Tuesday, January 28, 2014

First Drive: Volkswagen Polo Notch 1.6 TDI M/T and Jetta TDI 2.0 TDI M/T Trendline

Photos by Ulysses Ang
When you think of ‘diesel’, the first things that come to mind are pick-ups, large SUVs, and MPVs. They’re normally associated with anything that requires fuel economy and hauling power at the expense of everything else, including refinement. But the notion of the unrefined diesel engine is something best left to your grandfather. Technology has remarkably changed transforming today’s diesel engine into one that actually improves the overall driving experience thanks to exhilarating performance and outstanding fuel economy without sacrificing emissions. In fact, Europe has taken notice. In 2012, about 55 percent of cars sold there were diesel, that’s up from 31 percent in 2000. And the leader in the diesel revolution is Volkswagen and their TDI technology.

Here’s a fun fact: each drop of diesel fuel contains 15 percent more energy than its gasoline counterpart; and more energy means more power at less fuel. It’s a simple rule of chemistry; only Volkswagen went a step further, adding their own magic mix called TDI. Though diesel is inherently efficient to begin with, when you want to drive a car, you want one that’s superiorly engineered with power and performance. It’s no surprise therefore that TDI starts with ‘T’, or turbocharging. Using a variable-geometry turbo, power and torque builds up smoothly and without delay, even at low speeds. Thus, it gives Volkswagen engines excellent elasticity, with punchiness from 40, 60, 80, or even 100 km/h. Meanwhile, ‘DI’ stands for the tiny piezo fuel injectors that precisely deliver droplets of fuel directly into the combustion chamber. Each injector is only 0.12 mm in diameter and up to 8 of these nozzles spray fuel at pressures up to 29,000 PSI. This direct-injection technology, as it’s more commonly called, lower combustion noise while optimizing the distribution and timing of fuel injected resulting in reduced emissions. In fact, both cars Volkswagen Philippines made available for a quick spin, the Polo Notch and the Jetta pass Euro 4 emission standards, making them two of the cleanest diesels available in the country.

Volkswagen Polo Notch 1.6 TDI M/T

Marketed as ‘your first German car’, the Polo Notch is Volkswagen’s only sub-million peso offering at the moment with an SRP of P 950,000. This Indian-made VW is based off the Polo hatchback but with a stretched wheelbase and an added trunk to cater to the family-oriented sensibilities of the Asian market. The Vento, as it’s originally known in India, looks remarkably stately for a B-segment car down to its choice of 5 exterior colors, all of which are conservative and classy. It looks like a shrunken Jetta or Passat with its trademark chrome-lined Volkswagen grille, squared headlamps, and very formal three-box shape. The Polo Notch is also free from any sort of exterior embellishment such as skirts, moldings, and spoilers; only relying on the consistently high-levels of fit and finish and paintwork to serve as the main attraction. And despite its place as the most affordable VW, the Polo Notch still comes with rear fog lamps and alloy wheels as standard equipment. There are only two contentious points with the Polo Notch: first, the choice of tires which are Apollo Acelere 185/60R15 (a nice set of Michelins, Yokohamas, or Bridgestones would have been nice) and second, the rather unsightly wheel well gap that comes with the close to 170-mm ground clearance (remember, the Polo Notch is a sedan, not a crossover).

Settling into the Polo Notch, and you’ll be impressed with the levels of craftsmanship. Despite the non-German origins, the Polo Notch has consistently good fit and finish with nicely textured plastics dotting the entire cabin. It’s not soft-to-the-touch as those found in higher-end VW models, but there’s a good amount of effort to make the Polo Notch feel premium, especially considering the price. Admittedly, the dark gray cabin looks plain but at least everything is laid out in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand manner. As a driving environment, the Polo Notch works well with a tilt/telescopic steering wheel and a 6-way manually adjustable driver’s seat. The instrument cluster is typical Volkswagen fair with a large digital display flanked by two large dials. It doesn’t come with a multi-function computer, but at least it has variable intermittent wipers, a full-featured stereo system with USB input and 4 speakers, an electrically-actuated trunk opening, and even adjustable headlight aiming. What’s not present for this P 950,000 car? Surprisingly, power adjustable side view mirrors (you’ll need to adjust them with old-fashioned rods) and rear power windows.

