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Changes coming for pack-leading Polo

BIG INSIDE: The 2018 Polo will be similar in overall size to the outgoing model but, with its bigger wheelbase, expect more interior space Pictures: BRIAN WILLIAMS PHOTOGRAPHY

Volkswagen sold 1581 Polos in South Africa in April, making it the best-selling passenger car by a significant margin.

The success of the Polo is even more obvious when you add in sales of the last generation, which is still sold as the Polo Vivo. In April, 1642 Vivos found new homes. That’s a combined figure of 3223.

But Volkswagen SA (VWSA) also exported 3815 Polos.

Making any changes to the Polo is a big deal, not just here in South Africa but worldwide. But VW is planning some big changes with the next generation, which is due in South Africa early in 2018 and which you can see here virtually undisguised.

The market for small hatches is becoming more competitive than ever, either because people are downsizing or because they are buying into their first or second model. The models also have major appeal in the fleet and rental markets.

Where once small hatches were about basic, no-frills motoring, the segment is set to see some significant advancements when it comes to quality, luxury and tech.

Later in 2017, Ford will release its new Fiesta, which will boast more connectivity than ever before, improved quality and more space.

However, VW is aiming to outclass its rivals on many fronts, even in areas that have not been particularly strong for the Polo in the past, such as connectivity and infotainment.

It is promising that it will not lose touch with the budget-conscious buyer though, with basic models featuring halogen headlamps and simple kit, while further up the scale there will be LED lights and other items once seen only in the executive segment.

To help reduce costs yet boost sophistication, the new Polo will be the first car to switch to the smallest version of the VW Group’s MQB platform, called A0. While the larger chassis parts already underpin a wide variety of models on a selection of different wheelbases – from the Audi TT to the Golf SV – engineers across VW brands have been told to keep the A0 MQB set-up simpler.

That means a single wheelbase for the Polo and Audi A1, as well as any subsequent SUV versions of those cars.

Our sources say the Polo’s existing wheelbase of 2470mm will stretch by as much as 90mm for the next generation – up to about 2560mm.

Shorter overhangs at the front and rear of the car should ensure that the overall length stays near the 4m mark, but the longer wheelbase will bring much-improved cabin space.

The engine lineup will focus on small turbocharged units, although the range will start with a revised version of VW’s 1.0l naturally aspirated three-cylinder.

While local specs have not been confirmed yet, we know that the company is also planning two turbocharged versions of the same motor that was recently added to the outgoing Polo range.

These will boast about 75kW and 86kW. Further up, there will be a switch from the existing 1.4l petrol and 1.6l diesel engines to 1.5l motors.

The 1.5 debuted in the updated Golf 7.5 for international markets but VWSA has chosen not to bring this motor in the Golf for our market as yet, in part due to fuel quality concerns.

It remains to be seen if the company will have a choice when the Polo comes along. If it does bring the new engines, then we expect the petrol motor to be offered with either 104kW or 119kW and the diesel to boast 67kW, 82kW or 97kW.

Toyota need not fear that there will be a Polo to rival the Yaris hybrid. The new Polo is unlikely to get the next Golf’s rumoured mild hybrid powertrain because the system requires a step-up to more sophisticated 48V electrics, which are still considered too expensive to fit on a small car.

Six-speed manual gearboxes should be standard across the range, although a five-speed could be offered on eco-focused BlueMotion models to improve efficiency and cut CO2 emissions slightly.

The automatic option is likely to stay a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG unit.

Inside, the Polo will get real benefits from the switch to MQB, as it adopts big-car technology already seen on the Golf. Our sources say all models will feature a colour infotainment screen and all but the base editions should have smartphone connectivity and app integration through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The largest touchscreen could be as big as 9.5-inches, trumping the displays in all the Polo’s small-car rivals and providing such technological gizmos as gesture control.

Another tech piece from upper models is VW’s Active Info Display, the superb digital instrument cluster that debuted as the Virtual Cockpit in Audi models. Expect this to be a pricey option and available only on higher-end Polo derivatives.

As the auto industry goes full speed into the realm of connectivity, expect the new Polo to also get some of the features that have been seen first on the Golf 7.5. Expect built-in internet access on more expensive models, allowing the car to integrate with social networks without needing a smartphone data connection.

Will this mean an increase in pricing? Of course it will. — with additional reporting by Brian Williams