Tiguan and Polo part of a VW revolution

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Quiet evolution has been the way for Volkswagen in New Zealand over the past couple of years; now it is set to get louder.

A fresh product onslaught on two fronts provides impetus.

The biggie is the sports utility vehicle sector. SUVs keep cementing as New Zealand's top new-car choice, the type accounted for almost half of last month's new car sales volume.

By comparison, small cars are not performing so strongly, but they are still important: first-car buyers who have the wherewithal to choose new over pre-owned tend to start with budget city hatchbacks.

VW New Zealand is now upping its effort in both sectors. The SUV push comes with a seven-seat edition of its popular five-chair Tiguan.

Adding a third row is no small feat, requiring a major re-engineering and price re-positioning, but there's confidence this new Allspace model will pay off big-time. The regular Tiguan was already on the march, doubling sales to 1900 units from 2016 to 2017, and VW here knows seven-chair SUVs are even more popular with families. Hence there are six variants of the new Allspace, while the regular five-seater line-up has been trimmed down to three choices.

So that's one box ticked. The other push is with the Polo, the smallest VW hatch offered here. Even though it remains cosily compact, by being based on the modular transverse matrix (MQB) that serves larger VWs, this model has grown. Not only longer and lower than the last, it's larger than the Mark IV Golf that ended production in 2004. This allows a bigger interior, mostly in the back seat but also the boot, where the volume has increased from 280 to 350 litres. Going to MQB also benefits safety. In addition to all the expected impact-lessening ingredients, it now has front assist AEB (autonomous emergency braking) as standard.

The Polo is landing in force; five petrol models now, four with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder, and a GTi flagship, coming mid-year. The GTi, with four-cylinders and a 2-litre engine, will definitely be the Polo family lout . . . but in respect of loudness, it might hold second spot to the mid-range Beats edition.

That name will surely be familiar to the youth buyers this edition specifically targets as a first-car choice. Beats is an audio gear brand created by the godfather of gangsta rap, Dr Dre; VW has formed a collaboration with the music/media mogul to raise Polo's street cred.

"They really wanted to attract a younger audience . . . what better does it than music," explains VW NZ product manager, Rasika Versleijen.

There's some extra style with special wheels and paint finishes and a spiffed-up interior, but this car is more about being heard before it's necessarily seen. The loudest element is the sound system. The 80 watt audio that serves the other derivatives is biffed for 300 watt set-up, which includes a big bass unit in the boot. How loud? Put it this way: the only time the Foo Fighters have been more ear-bleeding was when I saw them play in Melbourne a couple of years back.

A return run from the Auckland airport precinct to Piha Beach, a drive that offers lots of urban and open road variety, showed the 1.0-litre in its base format to be a zesty, effervescent engine. Dynamically, too, the Polo also maintains its tasty solidity. It might be categorised as a light car but doesn't feel it.

Back to Allspace, which is a close cousin to Skoda's Kodiaq, New Zealand's reigning Car of the Year.

VW reckons they might not compete wholly; while the starting price for either car is identical, the flagships stand $15,000 apart, mainly perhaps because VW has access to a higher output performance petrol engine that sits in the R-Line coming mid-year. Also, the Allspace in all but base form has a 500kg higher towing rating than the Kodiak.

Allspace debuts a new Tiguan look, with a significantly revised nose inspired by the colossal US-only Atlas family wagon. It is 215mm longer than the regular Tiguan, with 109mm of that in the wheelbase.

Most of the extra space is given over to second- and third-row seating room. Boot volume is a compact 230 litres, with the rear chairs up, but rises to a hugely convenient 700 litres with the third row folded away.

In terms of instrumentation and layout, the driver's environment is no different to the five-seater's. There's the same high driving position and decent visibility, though you do tend to think more carefully about lane changes and the like, due to the longer body.

There are plenty of soft-touch materials, but it all feels very solid and hard-wearing, save for the folding picnic tables on the back of the front seats. These look and feel so fragile it's hard to imagine them surviving kids.

