AUTOpsy: VW Polo VI (2018)

VW’s staple supermini proves that too much of a good thing is still too much. 

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The Volkswagen Polo may never have matched its bigger brother, the quintessential Golf, in terms of significance or profit margins. And yet it was the previous generation of this car, the Polo V, that proved how serious VW’s then new management under (now) notorious CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was about redefining the brand.

The Polo V was a bit of a minor masterpiece – not just by the standard of this class of motor car. Assured, restrained, with an almost imperceptible, yet clear elegance in its surfacing and discreet detailing. It was, in short, almost everything the Polo preceding it (a heavy-handed facelift model with chintzy rear lights and the brand’s ungainly Plakettengrill at its front) wasn’t. Which leaves the question what this all-new Polo of 2018 has to say about the current direction of the Volkswagen brand.

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Perplexingly, a first glance at the car immediately suggests that this Polo is somehow related to the most recent BMW 5 series. Both share a spear-shaped feature underneath the side windows/DLO, which constitutes the most apparently obvious change to the previous car in either case.

Like the BMW, this Polo VI follows in the footsteps of a successful, well regarded model generation, which explains why both cars appear like reskins, rather than the all-new models they are. In terms of stance and proportions, both the Fünfer and this Polo appear remarkably similar to their respective predecessors.

It is therefore on the skin where the main differences between this Polo and the previous generation can be found. To stretch the metaphor, one could say that this is where the scars of the surgery performed on the previous model’s design, in order to keep it supposedly up to date, can be spotted.

As with many other recent VW designs, the Polo VI’s form accommodates a perplexing number of  sharp creases and corrugations. This element – reportedly so extremely widespread among VAG’s different brands due to Martin Winterkorn’s personal preference for such a form language – is impressive from a technical point of view. However, aesthetically, it is quite irritating.

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Rather than assuredly self-indulgent, the surfeit of folds and creases could be perceived as rather unsettling. Even more so as VW obviously weren’t going for out-and-out excess à la Sensual Purity® or Waku-Doki, but tried to keep up appearances by using a more technical form language.

However, due to the boundless amount of stylistic flourishes, the Polo appears almost like a caricature of Teutonic forms – for no matter how sensible their appearance, an orgy of bank accountants still is an orgy. And too many lines are still an overabundance, even if those lines are straight and clean, rather than baroque and flamboyant.

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Thankfully, the Polo’s grille does without the lower indentation that has recently been introduced with the brand’s more upmarket Arteon and Touareg models. Unfortunately, the Polo makes up for this with a highly awkward zig-zag chrome detail underneath its headlights, which houses the daylight running lights and separates the main light units from a purely decorative mesh insert. All of this is covered by one piece of glass.

The body coloured strip atop the grille (which graphically justifies the indentation on the aforementioned models), probably added in order to ‘create interest’ and act as vanishing point for some of the many lines adorning the bonnet, lends this Polo’s frontal aspect a droopy quality absent from its assured predecessor.

The busy, pointy, semi-aggressive graphics of the light units and front skirt (which features more than one layer of air intake, which appears a bit excessive on a supermini) may or may not have been styled in this way to make up for the weakened basic graphics of the grille.

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The wheels fitted to the Polo VI pictured, though obviously not standard equipment, encapsulate the predicament VW design currently finds itself in. Featuring an aggressive, blade-like appearance, contrasting colours and plenty of ‘yoof appeal’, these wheels make it abundantly clear that this ‘ain’t your grampa’s Polo’.

However, there are still at least as many pensioners and middle-aged women about to whom the Polo ought to appeal as well, which is why not all of the basic style of the Polo V, overwrought though it is in this incarnation, was completely abandoned. But as with all supposed ‘jacks of all trades’, this sixth generation of Polo struggles to master any of the aesthetic domains it is supposed to cover.

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Incidentally, its rear aspect is where the Polo VI deviates the least from the path its predecessor had set. The crease above the VW logo is obviously too prominent, and there generally are too many lines in present as well (particularly the one underneath the rear lights, which is not quite continued on the hatch’s lid, grates), but the rear is the most satisfying aspect of the car’s design nonetheless. Relatively speaking.

