Volkswagen Polo R
"It is not every day that a car maker provides us with unlimited access to a previously unsighted prototype of a future model. But that is exactly what Volkswagen boss, Martin Winterkorn, did this week on the sidelines of the launch of the new fourth-generation Golf R when he presented Drive with the keys to an engineering mule for new Polo R.
The powered-up Polo forms part of a range of secret new Volkswagen models that are being put through their paces by the German car maker’s highest ranking managers in an annual winter test drive program in northern Sweden this week, including prototypes for future generations of the Scirocco, Passat and, so we hear, Tiguan – all of which are planned to be launched by early 2015.
Significantly more advanced than the front-wheel drive Polo R WRC that was launched on the back of Volkswagen’s entry into the World Rally Championship early last year and built in a limited run of just 2500 cars, the Polo R prototype shares just about everything except its steel body and interior fittings with the Audi S1, which is due to make its public debut at the 2014 Geneva motor show in early March.
The two German superminis have been developed alongside each other in a joint engineering program with the aim of providing added performance flavour at the lower end of both the Volkswagen and Audi line-ups. Although Volkswagen high ups remain tight-lipped on such suggestions, it appears likely they will also sire performance orientated versions of the next-generation Seat Ibiza and Skoda Fabia too.
Although based on the existing PQ26 platform, Audi’s outspoken research and development boss, Ulrich Hackenberg, indicates the developments brought to the new car can be easily and cost effectively transferred to Volkswagen’s new MQB platform, which will underpin not only the next generation Ibiza and Fabia, but also future incarnations of the Polo and A1, suggesting the hot new Volkswagen is more than a one-off.
Hackenberg is described as the driving force behind the project, having kicked the engineering for a four-wheel-drive system during his time as head of research and development at Volkswagen.
At the heart of the new car is Volkswagen’s four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Exact details remain scarce, although Volkswagen sources suggest the four-pot petrol mill has been tuned to deliver in the region of 186kW, or some 24kW more than There German car maker’s engineering brain trust was willing to send through the left-hand-drive only Polo R WRC’s front wheels for fear of rabid torque steer.
To ensure this is not the case with the new series production Polo R, drive on the prototype is sent through six-speed dual clutch gearbox and an electro-mechanical multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system. Its inclusion has necessitated a complete rework of the rear suspension, with a new multi-link arrangement replacing the standard torsion beam set-up.
The idea, according to Winterkorn, is to provide the planned road car with a mechanical package that more closely resembles that of the Polo WRC rally car, in which Sebastian Ogier stormed the 2013 World Rally Championship, than the somewhat underwhelming limited edition Polo R WRC we drove last year.
The links are tenuous at best given that the rally car is largely bespoke, but the intent to give the Polo a more sporting flavour through the efforts of Volkswagen’s increasingly active R division are to be applauded.
What impressed us above all else was the overall agility of the Polo R prototype. While it is easy focus on the heady levels of power and the four wheel drive hardware used to channel it to each wheel, it is the new found nimbleness brought on by the adoption of a new multi-link rear suspension that sets it apart from every other Polo model, giving it a far more direct and sporting feel than the front-wheel drive Polo R WRC, which uses a conventional torsion beam rear end.
The Polo R is happy to be pushed hard and responds to quick changes of direction with compelling resolve. There is decent weighting around the straight ahead and a linear build up of resistance as you wind on steering lock. It could do with greater feedback, although so could the electro-mechanical steering of all sixth-generation Polo models.
Traction is strong, both off the line and out of corners, although we’ll need to drive it on bitumen before we can provide a real appraisal of the handling. On ice you don’t even need to resort to the handbrake to have fun. You just throw it into a corner, lift off and then ease back on the throttle to send it into an entertaining drift. In these conditions it is composed and controllable.
The efforts of the engine more than compensate for the added weight brought on by the adoption of four-wheel drive, giving the Polo R urgent acceleration and in gear qualities. Nothing is official just yet, but Volkswagen hints at a 0-100km time of less than six seconds – or half a second faster than the Polo R WRC.
Signs are the Polo R will be progressed to production maturity rather rapidly and could very well debut in production guise as early as the Geneva motor show in March prior to going on sale in Europe by the end of the year, perhaps in time to celebrate what many predict will be a second World Rally Championship for Volkswagen in 2014. Time will tell.