Sell the Prius, it's not green enough

I remember a year or so ago I was amazed at a Volkswagen Polo diesel that - try as I did - I could not get to do less than 48 mpg. That memorable performance has now been upstaged... by a Volkswagen Polo. But this one is the Polo BlueMotion, which, in its basic form, has such low emissions that it costs nothing to tax in the UK and allows you free access to London Congestion Charge zone.

The car that I tested was the BlueMotion 2. With the addition of creature comforts like air conditioning, this version pushes double digit carbon dioxide emissions just into three figures – enough to qualify for tax, but buy the BlueMotion 1 and your tax and congestion charge are zero.

Both versions use a 1.4-litre diesel engine with a special turbocharger and electronic gas recirculation. The five-speed gearbox has also been fitted with revised ratios. The final economy edge comes from special aerodynamics, including a distinctive faired-in radiator grille, plus lightweight wheels and low rolling-resistance tyres.

Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion

The economy is certainly impressive. The official combined fuel economy is 74.3 mpg. In the real world, though, my first drive was a 22-mile commute. For part of the journey the Polo BlueMotion hovered over 70 mpg before settling back to a still remarkable 57 mpg by my destination. In my book that is pretty amazing for a commute at rush hour, albeit skirting round the worst of the jams.

Hearing that economy has been the prime consideration in developing the Polo Bluemotion, many people fear that the performance will be dire. The short answer is that it isn't.

Acceleration 0-60 is 12.8 seconds – down 0.6 of a second on the standard 1.4 Polo. In reality it feels quite brisk once you get underway. The turbocharger and the tall gearing means you sometimes have the sensation that the engine is labouring a little, but the torque is such that it can pull, albeit slowly, from quite low revs.

You can never really forget that it is a diesel engine under the bonnet. It would be fair to say that this is not up with the latest standard in whispering diesel engines. You are always aware of the gruff engine note and there is a definite harshness that you don't get with a petrol engine. But, depending on your desire for low running costs or green credentials, that could be a small price to pay for the outstanding economy and low emissions.

I actually surprised myself by taking the Polo rather than my own own car during my time with it. Usually I vote with my keys. If I head out the door with the keys to my own car, then that is a pretty sure indicator that I don't much care for the road test vehicle. That didn't happen with the Volkswagen Polo.

I also quite enjoyed the realisation, when I arrived at the office each morning, that I had used half the fuel I would in my own car. Pause for a moment to polish my environmental halo!

This is never going to be a vehicle that you could describe as a "driver's car", but it is certainly quite practical. It's very much at home around town and, even on the more give-and-take conditions of the country roads it feels very much at home.

Once you have got used to the over-geared feeling and learned that you need to get the revs up when you need a more urgent response, such as for overtaking manoeuvres. In reality the Polo BlueMotion 2 bowls along quite happily and I found myself musing that, if this is the immediate future of motoring until zero emission cars become a reality, then it is not too bad.

So, cancel the order for the Toyota Prius! If you and your family can fit in a Polo this is – by a small margin – more environmentally-friendly route to take.

At £11,995 for the Bluemotion 1 and £12,845 for the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion2 the fuel-efficient technology does add around £700 to the price of the Polo 1.4 TDI 80. But, bear in mind that you are likely to get at least 10 mpg more, plus – if you stick with the BlueMotion 1 – you won't have to pay for road tax or London Congestion Charges.
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