Thankfully, these shortcomings are more than made up for with the Polo Notch’s drivetrain and on-road abilities. You can even say that majority of the car’s cost went to make sure it’s well-engineered and worthy of the Volkswagen badge. With a 1.6-liter TDI engine, the Polo Notch makes just 105 horsepower, but more importantly, it pushes out 250 Nm—a figure bigger than a typical normally-aspirated 2.5-liter gasoline engine, and it does so at a low 1,500 rpm. Twisting the diesel engine to life, the Polo Notch is a tad noisier than some of Volkswagen’s other offerings, but once it settles to an idle, it quiets down to a nice, even hum. Only available with a 5-speed manual (for now), the Polo Notch’s clutch is light and easy to modulate, but the space between pedals is a bit too close. The shifter also offers nice, short throws, but the engagement between gears (especially 1-2) could be better. Through a slalom course, the Polo Notch is responsive and agile thanks to its light electric power steering and good exterior visibility. The ride is well-sorted too, though because of Nuvali’s smooth concrete roads, the verdict’s still out on how the Polo Notch handles the bumps. The front disc and rear drum brakes are confident-inspiring at panic stops, but there’s a lack of initial bite compared to a four-wheel disc system.

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI M/T Trendline

After a quick spin in the Polo Notch, it’s time to try out the Jetta—Volkswagen’s official C-segment car. Priced at P 1,295,000 for the as tested 2.0 TDI and P 1,240,000 for the coming in February 1.2 TSI, the Jetta is unmistakably more luxurious and more “Germanic” between the two VW sedans even if it’s actually designed and built in Puebla, Mexico alongside the Beetle. At a glance, it looks pretty Audi-like from its stance to even down to the finer details such as the headlamps and more especially, the tail lamps. The use of sharp and strong crease lines cut a very athletic look while daytime running lights, side mirror mounted turn signals, LED license plate lights, the ‘Diversity’ radio antenna, and “Atlanta” rims with 205/55R16 Michelin tires unmistakably mark the Jetta as European. Though both cars share a strong family semblance, especially put side-by-side, the Jetta looks much more hunkered down and sportier thanks to the wider, flatter headlamps, longer horizontal grille, and stubby front bumper. All in all, a fitting design for a car named after the Atlantic jet stream. And though it’s based off the PQ35 platform, the same one that underpins the Tiguan and Mark VI Golf, the Jetta doesn’t share any body panels with either of its esteemed siblings and even sports a longer wheelbase.

Inside, the Jetta feels inviting thanks to the two-tone black and beige trim. Like the Polo Notch or any other current Volkswagen for that matter, the dashboard is pretty straight-forward and laid out in an easy-to-understand manner. Unlike the Polo Notch which offers nicely textured, but hard plastics, the Jetta goes for both. The Jetta’s interior fit and finish is plush with soft-touch plastics and crisp buttons, stalks, and controls. Leather is only found on the three-spoke steering wheel, but the stitching is done excellently. The seating position in the Jetta, like the Polo Notch, is excellent with all the usual adjustments including a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. The instruments feature the same motif as the Polo Notch, only the Jetta has the added convenience of a multi-information display as well as an analogue engine temperature and fuel meter nestled in the 6 o’ clock position of the speedometer and tachometer. Metallic inserts give the Jetta very high-tech look, but the quality is rather inconsistent. Those trimming the major controls such as the steering wheel and shift knob are the high-gloss type, while those on the dash itself are matte and rather plasticky.

