As you might have just read, after a huge period of indecision, ESM finally acquired a Volkswagen Polo R-Line. That was back in late January so, several months and miles later, just what has the kitted-up supermini been like to live with?
First, some photos from when it arrived and the cleanest it has been since, due to the excellent weather we’ve had.
Having had my hand ever-so-slightly forced into taking the Deep Black pearlescent option, I was pleased to find that it suited the R-Line well. The jutting front end gives it an aggressive appearance, with the rear diffuser and relatively large exhaust pipe making the back look equally sporty. On the motorway it has proved able to hustle and intimidate others out of its way well; something it’s predecessor never could. It’s just unfortunate that the colour is already living up to my fears; showing a couple of small scratches, much to my annoyance!
On the inside, I’ve found the R-Line an equally pleasant place to be. The standard fit sport seats in ‘Kylami’ trim are comfortable and supportive, the leather D-shaped steering wheel is a pleasure to hold and I love the cocooned feeling created by the black headlining and tinted rear windows. I’ve finally mastered the DAB radio, though the iPod connector and Bluetooth system still seem to have problems accepting my iPhone 5. The Bluetooth system lives on its own removable mount which looks a little bit aftermarket. It’s also developed an annoying blue line down one side of the screen which will need looking at.
Aside from that annoyance, the R-Line is as user-friendly and easy to live with as you would expect from a VAG product. Everything is logically laid out, the split level boot is practical (Senna fits in no problem) and as such proves to be a perfect compatriot for everyday life. As someone perennially fussy when it comes to seating in cars, partly due to my racing driver height stature, I’ve found the R-Line perfect. The only other car which fitted me so well was my 6N2 Polo GTi, so the R-Line finds itself amongst esteemed company in the comfort stakes at least. But can it match my old favourite on the open road?
Let’s be straight. For all the sporting looks inside and out, the R-Line is not intended to be a full on hot hatch. The Polo line-up already includes the GTI model with 180bhp, and the somewhat niche market sporty/economical BlueGT version. Mechanically it is identical to the SEL model, using the same 105bhp 1.2 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, mated to a manual 6-speed gearbox. The suspension also remains unchanged, which is a shame as a little bit of lowering would have closed up the wheel arch gap nicely. Much the same way Audi offers the S-Line as a trim level on its regular models, the R-Line is essentially an SEL Polo with some fancy trainers.
With that caveat out-of-the-way, and expectations adjusted accordingly, it’s fair to say the R-Line is a fun little car to drive. Whilst being wary of the fact my R-Line was factory fresh and not fully run in, I have still had the chance to open up the 1,200cc motor. Suffice to say it is delightful, with a rorty soundtrack giving way to a pleasing surge of performance as the revolutions wind on. Owners of other VAG products with the 1.2 TSI engine have reported standard blocks producing 110-120bhp when placed on a rolling road. Whether that is truly accurate or not I don’t know, but it is safe to say the R-Line feels closer to the 1.4 TSFI engine I experienced in the Audi A1 than I expected. The 6-speed gearbox might not be the last word in ‘rifle-bolt’ accuracy, but the ratios are sweetly spaced and give a wide variety of options for your driving mood.
Handling wise, the R-Line does display a relative amount of bodyroll, but certainly nothing dramatic enough to make you question your commitment when cornering. The pay off is a refined ride, no doubt aided by the 16″ wheels, which makes commuting easy on your back and posterior. Lowered suspension and bigger wheels would improve the looks and handling without question, but would erode the R-Line’s flexibility. Possibly the only major dynamic flaw is the steering. Using an electromechanical power steering system, the R-Line is very much lacking in any kind of feel through the wheel. From the reviews I’ve read, this is something which afflicts the Polo range throughout, with the GTI receiving an increased weight to the steering but no more feel. The Audi A1 I tested was also similar in a distinct lack of tactility from the front end. It’s a minor criticism, but one which reminds you of the R-Line’s roots.
Where I’m sure the power steering system does pay off, however, is when it comes to fuel economy. Despite the excitement of a new car, the tightness of a new engine and a stop-start daily commute, the R-Line is redeeming itself at the pumps. The multifunction trip computer is showing an average of over 40mpg, which is reasonable given the above and the persistent bad weather putting extra loading on the Polo’s ancillaries. For the performance on offer, I’m certainly not quibbling about the miles per gallon. I’ve also been impressed by the surprising accuracy of the trip computer when I’ve done the fuel consumption maths myself.
All in, the first 1,000 miles behind the wheel of the R-Line have been hugely enjoyable. It has also proved to be a reliable accomplice when dealing with some tough personal times, and has never ceased to bring a smile to my face. Here’s hoping the next 23,000 prove to be equally as fun.
+ Looks, both inside and out.
+ Balance between performance and fuel economy.
+ Practicality and refinement.
– Steering lacks feel.
– Troublesome Bluetooth unit.
– Could do with the suspension being a touch lower.