Mercedes-Benz A-Class VS Volkswagen Polo
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
- Space efficiency
- Needs premium unleaded
- No adjustable rear vents
- No rear centre armrest
Meet the world’s most aerodynamically efficient passenger car. Mercedes-Benz says the drag co-efficient for this new sedan version of its fourth-generation A-Class is the lowest ever measured for a passenger vehicle.
Which is quite a claim, but you only have to look at it to see how much work has gone into marrying good looks with slippery aero performance.
|Engine Type||1.3L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo arrived in Australia in 2018, and four years down the track it’s time for an update.
The line-up has been trimmed from four to three grades, and in a conscious decision to better align the car with what Polo buyers are typically opting for, standard specification is up along with cost-of-entry.
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We’ll get into the details shortly, but to clarify, this review will deal with the entry-level Life and more highly specified Style model, with the GTI hot hatch covered in a separate review.
Volkswagen Australia invited us to the car’s local launch drive which took in a combination of city, suburban, B-road, highway and freeway running. So we were able to get a solid first taste of how the refreshed small hatch measures up in a slowly shrinking, but still hotly contested city car market.
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Mercedes-Benz knows its way around a sedan, and this A-Class is a well-equipped, comfortable and efficient city-sized four-door.
But more than that, to my eyes anyway, it’s a perfect example of restrained form matching aero function with beautiful results.
Would your preference be an A-Class with a hatch or a boot? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The Polo has always been a desirable, high-quality, small car option. Effectively moving it to a more premium positioning by aligning its specification with what the market has been buying is a bold move. But this mid-life upgrade has given the Polo the extra safety tech and digital sophistication it needs to substantiate the shift.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with meals provided.
A global carmaker can’t hold its head up in public without a formal design strategy, and Mercedes-Benz uses ‘Sensual Purity’ as a guiding principle in developing the look and feel of its current models. It may sound airy-fairy, but I for one reckon it’s accurate in describing the A-Class sedan.
The overall form is flowing and minimalist, the major exception being a hard character line running down the side of the car from the trailing edge of the angular LED headlights and along the top of the doors to link with the tail-lights.
A rear-biased glasshouse emphasises the length of the bonnet, at the same time delivering a broad, muscular stance with short overhangs front and rear.
Ultra-fine panel gaps, careful sealing around the headlights and curved strakes either side of the bonnet keep the look clean and simple, not to mention super-slippery.
The interior has been styled to within an inch of its life, the dash dominated by the slick twin 10.25-inch widescreen ‘MBUX’ display covering instruments, ventilation, media and vehicle settings.
Five signature, turbine-style air vents (three in the centre, and one at each edge) lift the dash’s visual interest, and the quality of fit and finish is top-shelf.
It’ll take a sharp eye to spot the external differences between this upgraded Polo and its predecessor.
The car’s compact, tightly wrapped body and finely chiselled lines are unchanged, the only differences being reshaped (body-coloured) bumpers front and rear, a new headlight signature, with LED units now standard across the range, and remodelled LED tail-lights.
And after dark car-spotters should look out for the Style’s standard ‘IQ.LIGHT’ LED matrix headlights adding a continuous LED strip across the nose.
Inside things have shifted further, most notably in the entry-level Life, which now boasts the sleek digital instrument display, previously reserved for higher grades, as well as a neatly integrated 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen above the centre stack.
The rest of the interior is relatively understated in typical VW style (no pun intended), the neatly sculpted seats trimmed with a mix of textured and smooth cloth on both models.
At a bit over 4.5m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and close to 1.5m tall the A-Class sedan is 130mm longer and 6.0mm higher than the hatch version.
The A-Class sedan driver is presented with the same sleek widescreen display as found in the hatch, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and headroom, although stretching up a to a straight-back position led to a scalp to headlining interface.
In the A 200 a centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console. Always a plus.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
One snag is the size of the rear door aperture. Okay for taller people on the way in, but a limb-unfolding gymnastic exercise on exit.
But of course the reason we’re all here is the boot, and the sedan’s extra length translates to an additional 60 litres of luggage space for a total cargo volume of 430 litres (VDA).
Extra space is one thing, but usability is another. The benefit of a hatch is a large opening that allows bulky stuff to find a home, and Merc has pushed the sedan’s boot aperture to just under a metre across and there’s half a metre between the base of the rear window and the lower edge of the boot lid.
That’s made a big difference and access is good, with the rear seats folding 40/20/40 to add extra flexibility and volume. There are also tie-down hooks at each corner of the floor (a luggage net is included) and a netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (with 12-volt outlet).