Anyone used to a standard Tiguan it going to struggle to notice much difference in driving style. A longer wheelbase should create a more settled ride height, plus more composure and stability when cornering; something to check out in due course. First impression is that it certainly feels "comfortable" in that regard, absorbing surface imperfections nicely. Through bends, there's little in the way of body roll, and road noise doesn't seem overly intrusive, either. But, then, it should be quiet on Auckland's motorways; they're probably our smoothest roads. The coarse chip surfaces common elsewhere might throw up a whole new challenge.

The edition I tried had the more powerful of two diesels. The muscularity inherent to the type and the promise of decent economy are going to beneficial, particularly for long trips. I was surprised that it sounded a bit gruff at times and, when the foot went down, there was a noticeable delay before the power fed in. But, then, this was a brand-new car, with just over 500km on the clock. Perhaps it just needed to free up.

This model comes with the all-wheel-drive 4Motion transmission, which maximises traction on the move and should add a sense of security when traversing gravel. Would you explore off-seal further? The system has settings to tailor it to various terrain conditions, but I cannot see this Tiguan really being for anything too adventurous.

The Allspace is not inexpensive, but bear in mind that until now the best-selling model here has been the top of the range $67,000 R-Line. The peak price is potentially dictated by the new Touareg, coming later this year, also now a seven-seater but clearly bigger (in every sense) again. At the other end of the scale, they also have to bear in mind that there are two compact crossovers coming, in the T-Roc - which is already in production, but not yet at a volume where it can be available here - and also the T-Cross, which has yet to be seen in production form so remains a bit of a mystery.

Tiguan and Polo part of a VW revolution
At a Glance

VW Tiguan Allspace

SPECIFICATIONS
Prices: $47,990 (front-drive Comfortline 1.4) to $76,990 (R-Line 4wd diesel).

Engines: 1395cc four-cylinder turbo-petrol, maximum power 110kW@5000-6000rpm, maximum torque 250Nm@1500-3500rpm); 1984cc four-cylinder turbo-petrol, maximum power 132kW@3940-6000rpm, maximum torque 320Nm@1500-3940rpm; 1968cc four-cylinder turbo-diesel, maximum power 140kW@3500-4000rpm, maximum torque 400Nm@1900-3300rpm; 1984cc four-cylinder turbo-petrol, maximum power 162kW@4420-6250rpm, maximum torque, 350Nm@1500-4400rpm; 1968 four-cylinder turbo-diesel, 176kW@4000rpm, maximum torque 500Nm@1750-2500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed direct shift (1.4); seven-speed direct shift (all others).
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, BA, VSC, AEB, ACC, FCW.
Safety rating:  European NCAP five star.
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 235/55 R18 to 255/40 R20.
Fuel and economy: 6.3 (1.4 litre)/7.6 (132kW 2.0-litre)/5.9 (2.0-litre 140kW turbodiesel)/ 8.1 (162kW 2.0 petrol)/6.7 (2.0-litre 176kW turbodiesel) litres per 100km, fuel tank capacity 58-60 litres.
Dimensions: Length 4701mm, width 1839mm, height 1674mm. 

Volkswagen Polo at a glance

SPECIFICATIONS
Prices: $25,490 (TSi manual) to $38,490 (GTi DSG).

 

Engines: 999cc three-cylinder turbo-petrol (TSi, Beats), maximum power 70kW@4500-5500rpm, maximum torque 175Nm@2000-3500rpm; 999cc three-cylinder turbo-petrol (R-Line), maximum power 85kW@5000-5500rpm, maximum torque 200Nm@2000-3500rpm; 1984cc four-cylinder turbo-petrol, 147kW@4387-6000rpm, 320Nm@1500-4387rpm.
Transmissions: Five-speed manual, seven-step direct shift, six-speed direct shift (GTi).
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, ESR, EDL, EDTC, AEB.
Safety rating: not yet assessed.
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 185/65 R15 to 215/40 R18.
Fuel and economy: 4.4 (TSi man)/4.6 (TSi DSG)/ 4.7 (R-Line)/na (GTi)  litres per 100km, fuel tank capacity 40 litres.
Dimensions: Length 4053mm, width 1751mm, height 1461mm.