Throw Back Thursday: Take a Trip Back to the Origins of the Polo

With the next Polo set to make its public debut tomorrow, we thought it a good time to take a look back at the history of the little supermini.

First built in 1975, the Polo was initially a rebadged Audi 50. Despite coming six months after the Audi, the VW was the more successful of the two, with its wider range of engines and cheaper price tag. The 50 was discontinued after just four years in production by which time fewer than 200,000 had been made. A year later more than 500,000 Polos had been built and production continued until 1981.

Tipping the scales at just 760 kg (1,675 lbs) the first gen Polo was celebrated for its handling and performance, despite only coming with a 40 hp engine. By 1981, the car put on some weight with the more wagon-shaped Mk2 Polo. With abundant space for a car of its class, production continued to boom. With VW’s takeover of SEAT, Polo production expanded to Spain and by 1983 1 million had been delivered.

The Mk2 Polo was also a hotbed of innovation for VW. The Corrado and Golf’s later G60 engine, for example, came about as a result of an innovation first made in the Polo GT G40. The supermini’s engine used a 40 mm G-Lader supercharger to get about 115 hp while only displacing 1.3-liters.

By Rudolf Stricker - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3080387
By Rudolf Stricker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3080387

The Polo Formel E, meanwhile, was more focused on fuel efficiency. Introduced at the launch of the Mk2, in 1981, the fuel-sipping model came with a 1.1-liter engine that had an early version of a stop-start ignition, restarting the engine when you moved the gear lever to the left in neutral. A similar set up wouldn’t make it into the Golf until Mk3.

The Mk3 Polo was introduced 1994, with an update coming in 1999. So popular was the facelifted Mk3 that it is still on sale in Argentina, as the Polo Classic. This generation was marked by its build quality and feeling of luxury. Outselling competitors like the Fiat Punto and Nissan Micra, the Polo won numerous awards from publications like Auto Express, Top Gear, and more.

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The Mk4 Polo was less successful than its predecessors. Based on the Mk4 Golf platform, this Polo was introduced in 2002 and continued on until 2009. Despite selling well, it underperformed given the model’s historic resemblance to hot cakes, sales-wise. The Mk4 did, however, contribute to VW’s racing history, competing in World Rally Championship Juniors in 2003. Made by Volkswagen Racing, the Polo S1600 would win the Turkish round of the WRC, perhaps predicting the enormous success that the 5th generation Polo would come to see in rallying.

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Despite its many successes and sales, the Polo had, in its first four generations, never been named European Car of the Year. That streak would be broken in 2010 when the Mk5 Polo received the accolade. It was also declared World Car of the Year in 2010 at, weirdly, the New York Auto Show. This version of the Polo would also start a wildly successful period of rallying for VW. Starting in 2013, the Polo R WRC was entered in 53 total events and won 43 of them. That record would help it to win four straight constructors’ championships in the WRC until VW pulled out of the sport following dieselgate.

2015 Rally Germany Panzerplatte Sébastien Ogier Julien Ingrassia (FF) Volkswagen Polo R WRC  Photo Kräling

Tomorrow, VW will build on those 42 years of history with the Mk6 Polo, set to launch with a wide range of efficient engines and even more space inside. Look for more about that on the site tomorrow.

Der neue Volkswagen Polo: erster Ausblick