The larger, more expensive Volkswagen Jetta feels every inch like a high-tech German car. The doors are heavy and close with much authority. The 2.0-liter TDI diesel is also remarkably quiet; even more so than the Polo Notch. The added displacement bumps up the Jetta’s power figures to 110 horsepower and 280 Nm (from as low as 1,750 rpm). Like the Polo Notch, the sole transmission available (so far) is a 5-speed manual, so knowledge of a three-pedal set-up is a must. That said, the clutch has the same light effort and offers excellent modulation. Though you’re not likely going to heel-and-toe the Jetta any time soon, the space between pedals is much more forgiving for larger feet. It’s easy to master even when you’re short shifting on purpose. The shifter action is also precise and accurate with crisp engagement between gears. It rockets the Jetta almost to 100 km/h in a short period of time, digging the driver and passenger into their seats in the process. The brakes bite very well and with the standard full safety suite (including 8 parking sensors) make the Jetta one sure-footed car. In the slalom course, the Jetta doesn’t turn in as quickly because of the heavier steering, but it’s still responsive and offers an excellently stable chassis. The biggest surprise on the Jetta though is its low-speed, low rpm refinement. Crawling through Nuvali’s more populated areas on purpose; it’s remarkably quiet and very easy to drive. You’ll even mistake it for a gasoline-engined car—it’s that good.

In the end, both the Volkswagen Polo Notch and Jetta offer a remarkably different mindset on diesel engine technology. With excellent power, lower emissions, and most likely better fuel efficiency and longer range, this is engineering innovation at its best. Volkswagen’s TDI technology is certainly a no-compromise approach to offering precision handling, excellent everyday power along with fewer trips to the pump. Indeed, you need to get in a Volkswagen to celebrate the possibilities of diesel performance. And put the window down with no worries. This is how bright the future can be.


  1. "What’s not present for this P 950,000 car? Surprisingly, power adjustable side view mirrors (you’ll need to adjust them with old-fashioned rods) and rear power windows."
    I'm guessing the interior shot of the Polo notch with rear power windows is not the final local spec model?
    PS: The Polo notch looks like the low-end Indian Vento with alloy wheels added.

    1. The one with the power mirrors, the beige one, is the Jetta. And you're right about the Polo Notch being the base Vento :-P

  2. Is it possible to order the Jetta with Bi - Xenon HEadlamps and Frontparkingsensors?

  3. I'm surprised with VW PH's strategy - premium pricing coupled with base specs (rear crank windows and manual side mirror adjustment at near 1mio price point for the Polo Notch).
    The equivalent VW Vento base variant in India sells for about INR850k, which is a little over PHP600k in today's exchange rate. And considering that the INR is comparatively weak compared to PHP, VW should have priced it more aggressively or increase the standard features worthy of the premium price.
    The Polo Notch should be competing with Honda City (which is the case in India) in terms of pricing, not at Civic's and Altis' price points, IMHO.
    I do hope they succeed with this strategy.

    1. If they keep this up they're unlikely to get any new fans. Not with this ridiculous pricing in the PH. The Polo would've been a good Vios and City competitor if it had the right price and specs.

  4. Ang laki naman ng tubo nila. Grave ayala

  5. hahaha.. a lot of competitors of the same class on a lesser cash.. good luck Ayala! Nice strategic planning. Hope to see your cars moving around the metro.

  6. If it was the Jetta GLI at 1.2M then I'd be interested...

  7. "In the end, both the Volkswagen Polo Notch and Jetta offer a remarkably different mindset on diesel engine technology. With excellent power, lower emissions, and most likely better fuel efficiency and longer range, this is engineering innovation at its best. "

    Hindi nyo man lang hinanap o at least hinulaan ang fuel efficiency nya, tapos best engineering na agad?!?! Epic fail at so many levels

  8. greedy sons of put'as ayala

  9. Hi Sir Ulysses, Sir I've also read about your review about Peugeot 301 MT. Sir Uly ask ko lang po if ano pong mas magandang kunin Peugeot 301 MT po ba o VW Polo MT?