We recently did a feature where we showed some of the biggest automotive flops of all time, but sometimes automakers do themselves a disservice in the exact opposite way, failing to sell a car that could have been a big hit. When it comes to missed opportunities, it's hard to imagine a bigger one than the Volkswagen Polo. To illustrate this point, we've put it up against one of its chief European rivals, the Ford Fiesta.
The two are similar not only in size, but in the UK they have the exact same base price as well (although we wouldn't count on that being the case if the VW came to the US). Both cars are also built in Mexico, so getting cars to US and Canadian customers would hopefully be no more difficult or expensive for VW than it has been for Ford. So VW could get you a car similarly priced to the Ford Fiesta, which has been flying out of dealerships since its North American debut last year, but would you buy it? If the way a car looks is the only thing that's important to you, then you probably wouldn't.
The VW is fairly bland in the looks department, non-offensive but also uninspired, you might have a hard time noticing it in the parking lot. It fails to live up to the good looks of platform-sharing corporate cousin, the Seat Ibiza, and this aesthetic shortcoming is even more pronounced when compared to the Fiesta. Unfortunately, the Fiesta's good looks stay mostly on the outside of the car, the hard plastics and weirdly shaped instruments just don't hold up to the simple but pleasant Polo interior. Handling is superb on both cars, and both have comfortable seats.
Even though the Fiesta has 120 horsepower, which one would think would be adequate for such a small car, it still tends to feel sluggish. VW offers a variety of engines for the Polo in Europe, although most of them wouldn't hold up well in American traffic. The engine most likely to be the base for a US model would be the 1.2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which puts out 104 horsepower. It's true that this is less than the Fiesta's 120, but the Polo makes better use of it, and can make it to 60 faster than the Fiesta despite having less power. When it comes to engines, the Polo has a couple of additional options that Ford doesn't offer in any market.
The first is a BlueMotion diesel, which delivers a combined fuel economy of 65mpg. This number comes from the optimistic European test cycle, but we can guess it would still fair quite well under EPA testing. The other option for the Polo is more exciting, and that is the GTI, which comes with VW's 180 horsepower 1.4-liter twincharger engine. All this extra power doesn't come cheap, but Ford has recently found that many of their US customers have been buying smaller cars but spending far more on optional extras.
With this being the trend, it would probably be a good idea for Ford to offer the same kinds of options as VW. In the end, it is the options for the Polo that give it an advantage over the Fiesta.