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£17,370 when new
A new VW Polo Beats already? That was quick. Yep – VW’s been much quicker out of the the, ahem, block this time around. The old Polo got Dr Dre’s sound system-approval in the twilight of its life, but the tie-up clearly went down well enough for VW to give the all-new, bigger, posher Polo the same bassy treatment from the get-go. What actually is a Polo Beats? It’s a mid-spec Polo (basically an SE) with a massively upgraded stereo and a bad stripe. That longer, wider body – complete with so many side creases you could grate cheese on the doors – rides on modest 16-inch alloys. You earn a pair of front foglights, tinted rear glass, a leather steering wheel and manual air-con. Like all Polos, there’s an eight-inch touchscreen - a really crisp, snappy one, in fact – and it controls the Beats. Literally.
Tell me about this sound-system then. From the company that brings you those headphones, the Polo is festooned with speakers. Two (branded) tweeters in the A-pillars, two woofers in the doors, another couple in the rear and a subwoofer beneath the boot floor. Altogether, the Polo Beats is packing 300 watts of audio punch. How’s it sound? Better than the last Polo Beats, chiefly because the car itself doesn’t creak and shudder when the volume approaches stadium gig territory. I’m not saying that VW has clearly spent hours and millions of euros R&D-ing the new Polo’s construction so it can handle 300 watts without vibrating itself into dust, but there’s no doubt this bigger, more mature, higher quality Polo is a more solidly put together platform to house such a potent hi-fi. So, to the testing. In the interests of balance, this involved a foray through the BBC’s splendidly diverse proliferation of radio stations. A rare stopover at Radio 1 confirmed the sad truth that I’m getting a bit old for that kind of noise, but the Beats churned out the tones with clarity and, as per usual for Beats fodder, pulsing bass. Can’t imagine many of these things will be bought to blast Tchaikovsky, but should you accidentally tune to Radio 3, the Beats can pull off a reasonable operatic concert hall impression. Because the touchscreen supports Apple CarPlay, your iTunes library and Spotify is a doddle of taps away. Testing a sound system the week of Valentine’s Day when all the recommended playlists are soulmate themed isn’t ideal, but hey, duty calls. What about the rest of the spec? Hmm. It’s an odd one, the Beats. The design is schizophrenic. For a kick off, a Polo is one of the more straight-faced superminis. Seems odd that Seat, pitched as the more youthful of the VW mainstream brands, didn’t get the Dre treatment instead. Suppose it’s a premum badge/premium brand thing. How VW has trimmed the finished product is strange too. The Beats receives a welcome splash of coloured trim around the dashboard, and a very subtle afterthought of a bonnet pinstripe. But to lift the interior, much of the doors and parts of the seats are, well, beige. It’s half youthful, half geriatric. You’re surrounded by a wall of sound, but bathed in a curiously frumpy ambience. And how does it drive? Really well – so long as you’re satisfied by a small car that’s had any semblance of cheek and chuckability ruthlessly engineered out of it. It’s the consummate mini-Golf, now, the Polo, even if – it’s worth saying again – this four metre-long box is hardly a small car any more. Our test car was powered by the turbocharged 1.0-litre engine, good for 94bhp and costing £16,980. You can get into a Beats for £15,680, but your three-cylinder engine won’t have a turbo, you only get 64bhp, and that’ll mean working the truculent, not-very-pleasant five-speed manual shift fervently. The sticky gearshift is a misstep, but the rest of the Polo works with polish on British roads. The lifeless steering is consistently weighted, it rides far quieter than Top Gear’s long-term Seat Ibiza FR, and the cruising refinement is class-best. Ask for maximum acceleration and VW’s three-pot isn’t as clever at disguising its inherent lopsidedness as say, Ford’s EcoBoost three-pot, but for a supermini the refinement is still pretty uncanny. Not that you’ll notice. Too many tunes, too little time. Overall, it’s a sorted little car, albeit one that’s trying to inject personality back into a very clinical package with some oddly clashing West Coast-meets-Wolfsburg mods. And if you’d like a fizzier, cheerier supermini with similar audio smarts, Ford’s doing a B&O Play version of the ace new Fiesta. In case you forgot about Dre.
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