What is it?
A Volkswagen Polo prototype which hints heavily at a new production Polo R to challenge the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio RS and Peugeot 208 GTi.
It’s powered by a transversely mounted turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and four-wheel-drive mechanical package, and forms part of a range of secret new models that are being put through their paces by company officials in an annual winter test drive programme.
Read our comprehensive review of the Volkswagen Polo supermini
Those models include prototypes for future generations of the Scirocco, Passat and, so we hear, Tiguan – all of which are planned to be launched within the next 12 months.
Significantly more advanced than the front-wheel-drive Polo R WRC that was launched on the back of Volkswagen’s entry into the World Rally Championship early last year, the Polo R prototype shares just about everything except its steel body and interior fittings with the Audi A1-based S1, which is due to make its public debut at the Geneva motor show in early March.
The two German superminis have been developed alongside each other in a joint engineering program, with the aim of providing added performance flavour at the lower end of both the Volkswagen and Audi line-ups.
At the heart of the new car is Volkswagen’s EA888 engine. Exact details remain scarce, although engineering sources close to Audi technical boss Ulrich Hackenberg suggest the blown four-pot petrol unit has been tuned to deliver in the region of 250bhp. VW officials also hint that around 258lb ft of torque is available.
Drive on the prototype is sent through a six-speed dual clutch gearbox and an electro-mechanical multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system. Its inclusion has necessitated a complete rework of the rear suspension, with a new multi-link arrangement replacing the standard torsion beam set-up.
The idea is to provide the planned road car with a mechanical package that more closely resembles that of the Polo WRC rally car. The links are tenuous at best, given that the rally car is largely bespoke, but the intent to give the Polo a more sporting flavour through the efforts of Volkswagen’s increasingly active R division are to be applauded.
What’s it like?
In the short time we’ve driven it so far, very good. Even a brief drive around a frozen lake will tell you the Polo R has potential.
What impressed us above all else was the overall agility of the Polo R prototype. While it is easy to focus on the heady levels of power and the four-wheel-drive hardware used to channel it to each wheel, it is the new found nimbleness brought on by the adoption of new multi-link rear suspension that sets it apart from every other Polo model.
The Polo R is happy to be pushed hard and responds to quick changes of direction with compelling resolve. There is decent weighting around the straight ahead and a linear build up of resistance as you wind on steering lock.
Traction is strong, both off the line and out of corners, although we’ll need to drive it on asphalt before we can provide a real appraisal of the handling. On ice, you don’t even need to resort to the handbrake to have fun. You just throw it into a corner, lift off and then ease back on the throttle to send it into a drift. In these conditions the future range-topping Polo is composed, controllable and hugely entertaining.
The efforts of the engine more than compensate for the added weight brought on by the adoption of four-wheel drive, giving the Polo R urgent acceleration in-gear, even when driving on a mixture of snow and ice. Nothing is official just yet, but Volkswagen hints at a 0-62mph time of less than six seconds – or half a second faster than the Polo R WRC. Top speed, meanwhile, is put at a limited 155mph.
Should I buy one?
You can’t, yet.
However, signs are the Polo R will be progressed to production stage rather rapidly and could very well debut in production guise as early as the Geneva motor show in March, prior to going on sale in the UK later this year at a price of around £21,000.
Perhaps it will also be in time to celebrate what many predict will be a second World Rally Championship for Volkswagen in 2014. Time will tell.
Volkswagen Polo R Prototype
Price TBC; 0-62mph sub-6.0 sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy TBC; CO2 TBC; Kerb weight TBC; Engine four-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbocharged; Power 250bhp approx; Torque 258lb ft approx; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic
What is it?