The Polo VI is not the first VW trying to cater to the more fashion-conscious end of the market. 15 years ago, designers Murat Günak and Peter Schreyer had also been tasked with adding a bit of pizzazz to the supposedly accomplished, but dull Lower Saxonian brand of car design. The result of this was a succession of utterly misguided, ill-proportioned, tangibly false aspirational models, whose damage to the VW brand was rectified by, among others, the outgoing Polo V.

VW’s newest models are not quite as inept, but prove once more that the core values of Volkswagen do not lend themselves to a fashionable approach. And that pressing as many lines as possible into as small a sheet of metal as possible does not make for a great piece of design.

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

www.auto-didakt.com

Author: Christopher Butt

Auto-Didakt

12 thoughts on “AUTOpsy: VW Polo VI (2018)”

  1. An excellent critique of a horribly overwrought design. I once read that the essence of good design is to know where to stop, a notion clearly not appreciated by those responsible for this mess. It’s all the more tragic, given the restrained and unfussy elegance of its predecessor.

  2. Poor Polo is off to listen to Taylor Swift and ignore the haterz…

    What I find interesting is that the closely related Seat Ibiza has really found its form in its latest version. The creases and slashes have at last been incorporated into a convincing overall design.

    Perhaps this is the problem – the two cars are so similar that VW feel compelled to differentiate the Polo via embellishment. Presumably the two design studios shared information during development, so both will have known what was coming.

    1. Spot on, Jacomo!

      The Ibiza is far more convincing than this Polo.

      Having talked to a few designers working for VAG’s ‘lesser brands’, I can report that they enjoy greater creative freedom these days than the mothership. The Volkswagen brand’s importance means the decision making process is far more significantly ‘filtered’ than at Seat or Skoda – the established mothership is obviously far more afraid of mistakes than the plucky underdogs.

      I guess this will change eventually – certainly at Skoda, where the very confident Jozef Kaban was replaced with a man who fits the ‘corporate hack’ profile rather better than him. But for the time being, I fully expect the next slew of Skodas and Seats to be far more stylistically convincing than any of their Lower Saxonian counterparts.

    2. While I have little doubt the current VW form language with its over-wrought graphic elements, abundant knife-edge creases, slats and scoops is intended to highlight Volkswagen’s mastery of precision-forming, what it in fact illustrates in a rather overt and somewhat embarrassing fashion is a rising sense of panic.

      This is not the design language of a business comfortable in its own skin – it’s the stylistic equivalent of a diversionary tactic, which given the waters within which the VW mothership finds itself adrift, is perhaps understandable, if lamentable nonetheless.

      It’s also a styling theme which will not stand up to much familiarity – and is therefore unlikely to hang around for long. The big question now of course is not whether, but how badly VW will screw the pooch with the next generation of Golf. Never was there a better time for their rivals to prepare something truly distinctive and yet, never have they looked less likely to.

  3. I saw a lot of these Polos whilst on holiday in the Balearics recently (and the new Ibiza). In certain lights and colours and at certain angles you couldn’t really see all the creases and lines and it actually looked like a pleasant little runabout. The term “little” is relative. I always liked the Mk3 with its funky name badge.

    I have a lot of sympathy for designers because you’ve always got to come up with something new and of course you can’t hit the jackpot every time. Apple’s industrial design is another example that IMO is not as good as it used to be. Or maybe I’m just bored of it?

    1. Absolutely.

      I like it, but it takes some time to acclimatize to. It’s a lower, softer shape, despite all its feature lines. I prefer it in stronger colours which ‘take the edge off’ some of the feature lines. The model shown in this article looks like the ‘Beats’ version – I find other wheel designs in the range more attractive. For an alternative, see:

      I too have sympathy with the designers – the last version was clearly successful and they wanted to retain its basic themes, while simultaneously updating it. That said, I really like the Ibiza (although the front’s a bit dull) and, in particular, the Fabia; the latter looks more upright and formal – a bit like the last Polo.

      I also liked the mk4 version – the one with the two pairs of round headlights – although I never felt I fully understood the design. I couldn’t decide whether it was meant to look cute, formal or retro. Perhaps all three?

