Preview: 2011 Volkswagen Polo

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2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

Back in March, VW confirmed it would sell the Polo in the US in 2011. The five-door hatchback model was unveiled earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show, and now Volkswagen has released details of the three-door hatch as well.

US details to come

It's like that VW will also offer a four-door sedan Polo model for the US market, just as its Volkswagen Golf hatchbacks are supplemented by the Jetta four-door sedan. Which, it's worth pointing out, consistently outsells the Golf models.

How much the US-bound Polo will be altered from its German counterparts is open to question. Stefan Jacoby, CEO of Volkswagen of America, previously told industry trade journal Automotive News that US Polos would be larger and higher, with a longer wheelbase.

But a VW of America spokesperson subsequently back-pedaled, saying any US-spec Polo would be "similar in size" to the European version.

PREVIEW (on TheCarConnection.com):  2011 Volkswagen Polo

We're betting against any major changes to the car's design. What will change, though, is where it's built. To get the US Polos down to a price of $14,000 or so,  they'll have to be assembled in the Mexican plant that now builds all US-bound Jettas, rather than in higher-cost Germany.

Seven engines for Europe

In Europe, the Polo offers three gasoline and three diesel engines from 1.2 to 1.4 liters. The US model will likely only offer one or perhaps two gasoline engines.

A diesel Polo for the States could build on the company's legacy of Jetta TDI and Golf TDI models, especially given the likely success of the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI, rated at 40 mpg on the highway and costs $22,000.

In Europe, there will be a seventh engine too, a 1.2-liter turbodiesel that's part of the company's most fuel-efficient BlueMotion line. On the European test cycle, that model achieves gas mileage of 71 miles per gallon (3.3 liters per 100 kilometers).

While US gas misers and hypermilers might like the BlueMotion model, it's unlikely to be sold here. First, no diesel that small has been offered in the US market in decades. Second, the 74-horsepower engine is unlikely to accelerate quickly enough for US traffic.

Small but safe

The new Polo promises to be remarkably safe for a subcompact car. Its body structure is rigid and highly optimized, and its electronic safety features include electronic stability control, front-seat head restraints that reduce whiplash, and a "highly effective" combination of seat belts and airbags. (Well, that's a relief.)

In new, tougher European crash tests, it achieved an overall five-star score, leading Volkswagen to call it "the safest ... car in the world" in its size class. It was technically tied with the 2010 Honda Insight, though it scored slightly higher in the Child protection category.

Size, of course, is relative. Models historically grow larger and heavier with each redesign, and the 2011 Volkswagen Polo is about the same size as the first Volkswagen Rabbit, sold from 1975 to 1984--although far heavier, given its better equipment and greater safety.

Global growth, Chattanooga included

Globally, Volkswagen has been on a tear lately. The company is the highest-selling automaker in Europe, it assembles cars in China and South America, and it's not inconceivable that it could rival both Toyota and General Motors in global sales within a few years.

In 2011, VW is scheduled to open a $1 billion assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, its first in the US since the Pennsylvania factory that built the first Rabbit (Golf) model from 1978 to 1984. The new plant will build a new midsize sedan tailored for US buyers.

That sedan, not yet introduced, will attempt to compete with the high-volume Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Chevrolet Malibu. It is part of Volkswagen's new tactic of designing or modifying its cars for the specific needs of the US market.

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

2011 Volkswagen Polo Three-door

VW's Stefan Jacoby says fossil fuel cars, like this Polo BlueMotion, are the real near-future solution

VW's Stefan Jacoby says fossil fuel cars, like this Polo BlueMotion, are the real near-future solution

Two new engine ranges - forced-induction petrol engine and turbodiesel - join the Polo line for the new model year

Two new engine ranges - forced-induction petrol engine and turbodiesel - join the Polo line for the new model year

2010 volkswagen polo live 001

2010 volkswagen polo live 001

[TheCarConnection; Freep.com; Volkswagen]

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