Polo Beats: Hitting the right notes

Let’s hear it for the Beats edition of the new-generation Polo.

Youth appeal with sporty styling and a punchy sound system… at 57 years of age, it would seem I’m at least two decades off target for the Volkswagen Polo Beats.

If not three. Or even … erm … four. Gulp.

Well, that’s the theory behind developing the Beats, a special edition of the Volkswagen Polo.

This is the version that’s supposed to re-engage this brand with young, probably first-car buyers. The tie-in in theory smacks as a marketer's dream. What better way to get younger people interested in your entry-level cars?

Yet there’s a bit of a glitch out on this side of the world. On this side of the globe, the hipster crowd that this car, back in Europe, is expected to keep them from gravitating elsewhere – ironically, enough, to VW Group sub-brand SEAT, which aces budget with lots of Spanish flair – also pretty much ignores brand-new fare here, too. They’re all into used imports.

Thus, there’s every likelihood that the ‘right’ ager group, as seen through VW headquarters’ rose-tinted eyeware, is a bit ‘wrong’ in a strictly New Zealand sense. Conceivably, then, the actual buyers for this youth-oriented version of this compact hatch will easily be old enough to be their parents. Or even grandparents. So, maybe I’m in the correct age zone after all.

That doesn’t make this a wasted effort. For starters, who doesn’t enjoy a decent sound system, which this car certainly has. Also, making big sounds is not the sole draw. With more eye-catching interior and some body enhancements, it’s quite a cool-looking car, too.

That most of the enhancements sit comfortably suggests the concept of lifting the Polo’s image is a good one, then. Anything small, genuinely Euro and imbued with a touch of pizzazz has got to be a good thing. And, certainly, the Beats gets into the groove.

So the name is? Well, as the younger folk will relate – I’m kidding, I DID know this, of course - the tie-in with Dr Dre’s (now Apple-owned) headphone and speaker company. You would think VW is being uber-snappy in making this association, but in fact it appears to have poached the partnership.

Dre first to struck a note on this musical journey with Fiat’s 500L. Any information about the Beats Edition of 500L set to become a pub quiz factoid because, first, while the 500L has been available here, you won’t know it and, second, the Beats edition didn’t make the local distributor’s playlist anyway.

How much VW had to fork out to buy into Beats is not known, but it won’t have been a cheap deal. After all, Apple had to pay $US3 billion to secure the company.

Fortunately, those licensing rights appear not to have reached into the showroom. Based on the entry level TSI that packs a highly characterful 70kW/175Nm 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine and seven-speed DSG transmission powertrain, at $29,990 the special only costs $2000 more than the donor. Colleagues who know their sound gear say this possibly makes it the best value Beats product on the market today. After all, a decent pair of Beats headphones will set you back $500 or so.

I’d have to admit the big sound side of things was something of a small change aspect for me. I’m sure this 300W centrepiece with its seven speakers, eight-channel amplifier and a subwoofer hidden in the boot is truly down-with-the-kids, yet it’s singularly not a treatment that’d make me want to buy in.

 Perhaps a small German nana hatch seems the last thing you’d ever expect to be seen in a sound-off comp or cruising in chill mode Compton-style. Also, my primary passenger really rails at music being pumped at ear-bleeding level. Finally, even though it is being sold as a chic mobile sound system, it’s still a car. And automotive is a subject I’m far more familiar with.

So, generally, the volume was kept down low enough to give the engine a change of sounding out, which is hardly an assault on the ears. Three-cylinder engines are very melodic, even when under heavy load that distinctive thrum sounds decent, even a touch muscular, in a cheeky kind of way.

While timepiece-measured performance is not amazing – zero to 100kmh takes almost 11 seconds with the DSG (they say the manual, which features overseas but doesn’t come here, is no quicker) – it is so aurally exuberant you’d always swear it was peppier.

It certainly has the goods to be one of those engines that not only feels zippy around town – as you’d hope, because that’s where a Polo will spend the majority of its life – but also has enough muscularity to make it feel confident enough for big open road adventures. Part of the allure is that peak torque arrives from 2000rpm, low enough to lend impression that there’s a larger capacity mill under that bonnet. It also means that you don’t have to rev the guts out of it to achieve reasonable pace.

It doesn’t hurt to row it along, all the same. The transmission is smooth and smart shifting, yet it’s a shame it does without paddle shifters. While the gear lever can be put into a manual mode, the gear-orientation is backwards and requires a push up to upshift. That’ll catch people out for sure.

If this model’s 70kW/175Nm state of tune doesn’t rock your boat there’s an 85kW/200Nm in the R-Line, which costs another $3000. Our you can await the GTi, which packs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, presenting 147kW and 320Nm, though that’s in a different price league as well, in toting a $39k sticker.

The one thing about the wee triple in its base state is that it is very thrifty. Admittedly, the brand-claimed optimum of just 5.0L/100km was yielded on test. Even so, a 6.3L/100km outcome for a whole week in which it was thrown into a full gambit of environments, from some around town driving to the highway, plus a couple of back roads that allowed more spirited driving, seems pretty good to me.

The Beats is meted 16-inch rubber for enhanced grip, but the Polo chassis hardly needs fat tyres to shine. The GTi will, of course, be more communicative and more feral, yet the Beats still feels well-planted and tightly hewn enough. Suspension is also tuned adequately to soak up bumps and road imperfections and, even over coarse chip, the tyre noise is well contained. No rattles or creaks, either. It might be categorised as a light car but doesn’t feel it.

That it feels quite grown up is no illusion. Look at the size of the car; it’s basically achieving the same footprint as a Golf Mk IV. That delivers positively for interior space. The boot will now swallow 351 litres of volume – a significant increase of 71 litres over the outgoing model – and while it’s more a four seater than a five when adults are in the back, front and rear passengers also benefit from more shoulder and headroom.

The styling has stepped up this time around, too. It’s a handsome and chiselled thing that is distinctly a VW. The new width makes it look low and muscular, which is a rare thing in this segment.

The Beats dress-up comprises numerous ‘b’ badges, 16-inch alloys and three special paint finishes – flash red, pearlescent black and, for the car I tried, a silver white metallic. All are further enlivened with a racing strip across the bonnet and roof. It’s a double stripe, but might not twig to that as, for some strange reason, the larger of the two stripes takes the existing body colour and is therefore barely visible unless you look from an angle in bright sunlight. 

Interior embellishments include pinstriping on the two-tone seats, a big slash of matt crimson plastic across the dashboard plus even more Beats badges make it different. A bit too much? Agreed, when you relate this in words it doesn’t really sell itself, but really if you’ve seen the standard cabin then you’ll perhaps agree that anything that represents a departure from VW’s penchant for grey with more grey has to be applauded.

The interior in general design is modern and remarkably open and airy. As you’d expect for a sub-$30k car, it does feature quite a lot of hard plastics but they are of a decent quality. The door cards are a bit nasty, but the design of the switches and central display screen is pretty swish. Overall, the cabin has more elegance than you generally see in this class.

Safety features such as autonomous emergency braking, cruise control, reversing camera and drive fatigue monitor are standard on Polo.

Some rivals are cheaper and, at the end of the day, it’s hard to hatches to win attention when small crossovers and SUVs are the new ‘in’ thing. Yet, all in all, there’s