At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz wasn’t quoting towing specifications, and don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the tyres are run-flats.
Volkswagen has developed the Polo over six generations (the first appearing in 1975) and its packaging and space-efficiency game has been honed to a fine point.
This car measures just under 4.1 metres end-to-end, yet the wheelbase is close to 2.6m, which isn’t a million miles away from the Golf. Well, actually, it’s 72mm shorter, but still pretty impressive.
And it shows in terms of interior space. The driver and front passenger have plenty of breathing room, and the rear is remarkable.
At 183cm, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my position, I enjoyed ample legroom, and more than enough headroom.
Width is another story, because while two grown-ups will be fine in the back, there isn’t enough space for three to sit in comfort for any length of time. You need to be realistic about what to expect from a city-sized car.
Storage options in the front include a small lidded box between the seats (which doubles as an adjustable armrest), two cupholders and various oddments spaces in the centre console, as well as the wireless charging bay in front of the gearshift.
There are also pockets in the doors with room for (medium) bottles, a decent glove box, a shallow drawer under the passenger seat, and an overhead drop-down tray for glasses.
Map pockets on the front seat backrests, and small bins in the doors add extra practicality, but there’s no fold-down centre armrest or individual ventilation control for rear seaters.
For connectivity and power, there are two USB-C ports in the front, plus another two in the rear, as well as a 12-volt socket in the front centre console.
Boot space is 351 litres (VDA) with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats upright, which is impressive for a car of this size, that number growing to 1125L with them folded down. You can also change the floor level when you’re making a call between maximum volume and ease of loading.
Tie down anchors are handy for strapping loose loads, while shopping bag hooks help keep smaller bundles under control. And all this efficiency is even more impressive given the spare is a 15-inch steel rim.
Price and features
The A-Class sedan is launching with two variants, the A 200 at $49,400, before on-road costs, and an entry-level A 180, arriving in August 2019 at $44,900.
We’ll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, but above and beyond that standard equipment for the A 180 runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, ‘Artico’ faux leather upholstery, the ‘MBUX’ widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens), auto LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, climate-control, sat nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ‘Active Parking Assist’ (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), tinted glass, plus nine-speaker, 225W audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The A200 steps up to 18-inch alloy rims, and adds a dual exhaust system, four-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat (with lumbar support), a folding rear armrest (with twin cupholders), adaptive high-beam assist, and a wireless device charging bay.
Let’s rip the Band-Aid off and get to the bottom of a more than 30 per cent base price increase before we go any further.
Yep, you read that correctly. Previously, a Trendline 70TSI manual gained you Polo club membership for $19,290, before on-road costs. Now, the entry-grade Polo Life, with exactly the same powertrain underneath it, will set you back $25,250.
So, what gives? Instead of getting down and dirty with the likes of the Kia Rio, Mazda2, and Suzuki Baleno, maybe even the poshest MG3, the Polo’s aiming up at its Audi A1 cousin and the Toyota Yaris, the latter undergoing a similar upscaling evolution in 2021.
The answer is standard equipment, and more of it. Volkswagen believes the days of a ‘price leader’ Polo are behind it. That is, pique a buyer’s interest with a keenly priced but relatively sparse base model, and they inevitably move up to a higher grade once engaged in the process.
No, the new Polo cuts right to the chase, specified more in line with the cars ultimately ending up in consumers driveways.
As mentioned, the Polo range now kicks off with the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol Life in manual for $25,250, and auto at $28,250, before on-road costs.
The gap between five-speed manual and seven-speed auto versions is slightly larger this time around ($3000 vs $2500) because the auto now boasts a more powerful (85kW/200Nm) version of the turbo triple than the manual (70kW/175Nm).
On top of the active and passive safety tech detailed in the Safety section (and it’s a pretty big story), the Life picks up new standard features including, LED headlights and tail-lights, 15-inch alloy wheels, the ‘Digital Cockpit’ configurable digital instrument display, front and rear parking sensors, ‘Manoeuvre Braking’ (low-speed rear AEB), wireless phone charging, electrically-folding exterior mirrors, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. That’s the $5960 difference between prior and current Polo entry models in a nutshell.
As well, the Life boasts leather trim on the steering wheel, gearshift and handbrake lever, an 8.0-inch media touchscreen, six-speaker audio, rain-sensing wipers, LED tail-lights and DRLs, and more.
