Missing The Ball At Polo

The newest generation of one of VW’s non-Golf evergreens stands for the greater malaise of the German car industry – and acute deficits chez Wolfsburg

VW Polo VI, photo (c) automobil-produktion.de

To the untrained eye, this newest generation of Polo looks pretty much the same as its predecessor. Alas, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Whereas the Polo V was a small stylistic gem, boasting subtle craftsmanship of the highest order, from its expert surfacing to the delicacy of its detailing, this new car’s styling achieves the feat of managing to be barely different on a superficial level yet infinitely inferior upon closer inspection.

Intriguingly, it shares this trait with BMW’s most recent generation of the venerable 5 series. Bizarrely, it also shares one particular styling gimmick with the Bavarian car, one which is equally daft in either case.

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The dart-like feature on both cars’ profiles really stands for the greater issue that’s at the core of both these automobile’s designs. Both are deeply conservative (one might even say: timid) efforts, yet their detailing is obviously supposed to distract from this lack of panache.

It’s almost as though a single symbol of ‘progress’ was needed to illustrate that both these cars are actually, you know, progressive. And instead of going for a challenging concept or form language, the formula that has served so well so far is expanded with an attention grabbing feature, or feature line, in this case.

There will be lots and lots of marketing texts waxing lyrical about the dashing quality of the Polo’s ‘Toronado line’ (their name, not mine) or the BMW’s ‘three-dimensional assault on the preconception of what a feature line can visually achieve’ (my words, not theirs). But, in truth, they’re a minor sign of desperation. They are anything but assured and confident.

And, in the VW’s case, they’re even of appalling craftsmanship. Next its cheaper siblings, be they of Mladá Boleslav or Martorell origin, the Polo simply appears clumsy and cheap. To say nothing of its predecessor.

The sound you hear is Ferdl Piëch grinding a knife, photo (c) driventowrite.com

So it’s not just the basic idea, but also the execution that’s lacking. How Skoda can mass produce a Superb with panel gaps and creases of laser-like precision, while VW signs off a body that’s so clumsily surfaced is simply baffling.

History, as one of Driven to Write’s main contributors likes to point out, has the habit of repeating itself. In that sense, parallels may be drawn between the era of 1980s VW chief designer, Herbert Schäfer, and the current incumbent, Klaus Bischoff. Both followed in the footsteps of Italians who had laid the groundwork for an enormously successful generation of Volkswagens. Both Germans then went on to add brute ornamentation to the previous models’ forms, just for the hell of it.

On the basis of VW’s most recent cars, we can consider VW to be at the dawn of a ‘Heidedesign 2.0’ period. The days of assured restraint at Wolfsburg are officially over. The days of creative derring-do have yet to come.


The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com



Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

6 thoughts on “Missing The Ball At Polo”

  1. Oh my. I hadn’t seen the closeup of that feature line on the Polo. That is tragic.

  2. We have seen signs of this already on the latest Passat and even more on the Tiguan which has managed to become even more awful than its predecessor. But this Polo even tops it easily.

  3. In the context of the Polo’s customary utility and simplicity, the feature line is wildly out of character. It’s like seeing a reserved person try to be fun. VW doesn’t do fashion – why start? They have SEAT for customers who want a bit more expression.

  4. Thanks for this well observed and composed piece. The close up of the feature-line and comparative with the similar scar on the 5-Series was instructive. I completely agree with the comments about the Tiguan, which never seems to allow the eye to settle at all, and the previous generation Polo. I have always thought the latter to be a bit of a benchmark in compact car design for the last decade and yet is often called-out for being ‘conservative’ and ‘boring’ – would that the current MINI, for example, should be so ‘boring’. As mentioned before, I have a growing liking for the current Fabia, which makes more sense now that other contemporary Skodas have joined it in the range. I’m also looking forward to seeing a new Ibiza in person as I think that in print and on screen it’s a very well confected sample of Seat’s current style in compact form.

    1. Thank you, S.V.

      The current Tiguan is trying too hard for its own good, but this Polo, the Arteon and the T-Roc are simply shocking. These cars’ style has the strong stench of petit bourgeois chic about them, which is why I was reminded of the Schäfer Heidedesign in the first place.

      Having all VAG brands in one space at the IAA was extraordinarily revealing, for it was the supposed budget brands that left far more confident an impression than the VW & Audi marques. Thanks to, above all, the outstanding Superb, the quality of Skoda’s design direction has been truly established, but even poor Seat is doing much better a job than the mothership. I’d certainly take a new Ibiza or Arona over a Polo or T-Roc each and every day of the week.

  5. I see a lot of nu-Fivers here since I’ve been in Ireland and I can state with confidence that they don’t improve with familiarity. I look forward to unseeing the Polo when it lands in these Islands.

    Matthias Muller must get a grip on the positioning of his brand portfolio – it’s currently all over the place, with as the author astutely points out, the outlier brands currently showing the mothership how it should be done. I suppose VWs will sell anyway to people who will always buy VWs, but longer-term, the group needs to decide what role each player plays and reflect that in style, technology and positioning. The signs are that this is already happening and we may not necessarily like what we see.

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