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HomeFeaturesPretoria to Cape Town – How far I drove on one tank in a VW Polo

Pretoria to Cape Town – How far I drove on one tank in a VW Polo

This past December, I took the VW Polo 70kW Life from my home in Pretoria, Gauteng, down to Cape Town, Western Cape, and was impressed with the little hatchback’s frugality and all-round user-friendliness.

To test out just how far you can drive in the VW before its 40-litre tank of petrol is empty, I started the journey filled to the brim and didn’t stop until the range said 10km left – and I would have gone further had there not been an absence of filling stations for the next 180km.

Leaving my driveway at exactly 04h41 in the morning, I arrived at Hanover, Northern Cape at 13h18, having done 886km in total before needing to refuel.

During this trip, the lowest that the economy reading dropped to was 5.1l/100km, which was in the early morning hours when airconditioning wasn’t necessary and the roads were quieter.

As temperatures rose and more traffic emerged – especially massive trucks moving at a snail’s pace that regularly broke my momentum – the fuel usage started climbing and went as high as 6.1l/100km.

In the end, it settled down again to an average of 5.6l/100km, only fractionally higher than the advertised figure of 5.4l/100km on VW’s brochures.

Had the Polo not been packed with the luggage of three people, and if the roads were quieter, I’m confident in saying that it will eclipse 900km with one tank on the open road and maybe even get to the magical 1,000km landmark if you have the patience to nurse the throttle carefully.

In city driving, the turbocharged 1.0-litre hatchback was naturally a bit more thirsty, but not by much.

I covered a distance of 745km in and around Cape Town until the reserve light went on again, indicating that there was 80km of range left in the tank.

While its urban range is noticeably lower than its long-road potential, both of these distances were well above the “average” of 741km that VW claims

In total, I put down 4,485km in the Polo in 14 days.

This included the original journey to Cape Town, 10 days of driving around the Mother City, and another three days of road-tripping back up the West Coast and Northern Cape, nearly all of which was done in 30-plus-degree weather and with the aircon turned on.

The VW’s clever computer showed that this came out to 59 hours and 54 minutes of driving at an average speed of 75km/h and average fuel usage of 5.8l/100km, with the tank refilled six times between the start and the end of the vacation.

A dependable road trip partner

As a road trip car, you can’t go wrong choosing a Polo if you are travelling in a party of one, two, or even three.

The multi-way adjustability of the front seats allows any passenger to find a comfortable position that they like best, whether they be in the first or second row.

The seats are also supportive enough to minimise those gnawing aches you get when sitting for hours and hours on end – something I only really took heed of when the Polo’s drowsiness monitor told me to take a break after driving continuously for over four hours without needing to stretch my legs.

If you want a fourth passenger, you might need to look at towing a trailer as the hatchback’s 351-litre boot isn’t fit for much more than a few travel suitcases, and maybe a cooler.

In my case, I was able to put down the second row’s backrests and take advantage of the full 1,125 litres of storage that the Polo provides, practically turning it into a mini Caddy van that swallowed much more than we could take with us.

Second to its practicality, the VW’s driver assistance features were truly useful on my lengthy journey with it.

This particular Polo was fitted with the optional Safety Package that amongst others includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and autonomous emergency braking.

All of these innovations benefit the driver in vastly reducing their stress levels, enabling them to essentially “set and forget” the vehicle’s speed and divert more of their attention to steering and traffic – leaving me a bit fresher at the end of the trip than I was in previous journeys.

Another aspect to note, the hatchback’s powerplant puts out 70kW and 175Nm in this manual Life trim, which in practice feels higher than the numbers on paper suggest owing to maximum torque already being available at 2,000rpm.

The only area where it fell short was during overtaking manoeuvres on the freeway as it is slow to accelerate if you are already travelling upwards of 100km/h, but in all other aspects, the powerplant was sufficient.

There are also “Eco tips” that pop up on the dashboard when the car senses that you’re not doing enough to minimise fuel usage, for example, it will tell you when to close the windows if the aerodynamic drag becomes less efficient than what an airconditioner would be.

Coming back home, our adventurous side took over and we booked an overnight stay at one of the smallest coastal towns in the country, unbeknownst of the fact that the only way to access it was via one of three dirt roads – the shortest of which was 40km.

With no other choice but to soldier ahead as dusk settled in, the Polo was carefully piloted over the dusty surface and soon it felt right at home.

I would be careful to say that it handled the corrugations as well as a bakkie or SUV, but should you be in a similar situation and have no alternative but to tackle the untarred path with your VW hatch, you can be confident that it will get you to the other side so long as it remains a road and doesn’t become a 4×4 trail.

The Polo is surefooted in windy and rainy conditions, too, and the transmission has surprisingly long gears that don’t require you to constantly have a hand hovering around the shifter.

Road and engine noise is muted inside the VW’s well-built cabin, and there is an excellent set of standard speakers hooked up to the infotainment system that will drown out any unwanted sounds that intrude on the passenger cell.

At all times, navigation and media features are also available at a moment’s notice thanks to wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the optional sunroof was one of the best accessories to have on the country’s picturesque coastal roads during our sunny holiday season.

Now that I have put the Polo well through its paces in both everyday life and on the long road, it remains a car that I can recommend not just to anyone who asks about it, but to everyone who doesn’t need a rugged 4×4 or seven-seater SUV in their garage.


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