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The very strict Euro 7 emissions standard is likely to make it an impossibility to offer pure gasoline or diesel in the small car segment from 2025. In the coming years, carmakers will therefore be faced with a choice: either electrify their established models and keep them fresh for a few more years or consistently replace them with completely new electric models. This is likely to mean the death of many a traditional model name. As we have already reported, this fate is also awaiting the VW Polo. Just in time for its fiftieth birthday, it is to be replaced by the entry-level model of the electric ID family.
The roots lie in Ingolstadt
The story of the favorite of many German novice drivers begins in 1975: Volkswagen urgently needed a contemporary small car given the modern design of competing models from Italy and France. The simplest solution was to simply adopt a slimmed-down version of the new entry-level model from the subsidiary brand Audi. With its water-cooled in-line four-cylinder engines, a large tailgate, and front-wheel drive, the small car, along with its big brothers the Golf and Passat, symbolized the long-overdue new beginning for the Volkswagen brand. The sometimes thirsty and unrefined boxer engines with air cooling were simply no longer in keeping with the times and almost led the automaker to ruin.
Since then, the Polo has been completely redesigned five times. With each model change, the spartan small car has mutated a little more into the fully equipped and comfortable all-rounder it is today. But the Polo is no longer really small. The difference in length between the first and sixth-generation is over half a meter.
1975: An Audi 50 with VW logo
The first generation (Type 86) of the VW Polo presented in March 1975 can confidently be described as an early example of the badge engineering that is ubiquitous today.
It was originally designed as a simplified bread-and-butter version of its corporate brother, the Audi 50, which had been introduced about six months earlier. Visually, the comparatively modern two-door models could only be distinguished by the brand logo. However, the displacement of the almost 40 hp basic version was reduced to 0.8 liters and the disc brakes on the front axle were replaced by drums. After the facelift in early 1979, the Polo continued to roll off the production line for around two more years. By the time production of the first Polo came to an end, the technology donor Audi 50 had already been history for three years.
1981: The Polo II sold 1.7 million units
The second completely redesigned 86 C generation of the Wolfsburg small car was unveiled in the fall of 1981. It was available as a two-door hatchback sedan, as well as a classic hatchback coupe.
Over the course of the eighties, the Polo received several minor revisions. At the end of 1990, VW gave it an extensive facelift to make it fit for the new decade. The four-cylinder engines of the tame Polo versions had 1.0, 1.1, or 1.4 liters of displacement and produced between 40 and 75 hp. In addition, from 1988 there was a 1.2-liter compression-ignition engine that delivered 45 or 48 hp to the front wheels, depending on the year of manufacture.
1987: The Polo G40 combines 116 hp with 835 kilos
In 1987, VW introduced the sporty top model of the Polo II. The G40 was only available as a coupe and immediately became a favorite among VW disciples. With the help of a G-type supercharger, the engineers coaxed a whopping 116 hp and 148 Newton meters out of the actually cross-bred 1.3 liter. The agile flyweight sprinted from zero to 100 km/h in 8.6 seconds and only stopped at 195 km/h. The G40 was equipped with a catalytic converter. In 1996, the G40 was fitted with a catalytic converter, which slightly reduced its output to 113 hp.
1994: The Polo gets four doors for the first time
After a whopping 13 years, VW replaced the Polo 86 C in September 1994. Towards the end of its model cycle, it was simply no longer up to scratch in terms of safety and comfort features. The third-generation 6N was a bit rounder and had a more grown-up appearance overall. In keeping with this, the Polo was given a four-door version for the first time, bringing it a little closer to its big brother, the Golf. In addition, the classic hatchback and notchback sedan were joined for the first time in 1997 by an estate.
Airbags were now available at extra cost. Nevertheless, it initially received only three stars in the Euro NCAP crash test. In the summer of 1999, the small car was given a comprehensive technical and visual makeover to prepare it for the first year of the new millennium.
1995: As a harlequin, the Polo becomes a colorful dog
In 1995, the otherwise rather conservative Wolfsburg company launched a real bird of paradise that was quite polarizing when it appeared and has since enjoyed a certain cult status. In the special "Harlequin" model of the third Polo generation, almost every body part was painted in a different color. The individual colors bore the sonorous names pistachio green, chagall blue, broom blue and flash red. The customer had no influence on the color scheme. VW had originally only planned a batch of 1,000 units, but in the end they sold over 3,800 of the automotive wonder bags.
2001: More safety for the fourth edition
The fourth edition, known internally as the 9N, was unveiled at the IAA in Frankfurt in 2001. With its curves and distinctive four-eye face, it had a much friendlier appearance than its no-nonsense styled predecessor. It was also over 15 centimeters longer than its predecessor. At 3.90 meters, it almost reached Golf territory in terms of size. The fourth generation made significant progress, particularly in terms of safety equipment: Front and side airbags for the front passengers, ABS, and speed-sensitive power steering were now standard. ESP was also available at extra cost.
In 2005, the Polo was extensively redesigned. The four round headlights were now history. In addition, the safety equipment was upgraded and a 150 hp GTI version was introduced, or 180 hp in the "Cup Edition".
2009: Return of the clear edge
With the fifth generation, presented in spring 2009 and known within the Group as the 6R or 6C, the Polo bid farewell to the fashionably rounded lines of its predecessor after almost eight years. Instead, the designers gave the new Polo an angular and quite timeless body. Some details, such as the shape of the headlights and the two beads on the hood, already gave a visual foretaste of the Passat facelift (B7) that followed later and the seventh edition of the best-selling Golf.
Compared to its predecessor, it has been stretched by another six centimeters to 3.96 meters. The interior was modernized with a touchscreen for the navigation system. Incidentally, an estate was no longer offered. After four years of production, the Polo was given a facelift. VW offered the aerodynamically optimized Polo BlueMotion for those who wanted to save money. Its diesel engine had only three cylinders and, according to the manufacturer, was content with 3.3 liters. VW also celebrated its return to the World Rally Championship in 2013 with the 220-hp Polo R WRC special model.
2017: Number six marks the end of an era
In late summer 2017, the starting signal was given for the sixth Polo generation, known internally as the 2G. Built in Pamplona, Spain, the small car is based on a shortened version of VW's all-purpose weapon: the Modular Transverse Toolkit. Its Group brothers Seat Ibiza and Audi A1 also use the architecture known by the abbreviation MQB-A0. Electrification of this platform involves a great deal of effort and horrendous costs. For this reason, VW will probably phase out the Polo after the end of the current model cycle and in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the popular model series. From 2025, it is likely to be replaced by an e-car probably called the ID.1. The last Polo is to receive a model update this year and, refreshed in this way, will last until the middle of the decade. The "little one", which is over four meters long, is now only available as a five-door model. The GTI version, which has been given a slight facelift, has an impressive 200 hp.