hybrid battery that supports the rest of its systems for significantly longer than any other similar system. The ‘blue’ theme is carried into the car’s interior, with blue Alcantara panels in the grey leather and fabric upholstery. However, deeper front and rear bumpers, side skirts and a roof spoiler also aid the aerodynamics to ensure that the car scythes through the air more efficiently, thus helping its fuel economy pretensions.


The current, conservative styling of the Polo follows VW’s latest design language, with plenty of sharp edges and neatly boxed off front and tail-lamp units. It is exceptionally eye-catching, while managing to look both elegant and expensive at the same time. The exterior of the BlueGT is enhanced by the (at no extra cost, for a change) optional ‘Montani Anthracite’ 17-inch diameter alloy wheels, complete with 215/40 section tyres. Due to the model’s ‘GT’ designation, it means that owners have to suffer the slings and arrows of a more than slightly knobbly ride quality enforced by the skinny profile tyres. While I might suggest that 17s and ‘rubber-bands’ should be par for the course on the GTi, the term ‘G T’ translates as Grand Tourer and I believe that a set of 16s and 55-profiles might provide a more resilient and ‘tour-worthy’ ride quality.


Those blue-panelled seats might look comfortable and supportive but the driving position is slightly compromised by a desire to provide easier access to the rear seats (the car is a five-door). While they work well on smooth roads, introduce a few back-double bumps and transverse ridges, and their springing proves to be inappropriately matched to the car’s suspension. In fact, on several, fairly innocuous and largely ‘invisible’ road surface imperfections, the BlueGT bucked so violently and uncomfortably that I have felt compelled to mention it.


Around two years ago, I owned a Skoda Fabia vRS. While the model is directly comparable to the previous generation (5th) Polo GTi, sharing not only the platform architecture but also the engine and 7-speed twin-clutch, automated transmission, its chassis dynamics (ride, handling and suspension, as well as seating) were well-balanced and harmonious. If Skoda, the ‘budget’ brand alternative to VW, can manage such aspects, with largely identical hardware, why can VW not do so? The answer, I am sure, would be multi-faceted.


Yet, I do not wish to highlight the ‘negative aspects’ of what I still regard as a most competent and consumer satisfying motorcar. The quality of its interior fittings is exemplary. Every element, from the soft-touch and highly tactile dashboard moulding, to the clarity of the dials and the functionality of the central ‘touch-screen’, let alone its ready ability to hook up with my Android mobile-phone, is from a class several rungs higher than the rudimentary Polo. The devil lies in the detail and that of the Polo is devilishly brilliant.


In-cabin storage space is well considered and abundant and the boot is spacious enough for a large shopping trip, or for carrying at least two full sets of golf clubs. There is even useful space beneath the boot floor for secreting personal possessions from prying eyes. Just sitting in the driver’s seat, it is the isolation from exterior noises that comes from first-class door and window seals, as well as the abundant application of sound-deadening materials, that hikes the Polo into premium territory.


As already mentioned, the BlueGT performed strongly on my pre-determined test route. It is a genuine delight to drive and it tracks true, despite the width of its tyres, gripping and using its EDS (electro-mechanical differential lock) traction to greatest benefit, when powering away from autumn leaf-strewn bends. At times, it is hard to believe that only 147bhp is developed by the engine, so spirited is its performance. A consistent and repeatable 0-60mph time of 7.5 seconds is impressively quick, while its top speed of 137mph is faster than some so-called sports cars.


Although a mere 1.4-litres in capacity, this model possesses the lungs of a much larger unit and its ranginess in the intermediate gear ratios is such that a press-on driver can exploit the performance envelope with moderate impunity. Geared at just 2,400rpm at an indicated 70mph aids the impression of a relaxed gait, although the mid-range punch (184lbs ft of torque between 1,500-3,000rpm) ensures strident pull between bends.


Of course, the ultimate irony is that today’s Polo is actually slightly larger in dimensions that the original Mark One Golf. However, just as the Golf has grown to accommodate its current mid-field role, so has the Polo, the space below being occupied by the Up! Model. However, in BlueGT form, while competitively price-tagged, it might be described fairly as expensive. The standard version is £18,540 on the road. Factor in the Adaptive Cruise Control, complete with radar distance control and City Emergency Braking (+£395), floor mats fore and aft (+£85), the Blue Silk paint with the fancy seat trim (+£540) and the sat-nav system (+£700) and the price rises to £20,260, which your heart might believe to be fair, even though my head states that it is around £2,000 too much.


Conclusion:   Volkswagen produces fine motorcars. The Polo BlueGT is a prime example of not just showroom but also on-road appeal. It drives most pleasantly and offers a performance envelope that is stirring to say the least. Yet, it manages to present exceptional fuel economy, in conjunction with its practical Bluemotion technology. With the sort of discounts your local VW dealer is prepared to offer, acquiring an example for either private or business use (17% BIK) would be an easy choice to justify. While you would not be disappointed, there are a few insurmountable niggles that are worth contemplating but which are unlikely to breach your overall enjoyment of the car.