Polo Register Volkswagen Polo History 1994 - 99

Series 3 Polo Hatchback, Saloon & Estate

The Series 3 Polo was presented to the European Press in Paris in August 1994 and launched in the UK after the NEC Birmingham Motor Show in the following November.
A completely new range from the ground-up, it owed nothing to the Series 1, 2 or 2F cars that preceded it. The car was launched initially in Hatchback from only, and was available in four trim levels - L, CL, GL and GLX. Engine options consisted of three variants; a 1043cc 45 bhp, 1272 cc 55 bhp and 1598cc 75 bhp units. For the first time in the Polo's history, it was made available with a choice of three or five-doors.
The underpinnings of the car had been widely reported as being those of the new SEAT Ibiza, launched in 1993. This was certainly true, with both cars sharing many common components, including such major items as interior dashboards and minor switchgear. Trim materials differed though, with the Polo being the more sobre of the two cars. The engine bay of the Polo was also smaller, and could not accept anything larger than a 1.6 litre unit, while the SEAT was later launched in 2.0 150 bhp 'Cupra Sport' guise.
The new model was well received by the Motoring Press, winning nigh on every group test or award it was participating in. Autocar and What Car? both awarded 'Car of the Year 1995' awards stating that it set new standards for small cars, particularly in the areas of ride, handling and refinement.
Series 3 Polo was completely new from the ground-up. Based on underpinnings from the SEAT Ibiza, it was a total new change in direction.


The range of eighteen models for the beginning of 1995 was as the launch at the tail end of 1994. The 1.3 and 1.6 litre models came first, followed by the base 1.0 litre engined cars. The cars didn't start arriving until the December of that year, and so waiting lists were inevitable.
The L was available in 1.0 45 bhp, 1.3 55 bhp and 1.6 75 bhp guises. The CL was available with 1.3 and 1.6 engines. The GL and GLX were only available with the 1.6 75 bhp engine option. Cars were well-equipped, with all having electrically-heated and adjustable mirrors, while all except the 1.0 and 1.3 L had power-steering. A 1.9 64 bhp diesel unit arrived in Spring 1996 and was available in L and CL models.

Dashboard was shared with all models and the SEAT Ibiza/Cordoba ranges. Trim levels were more luxurious than before, the GLX being the range-topper.
The new Polo was comprehensively well-equipped. The L model boasted a height-adjustable steering column, a Sony radio/cassette with four speakers, rev counter, digital clock, colour-coded bumpers, heated and electrically-adjustable mirrors and a dust and pollen filter.
The CL added front seat height adjusters, rear head restraints, split folding rear seats, power steering, central locking, and front electric windows (the latter three, another Polo first).
The GL built on the additional features of the CL. These models gained ABS, a manual glass tilt/slide sunroof and 13" eight-spoke 'Interlagos' alloy wheels.
Finally, the range-topping GLX was distinguished from the Polo GL, by way of its deeper 'sports bumpers', front fog lamps, white front indicators, darkened rear light clusters and the addition of heated windscreen washer jets. The GLX also boasted many interior refinements which included: front sports seats, driver and passenger airbags and black 'Speed' upholstery. Prices for the new range began at 6950 for the 1.0 L three door, rising to 11,750 for the 1.6 five door GLX model.

At the 1995 London Motor Show, Volkswagen announced the first range revisions. Two new models were unveiled.
The Polo Harlequin was a multi-coloured car with every panel being a different colour, but the car was always symmetrical. It had just gone on sale in Germany and had special interior trim fabrics and colourings. The purpose of the Motor Show UK debut was to see what potential customers thought of the striking and original painting of a production car.
The Polo Open Air was a much more sensible option. This version of the Polo featured a full-length, electrically-operated folding roof, similar to those fitted on Beetles or Citroen 2CVs many decades earlier. Also at the show, VW announced that the 1.3 litre engine in the Polo was to be replaced with a much better 1.4 litre 60 bhp unit that delivered its power at a much lower engine speed with sixteen percent more torque.

Harlequin and Open Air models were unveiled at the London Motor Show in 1995. Both were concepts, the Open Air being the more sensible option.


