Europe’s greenest car will be blue. Volkswagen’s Polo Bluemotion, which goes on sale in May 2010, will exhale just 87g of carbon dioxide for every kilometre you drive, and return up to 85.6mpg. That’s cleaner than the Pope’s freshly laundered robes, and makes the saintly Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids – both the wrong side of 100g/km – look comparative sinners. The Polo Bluemotion will cost around £12,000, and CAR Online has taken a prototype for a quick spin.
How do they make this low-tar Polo?
Take the ultra-refined, immaculately built new Polo, and plumb a new 74bhp 1.2-litre diesel into its nose. Then fuss over the aerodynamics like an FIA appeal hearing. So the engineers lowered the standard five-door by 10mm, filled in the central grille, and fitted slippery new front splitter and side skirts. Low rolling resistance rubber wraps around 15-inch alloys, while the visor from ‘50s robot Gort doubles up as a rear spoiler and trips off air. All this reduces drag and therefore consumption.
Two more techy touches move on the Bluemotion game. A stop/start system nullifies the engine at standstill, and a smart alternator captures disippating engine and brake energy to charge the battery. VW claims these two developments save 0.25 litres per kilometre. The manual gearbox also has longer third, fourth and fifth gear ratios, although you’ll find using overdrive a rare treat if you’re restricted to urban driving.
What’s the new VW Polo Bluemotion like to drive?
Volkswagen claims the Bluemotion enables you to go green without making sacrifices. But you make a sacrifice as soon as you fire the turbocharged three-cylinder diesel –the regular Polo’s class-leading refinement. The common rail unit is a guttural engine, which growls under acceleration like Cerberus on a frustrating day at Hades’ gates. And it’s not as if VW has filleted some sound deadening to pin down weight to 1080kg – ear defenders as standard please chaps.
The other snag is the lack of low down torque in second and third gear. Follow the instrument panel’s over-eager upshift indicator, and you’ll land in a quagmire at the base of the torque curve. There’s much huffing and puffing as a flatulent shockwave of vibration rumbles through the cabin, before the engine hauls itself and the prototype back up to speed. It feels as if you’ve fumbled from second to fifth gear.
Sounds like a bit of a duffer…
The secret is to time your gearchanges to keep the engine in its optimal power band, above 2000rpm. The 1.2 isn’t gutless: peak torque is around 144lb ft, and there’s sufficient mid-range grunt for sensibly timed overtaking manoeuvres, in a third gear which is longer than War and Peace. The sprint from zero to 62mph will last more than 12sec, but that’s still about 3sec quicker than the base, 59bhp petrol triple.
Generally, the Bluemotion shares the Polo’s other impressive strengths. That means a brilliant chassis, with neutral handling and fantastic compliancy. The ride is fluid and really comfortable, but not at the expense of body control. The steering feels a bit becalmed, which is perfect for the average punter, but you can easily feed in big handfuls and get the nose doing exactly what you want.
One thing that’s unique to the Bluemotion is the stop/start system, which works a treat. As you brake to a standstill, simply knock the gearlever into neutral and back off the clutch. The engine instantly dies, then, with a dip of the clutch, makes a Lazarean comeback.
Presume the Bluemotion is scorched earth spec to save weight…
The prototype had climate control and DVD navigation, so you don’t have to make big equipment sacrifices to conserve fuel. The Bluemotion interior has its own colour scheme, which is a bit like being trapped in a Fox’s Glacier Mint. There’s icy blue all around, on the seats, doors, even the stitching on the steering wheel. Otherwise it’s stock Polo: a beautifully clear instrument pack, soft plastic dashtop and high-quality centre console. All are conservatively styled, but put together in a way to give Lexus nightmares.
Over 40km of schizophrenic Sardinian driving (hypermiling one minute, hyperactive on some twisty mountain sections the next), the Bluemotion’s trip computer claimed 72.4mpg. That’s short of VW’s combined figure target of 85.6mpg, but still hugely impressive.
However, the other two Polos we drove – the 84bhp 1.4-litre petrol (47.8mpg) and 89bhp 1.6-litre diesel (67.2mpg, 109g/km) have the edge on refinement and driveability, while offering the same roominess and immaculate build quality. That means the Polo Bluemotion is a must only if you need Europe’s greenest car – with an internal combustion engine, that is.