End Of The Road: The VW Polo 1.4 SE (9N3)

I intended to write and publish this item many, many, weeks ago. However, certain events transpired to prevent me from doing so. So here it is, now, slightly later than planned.

 Polo SE-01

In short, the 9N3 Volkswagen Polo 1.4 SE pictured above is no longer with me, having been traded in for something else, which finally concluded the epic car-buying saga. It was in my possession for around 9 months, and in that time it failed to be anything if not underwhelming. 

Polo SE-03

After the previous frantic experience of the Panda 100HP, I realised I needed something a little more sensible from my daily-driver. To be fair, you’ll struggle to get much more rational than a 1.4 petrol Polo in SE spec. 

With only 80bhp in a relatively heavy bodyshell, I never envisaged the 9N3 1.4 tearing up the tarmac. But even still, at times it felt just a little too relaxed and easygoing. Getting into ESM’s OH’s Ford Fiesta with its weightier steering, quicker throttle response, and snickety gearbox only heightened my awareness of the Polo’s dynamic shortcomings. 

In addition, it is also fair to say the 9N3 wore every one of its 62,000 miles on it sleeve. The brakes squeaked so much I thought a family of mice had taken up residence in the wheel arch. No matter what maintenance I did, I could never get them to shut up. One of the rear speakers liked to rattle around behind the interior trim, the rear windscreen wiper assembly fell to bits in the cold and a coil pack blew within 2 miles of me picking the car up. 

The tyres on the Polo also appeared to have been there since time began so developed slow punctures constantly, due to leaking valves and sidewall degradation. With ‘my’ 9N3 wearing optional 16” alloys, the replacements were not exactly a bargain. 

These are, essentially, all relatively minor things. But the Polo saved its biggest bombshell for two days before it was due to be part-exchanged for its replacement. On returning to the car after visiting family, I turned it on to be met with lumpy idling and a whole manner of lights flashing on the dashboard. Naturally I turned it off, waited, and then tried again. Now only two lights remained; the oil pressure sensor warning, and the power steering warning. 

The oil pressure sensor light decided to sort itself out, but the power steering one remained lit. Turning the wheel, it was quite obvious the 9N3 now had unassisted steering. I managed to get the car home (with much bigger biceps by the end) and started working through what could be the problem. All signs pointed to the electromechanical power steering pump – a snip at only £600 or so. Bearing in mind the car was due to be traded in within hours, this was not good

Luckily the dealership taking it in part-exchange was reasonable, and we came to an agreement that saw me get rid of it and the 9N3 become somebody else’s problem. A lacklustre end to a car that never really set my pulse racing. To summarise:

Plus Points

  • Looks – The Olympic Blue paintwork was eye-catching, and the optional 16” ‘Varano’ wheels made it look a bit less boring. 
  • Interior – Sensible and practical. The ‘shelf’ running the length of the dashboard was quite handy, and in a world of complex interiors the Polo felt relatively uncluttered. 
  • User-friendliness – Anyone could get in and drive it. ESM’s OH found it trouble free to use, with smooth, light controls and a refined drive.

 Minus Points

  • Reliability – See above.
  • Performance – I should never have expected the moon on a stick, but the 9N3 seemed to make things a lot harder work than it needed to.
  • Ride – I suspect the dampers may have been on their way out, or someone accidentally ticked the “sport suspension” option. The 9N3 crashed over bumps a lot more than hoped.
  • Steering – A bit rubbery, a bit vague, and worryingly rattly from the front-end. I suspected the wishbone bushes may have seen better days.
  • MPG – Relatively old-skool engine in a chunky chassis meant fuel economy wasn’t amazing. On regular commuting the Polo averaged about 33mpg, which improved a little on longer runs. If anything it proved just how advanced modern, downsized, engines are.
  • Equipment – Seemed a bit stingy after the Panda, even on this SE version. CD-Player, air-conditioning and drawers under the seats was pretty much your lot.

Perhaps my Polo benchmark had been set to high by memories of the 6N2 GTi I owned when younger, but the 9N3 did little to captivate my passion for Volkswagen’s supermini. Amongst enthusiasts, this generation of Polo never seems to garner the same attention or passion as others before or after, and on the above I can understand why. As the third Polo I’d owned, it was easily the most forgettable.

By no means is it a bad car; I hardly had the perfect example, but it hardly set my pulse racing. It was transportation, pure and simple, but not something a person who cares about performance vehicles should be driving. Hence, why it needed to go. Details of its replacement to follow soon.

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