Opt for the auto-only Style ($31,250) and you’ll pick up front fog lights (with static cornering function), ‘Matrix’ LED headlights, ‘Premium’ LED tail-lights (with dynamic indicators), ‘Dynamic Light Assist’ (auto low to main beam switch with light profile adjusted to avoid dazzling cars ahead or oncoming), 16-inch alloys, dual-zone climate-control air con, front and rear carpet mats, ‘Digital Cockpit Pro’ (incorporating nav and phone functions), ambient interior lighting, and sports front seats.
A sharp package in the Polo’s brave new world of $25-$35K small car competition.
Two option packs are available, starting with the ‘Vision & Tech Package’ for the Life (auto only - $1700), incorporating ‘Discover’ nav in the 8.0-inch media set-up, Digital Cockpit Pro, voice control, wireless app connect, ‘Travel Assist’ (Level 2 semi-autonomous driving) and adaptive cruise control.
A ‘Sound & Tech Package’ is available for the Style ($1900) delivering ‘Discover’ nav in the 8.0-inch media set-up, voice control, wireless app connect, keyless entry and start, and a Beats branded premium audio system (digital eight-channel amp, 300 watts).
A Panoramic glass sunroof ($1500) is available for the Style, and metallic paint adds $600 for both models.
Engine & trans
Both models are powered by the same 1.3-litre (M282) direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the hatch, the A180 tuned to deliver 100kW (at 5500rpm) and 200Nm (at 1460rpm), with the A 200 bumping that up to 120kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (at 1620rpm).
The Polo is powered by Volkswagen’s 1.0-litre (EA211) three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, driving the front wheels through either a five-speed manual gearbox (yep, five-speed) or seven-speed dual-clutch auto in the Life, or auto only in the Style.
Important to note the all-alloy triple is tuned to produce 70kW/175Nm in the Life manual, those numbers jumping to 85kW/200Nm in the Life auto and Style.
No matter the output, maximum torque is available from 2000-3500rpm, with peak power arriving from 5000-5500rpm.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.7L/100km for both models, with a CO2 emissions figure of 130g/km.
Over roughly 250km of open highway driving on the launch program the A 200’s on-board computer coughed up a figure of 6.3L/100km. So, the real-world highway cycle figure is higher than the claimed combined number. Which is a miss, but not a massive one, and fuel-efficiency is still pretty impressive.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 43 litres of it (plus a 5.0-litre reserve) to fill the tank.
If VW’s aim in turning the wick down on the manual Polo is improved fuel-efficiency it’s a dubious move with both versions of the 1.0L three-cylinder engine returning an official fuel economy figure of 5.4L/100km on the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle.
And the environment is ultimately the (not so big) loser, the 70kW manual producing 124g/km of CO2, while the 85kW auto trims that to 123g/km.
Minimum fuel recommendation is 95 RON premium unleaded, although you’ll need just 40 litres of it to brim the tank. Using the official consumption figure that translates to a range of 740km.
Three things stand out on first meeting with the A-Class sedan – ride comfort, steering feel, and road noise, or rather the lack of it.
The ‘biggest’ compliment you can pay a small car is that it rides like a bigger one, and behind the A 200’s wheel you’d swear the wheelbase was appreciably longer than the 2.7 metres it actually measures.
Over long undulations, even higher frequency bumps and ruts, the A-Class remains stable and composed thanks to a thoroughly sorted (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension, with beautifully progressive damping a particular highlight.
Electromechanically-assisted steering points accurately and delivers good road feel without any undue vibration. And despite the A-Class launch drive loop covering typically coarse-chip bitumen roads through rural Victoria, overall noise levels remained impressively low.
Acceleration is brisk rather than properly sharp, but in the A 200 there’s more than enough oomph to keep things on the boil for easy highway cruising and overtaking.
With maximum torque available from just above 1600rpm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission keeping revs in the sweet spot, the A 200 breezes through the cut and thrust of city traffic, too.
Auto shifts are smooth and quick, with manual changes via the wheel-mounted paddles adding even more direct access to your ratio of choice. And the bonus is no sign of the slow-speed shuntiness sometimes exhibited by dual-clutch autos, especially in twisting, three-point parking manoeuvres.
Special call-out for the cruise control which responds to adjustments quickly (including 10km/h jumps up or down with a firm press of the thumb) and rapidly retards downhill speeds.
Several unbroken hours in the front seat couldn’t generate a twinge of discomfort, the brakes are strong, and over-shoulder visibility is marginally better than in the hatch (not that it’s a weakness in the latter).