  4. My favorite paragraph:

    “As with many other recent VW designs, the Polo VI’s form accommodates a perplexing number of sharp creases and corrugations. This element – reportedly so extremely widespread among VAG’s different brands due to Martin Winterkorn’s personal preference for such a form language – is impressive from a technical point of view. However, aesthetically, it is quite irritating.”

    I am the owner of a crease free 11 year old GTI, and harmony as well as fluidity are part of it’s charm.
    I only object to the goatee in the front in the form of the blacked out bumper element.

    I agree that the previous Polo hit tue mark. The current Polo has issues, and Seat and Skoda are the quiet superstars. Except I can’t buy any of them here in Trumpland.

    So, I remain a MKV GTI man for the foreseeable future. Even if Murat Gunak had a hand in it.

  5. Well said Kris, as always. The banker orgy metaphor was a thing of beauty.
    Having seen him mentioned, have you ever thought about the devastation one Murat Günak has made on several brands design language? I always thought it could be the basis of an interesting read.

    1. Kostadin: Mr. Günak has been mentioned more than a few times on these pages. But I agree, the definitive critique of his mainstream stylistic career has yet to be written.

  6. The back end looks as uninteresting as a commercial van to me. Featureless. Highly plain and undoubtedly cheap to make. Perhaps it makes up for the hood and door stamping-die costs. It looks susceptible to drumming.

    The new 2019 Jetta (sound of blaring trumpets in discord) also has a hood with multi strakes which reminds one of a sliding board for large cardboard boxes or the Chrysler Crossfire, take your pick. But it ditched the 2018’s bent chrome trim in the headlights. Maybe VW has a few hundred thousand surplus and needs to use them up in the Polo.

    It’s hard to tell if this Polo is afflicted with the MQB disease of having the B-pillar level with a typical driver’s chin, rendering an arm rest on the door virtually useless while making any “look over your shoulder” check impossible without leaning forward.

    Examining B-Pillar interior plastic is not a hobby of mine. Nor can I imagine it places the seat belt in optimum position. Not to mention egress is like heaving oneself out of a coal scuttle instead of merely turning sideways to get out. It’s not purely a VW fault, but it stands out for me these days, and is one more reason crossovers sell.

    Styling takes second fiddle for me if it does not meet basic human anatomy. Surely design and styling should coexist?

  7. One of these new Polo VIs lives on my regular short dog walk routes so I have had regular sessions of staring at it from different elevations (at night, in case neighbours see me). Its failings compared to its predecessor are like the opposite of Dave Brailsford’s ‘Marginal Gains’ – i.e. lots of relatively minor differences make a very handsome and pleasing car look a hell of a lot worse in its new form, somehow. It’s also incredible how the very similar in many ways new Ibiza manages to look so much better.

    That delta-shaped impression 3/4 of the way up the side that starts in the front wing and stretches back to the hatch also features on the latest Tiguan – I expect it will also appear on the next Golf, then, boo!.

    I saw a new Tuareg yesterday on the road (M1), approaching it from the rear and then overtaking it. It’s quite nice, although it was only as I got very close that I realised it wasn’t a new Q5 – a point proved when 20 seconds later I passed an actual new Q5. The only real clues were the VW badge and T U A R E G spaced moniker spaced centrally beneath it, as per the A R T E O N and T – R O C, and, as noticed elsewhere, Ford’s new F O C U S.

    I think it is Kris who has before liked present-day VW to the sixties BMC. The main difference is that, in the majority of cases, with BMC the same car bore Austin, Morris, MG, Vanden Plas, or Riley badges. The thing is that VW has now surely reached the worst of both worlds – every panel on the Tuareg is different to the Q5 (or Q7), and yet they look near identical, especially in the use of the creases down the flanks. Hence, think of the two sets of styling, pressing and tooling costs for the different cars which look so incredibly similar – at least BMC only paid for one set and yet spun off so many differently badged cars.

    1. Body panels are generally struck at least twice to arrive at the final shape, so there can be economies of scale achieved with differentiation based on a common first rough pressing, and the same machine tools can produce similar yet different dies used for the finishing strikes.

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