Volkswagen Polo 77TSI
Volkswagen Polo 77TSI

Polo hatchback beats Porche

A $20,000 hatchback has beaten a $400,000 Porsche in Drive’s annual Car of the Year awards, announced today as the overall winner of the largest consumer award of its type in Australia.

The Volkswagen Polo 77TSI may take almost four times as long as the Porsche 911 Turbo to reach 100km/h, but its combination of a frugal turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a sophisticated city-friendly hatchback body saw it dominate a 47-car field across 14 major vehicle categories to take out the overall Car of the Year award.

At $19,850 plus on-road costs ($22,350 for the auto), the Polo was one of the cheapest cars in the field of finalists, which encompassed everything from small cars, family cars and SUVs to luxury limousines, sports cars and people movers. Its 1.2-litre engine was also the smallest in the field, signaling the arrival of a new breed of efficient engines using technology rather than size to achieve often conflicting goals of performance and economy.

THE Polo’s engine was the most frugal of the DCOTY field, using 24% less fuel than the 1.6-litre engine it replaces without leaving increasingly demanding drivers wanting.

Eleven of Australia’s most experienced judges spent six days and more than 20,000km to determine the Polo - the first city car to fit six airbags and stability control as standard on every model - best met the Drive Car of the Year criteria, covering everything from value, practicality and environmental friendliness to how it drives, comfort and safety.

The Polo is the second Volkswagen in two years to take out the top gong, beating 46 rivals from 20 brands, all of which are working to reduce their carbon footprints by building cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

While the Polo is more expensive that other light-car contenders, judges deemed it had the potential to encourage the increasing breed of downsizing buyers into smaller, more efficient vehicles, in much the same way as the current crop of premium priced small cars has changed the new-car market dynamic.

"I would never have considered buying a car this small, but the level of sophistication and refinement in what is a really sharp package would definitely have me considering a Polo," said one judge.

Another noted its inherent value: "It may be more expensive than some, but you absolutely get what you pay for, and I’ll guarantee it’ll pay itself off with solid resale values."

In true Car of the Year style, the 2010 Drive awards threw up their fair share of controversy.

For the first year two judges abstained from the voting in the large car class, deeming neither the updated Holden Commodore Sportwagon (Australia’ s best-selling car) or Nissan Maxima as worthy of the Best Large Car gong.

In final voting, two judges also cast their vote the way of last year’s overall Car of the Year winner - the Volkswagen Golf 118TSI - in a nod to its industry leading achievements and class-changing substance.

Judges also noted that despite some standout new vehicles, on the whole the field was thin of game-changing vehicles.

Nine of the 14 categories were won by the same vehicle from the 2009 Drive Car of the Year awards. The result is a sobering one for the industry, and a timely reminder for car buyers that just because something is new, it’s not necessarily better.

Newcomers that triumphed included the Polo, Ford’s updated Mondeo diesel (Best Medium Car), the surprising Kia Sportage diesel (Best SUV Under $40,000), BMW’s impressive new 535i sedan (Best Luxury Car Over $60,000), and the fiery Renault Megane RS250 Cup Trophee (Best Performance Car Under $60,000).

Check-out Saturday's Drive section in the paper

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