Add the sleek and intuitive multimedia system, high-quality audio, plus excellent ergonomics and you have a neatly resolved compact sedan that’s easy to use in the city and suburbs, keeping solid road-tripping ability up its sleeve as well.
The Polo’s launch drive program covered around 150km of city, suburban and freeway running from inner Sydney, through twisting B-roads to the city’s south, and sprawling semi-rural areas further west.
We sampled the Life and Style, both in 85kW seven-speed auto form, and first impressions are dominated by how refined this little car feels in terms of ride quality and noise suppression.
Typically throaty three-cylinder engine and exhaust noise is there under load, but it’s relatively low-key. And even on coarse secondary roads the Polo remains quiet and composed.
Zero to 100km/h comes up in around 10.5 seconds, which isn’t going to rewrite the class record books, but with seven ratios to play with the engine stays in its 2000-3500rpm sweet spot most of the time.
There’s more than enough pulling power for safe highway overtaking, and cruising at 100-110km/h is easy. You don’t have to mash the accelerator to maintain a comfortable pace.
Suspension is strut front, torsion beam rear, and if you’re inclined towards a cheeky fang through your favourite set of corners, the Polo is heaps of fun. At a fraction over 1.1 tonnes it’s light but feels planted and stable on twisty sections.
The steering’s nicely weighted and road feel is good, plus the front seats are supportive and comfortable over long stints behind the wheel.
Not surprisingly, parking is stress-free thanks to the Polo’s compact dimensions and good visibility.
Braking is progressive and reassuringly firm, but, although we didn’t drive the Life manual at launch, be aware its back brakes are drums, a ‘technology’ largely unknown beyond base utes in 2022.
Nothing wrong with an efficient drum set-up on a light-weight car, but let’s just say it’ll be interesting to drive that variant and see how it pulls up under pressure.
Under the heading of random thoughts, the combination of on-screen touch controls, and physical dials for the multi-media system is welcome. And the connection for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is wired or wireless which is handy for those who prefer the surety of a wired connection or the flexibility of one less cable in their life.
Think automotive safety and Mercedes-Benz will be one of the first names to pop into your mind, and the A 180 offers in impressive suite of active features including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), ‘Active Brake Assist’ (Merc-speak for AEB), ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Cross-wind Assist’, ‘Lane Keep Assist’, a tyre pressure warning system, the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and ‘Traffic Sign Assist’. The A 200 adds ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist’.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you’ll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver’s knee bag), and the ‘Active Bonnet’ automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
With a maximum five-star ANCAP score already in the bag for the Polo from a 2018 assessment, the path of least resistance for VW would have been to rest on its laurels. But to its credit the German giant resubmitted this updated version for testing against stricter 2022 criteria.
That’s largely because it’s squeezed in several key active safety features under the umbrella of ‘IQ.Drive’, with all Polos now featuring, AEB (with cyclist and pedestrian detection), lane-keeping assist (with lane departure warning), ‘Multi-Collision Brake’ (automatically slows the car after a collision, reducing the chance of a secondary impact), driver fatigue detection, front and rear parking distance sensors, rear AEB (low-speed), a reversing camera (with static and dynamic guidelines), cruise control (with speed limiter and distance warning display), tyre pressure monitoring, and more.
‘Park Assist’ (perpendicular and parallel) and active cruise and are standard on the Style, with the latter optionally available on the Life auto as part of the Vision & Tech package.
If, despite all that, a crash is unavoidable there are seven airbags on-board - driver and front passenger (front and side), front centre (to minimise head clash injuries) and full-length side curtain.
There are three top tether points across the rear seat for child seats and/or baby capsules, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
That lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an ‘Up-front’ or ‘Pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three A-Class services set at a total of $2050, compared to $2550 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.
Volkswagen Australia covers the Polo with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is now the volume market standard.
The paint is warranted for three years/unlimited kilometres, “Through Corrosion” is covered for 12 years/unlimited kilometres, and 12 months roadside assistance is included.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km, with prices over the first five years for the Life manual (70kW) ranging from a low of $413 to a high of $929, the average per service coming out at $560, bumping up to $580 for the Life auto and Style (85kW).
Capped price servicing is available, however, over five- and three-year plans. Paying up-front for five years results in a $664 saving over pay-as-you-go for the Life manual, and $716 for the Life auto and Style.
A compelling side benefit is the ability to fold servicing costs into the vehicle’s financing at the time of purchase, and the plan is transferable if you decide to sell the car before the five or three years is up.