Review and road test of the Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion [9N] (2007 - 2009)
BY STEVE WALKER
Volkswagen secured the dubious honour of being amongst the first out of the blocks with its own environmental brand when the BlueMotion banner made its debut on the Polo supermini in 2007. Cynical marketing ploy or honest stab at saving the planet, the BlueMotion concept of making simple modifications to improve the fuel economy of an existing car swept through the market like wildfire.
All the manufacturers were at it and a public increasingly put out by the rising cost of motoring and turned on to the plight of the Polar bear, lapped up the crop of green vehicles that the Polo BlueMotion fostered. It's quite an influential car then, but does that mean you should buy a used one?
Models Civered: (3/5dr hatchback, 1.4 TDI 80bhp diesel [BlueMotion 1, BlueMotion 2])
As far as history goes, this particular BlueMotion doesn't have much of one. The concept caused quite a stir at the 2006 Geneva show and immediately sent the scores of would-be imitators scurrying off to their drawing boards so that when the production car went on sale in that later stages of 2007, its rivals weren't far behind.
The BlueMotion brand was quickly rolled out to Passat and Golf with other Volkswagen model lines getting their variation on the theme in due course. In the meantime, Ford was debuting its ECOnetic models, Skoda had Greenline in the offing, Vauxhall came over all ecoFLEX on us and SEAT had dreamed up Ecomotive. There were others too but you get the idea.
The speed with which this green-branded car sector materialised only underlined how simple and cheap it was for the manufacturers to make these modifications to their vehicles. It then raised the pertinent question of why they hadn't fitted similar features to the standard versions as a matter of course. Whatever the motivation, and profit seems as good a bet as any, at least it was a step in the right direction. Cars were getting greener and the industry was doing quite nicely out of it.
By 2009, it was all over for this first generation Polo BlueMotion. An all-new Polo made its debut and the range included an all-new BlueMotion version that turned in an even more squeaky clean performance at the pumps.
What You Get
The bottom line with the Polo BlueMotion is combined cycle fuel economy of 74.3 and CO2 emissions of 99g/km. That's an extremely good performance in anyone's book, especially for a full-sized supermini. Those figures are for the BlueMotion 1 car: the better equipped and slightly heavier BlueMotion 2 'only' manages 72mpg and 102g/km.
The fuel savings are achieved through various weight saving measures which drop the car's kerb weight down to 1084kg. There are aerodynamic tweaks including a special front grille design, a lower front bumper and a rear spoiler. Finally, there's higher gearing to take some of the strain off the engine and set of 14" lightweight alloy wheels shod with low rolling resistance tyres.
Otherwise, the recipe is standard Volkswagen Polo. A low key exterior design is followed up by a sturdy by unexciting interior. There's plenty of space for four adults inside but no split folding rear seat on the standard car is a significant drawback. The boot is large and well shaped, so you'll get a lot inside before you have to start tinkering with the seat backs.
As we've indicated, it comes in two guises - BlueMotion 1 and BlueMotion 2. The BlueMotion 1's list of standard equipment is short but sweet including a diesel particulate filter, twin front and side airbags, a CD player and electric windows. The BlueMotion 2 benefits from air conditioning, rain sensing windscreen wipers, remote central locking and leather trim for the steering wheel, handbrake and gear knob.
What to Look For
A nearly new Volkswagen is not a good place to start if you're interesting in hearing 'what went wrong' stories. The Polo is no exception, with no major faults having been reported. The TDI engine appears to be trouble free and there's the added benefit that typical BlueMotion owners are unlikely to have taken their cars on too many track days. As with any car that sees its fair share of city driving, check for parking bumps and scrapes Otherwise it's hard to find fault with the Polo. Look for a main-dealer serviced car and you really can't go far wrong.
(approx based on a 1.4 TDI 80 BlueMotion 1) Volkswagen spares have developed a reputation for costliness but you might be surprised at how reasonably priced they now are. A new alternator will set you back almost £245, while an ECU engine management unit is around £550. Other parts are far more reasonable still. An exhaust system is around ££95, rising to £500 if you need a catalytic converter as well. Front brake pads are just over £40 a pair, while a clutch is a little over £150. A new radiator will be around £90 and a new fuel pump is approximately £100.
On the Road
Developing an all-new economy diesel engine from scratch would have cost an arm and a leg, so it was lucky that Volkswagen already had an award-winning unit to plumb into the Polo BlueMotion. The 1.4-litre three-cylinder TDI engine is fitted with electronically controlled, high pressure direct injection. The variable geometry turbocharger provides high levels of torque at low engine speeds and swift response with very little lag. The end result is 80bhp at the flywheel which is a respectable amount of poke for a car that's marketed as an economy special.
The BlueMotion will zip to 60mph in 12.5 seconds and run on to a top speed of 109mph if you're willing to adopt caveman throttle tactics. The aerodynamic changes to the car don't upset the handling although the low rolling resistance 165/70 tyres are optimised for fuel economy rather than on the limit grip. As with all mainstream Polo models, ride quality is very good and all-round visibility is also better than many key rivals.
Being the first to stick its head over the parapet as an eco-modified supermini carrying its own environmental branding, the Polo BlueMotion copped some flack. Volkswagen didn't hold back with the modifications that turned a 1.4 TDI Polo into a Polo BlueMotion and they had quite an effect on the car's character.
The drive to reduce weight saw some of the sound proofing removed and the three-cylinder diesel engine is quite gruff as a result, although this could be seen as an incentive to go easy on the throttle and save yet more fuel. Then there's the issue of the low rolling resistance tyres. They mean that the ABS system tends to trigger earlier than on standard Polo models and doubts were also raised over the wet weather braking performance. It's interesting that the gaggle of manufacturers that immediately followed Volkswagen to this market didn't do quite such a comprehensive job and produced eco-branded vehicles that were slightly less efficient but made fewer sacrifices.
In general, the BlueMotion makes an interesting used buy. That fuel economy will be the thing that draws buyers to it and rightly so but the basic Polo package still stands up to scrutiny. It's built with typical Volkswagen solidity and market forces have taken the edge off pricing that seemed excessive when the car was new.
The steering is sharp and the nifty gearchange is pleasant to use, even if you have to hold the gears longer before changing up to compensate for the taller gearing. The ride is comfortable as well, so in day to day driving it's really only that engine noise that has the potential to get you down. This may be a small price to pay for the pleasure of breezing past that endless succession of filling stations without having to stop.
Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion [9N] (2007 - 2009) review by STEVE WALKER