The second year of new Polo production saw the first raft of major revisions. A new UK-only model, the SE was launched. Based on the 1.4 L, it gained extra equipment consisting of: 'Sport Rader 9' alloy wheels, GLX 'sports bumpers', darkened rear light clusters and white indicators. The interior also had unique 'Reflection' upholstery, rear head restraints, height-adjustable front seats and split-folding rear seats. Prices started at 9745 for the three door. The number of examples were limited to four thousand. Optional extras were as the L, and the car was available in the full compliment of the Polo's twelve body colours.
The Polo Harlequin was announced only a few weeks later. It came to the UK as it appeared at the London Motor Show only a few months earlier. Based on the 1.4 CL, the car now featured its own upholstery, driver's airbag, GLX 'sports bumpers', white indicators and darkened rear light clusters. The car was made in batches of four (Yellow, Pistachio Green, Chagall Blue and Flash Red were the colourways) and the customer could not specify a certain panel to be a certain colour - the colour combination that the car arrived in, would be a complete surprise. The price at launch (five door only) was 11,095. The GLX also now had new 14" 'Indianapolis' alloy wheels fitted, replacing the previous 13" versions. All models had a revised tailgate too, with a tiny lip 'spoiler' shaped out of the metal at the top of the rear window.
Again, only a few weeks later, VW launched another new Polo version. Now available as a four-speed automatic, the car was fitted with the 1.4 or 1.6 litre engines and spanned all four mainstream levels. But the big news of 1996, was probably the launch of the modern-day Derby.
The Polo Saloon (or 'Classic' in Germany) was released in April 1996. Basically a re-engineered SEAT Cordoba, the car was built on the same lines as the SEAT, but had differing front and rear styling. The rear styling treatment was like a truncated Audi A4, while the front was similar in style to the new Polo. Launched in five four-door versions, engine options were 1.6 75 bhp, 1.6 100 bhp and a new 1.9 64 bhp SDI diesel. The diesel unit was claimed to be the most economical Volkswagen to date, while the 1.6 featured new variable intake manifold technology. Other styling flourishes on the Saloon included colour-coded door handles and rubbing strips. The car was 423 mm longer than the Hatchback and had a 40 mm longer wheelbase.
The L and CL specifications made up the Saloon range with the L being made available with the 1.6 75 bhp or 1.9 64 bhp SDI engines. The CL was fitted with a choice of 1.6 75 bhp, 1.6 100 bhp or 1.9 64 bhp SDI units. Optional extras were priced the same as the Polo Hatchback range and in many cases, the actual cost of the cars were priced identically too.
Another variation on the Hatchback theme was the Colour Concept, which was only made available on the Continent. Like the corresponding model in the Golf range, it featured 'Solitude' alloy wheels and a range of five body colours with co-ordinating coloured leather trim details inside the interior.


More Polo range alterations were made in 1997. The 1.0 L now had a new 999cc, all-aluminium engine, developing 50 bhp. An increase of 5 bhp over the old unit wasn't the only benefit - torque figures rose and the car also accelerated faster and was more economical. The engine also boasted multi-point fuel injection, rather than the single-point system used on the earlier model.
The whole Polo range was rationalised at this time to make way for the most powerful new Polo - the 16V. The Polo GL three-door was made no longer available, the GL five-door, lost its anti-lock brakes and the GLX trim level was discontinued.
The Polo 16V was made available for the 1997 model year. The new car appeared identical in outward appearance to the deleted GLX, with the exception of the '16V' badge on the tailgate. Specifications and the interior was as the GLX too, but the one thing the car didn't share with its previous range-topping sister was its engine. A new 1.4 litre, 100 bhp 16V unit, it sprinted to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds and had a top speed of 117 mph. Using the same variable intake manifold geometry as the Polo Saloon's 1.6 100 bhp unit, it had a good torque figure. Costing 12,095 for the three door model, again, the options list was extensive. In mid-1996 the 'Open Air' sunroof was made a UK optional fitment on every model for 565. Other extras for the 16V included: air-conditioning, passenger airbag and anti-lock brakes.

Polo 16V was sportiest new model yet, replacing GLX.
New Polo Saloon (aka 'Classic' in Germany) was the modern-day Derby equivalent.


In 1998, the Polo was made more secure with the fitting of new locks on the doors and steering column, without changing the prices of the range. The locks were free-wheeling and were also fitted to the recently-introduced Passat. The steering lock too, also came from the larger VW. Other changes also saw the introduction of a new instrument panel, with the speedometer and rev counter flanking an inner warning light display; new dashboard outer air vents and an electrically-adjustable headlight beam. The colour range too, was updated, while some Polo models gained better-spec radio/cassette units.
1998 also saw the UK launch of yet another Polo variant - the new Estate. Like the Saloon, it was based on a SEAT (the Cordoba Vario) and was built alongside this car and the regular versions of the SEAT Cordoba and the Polo Saloon at Martorell, SEAT's modern car-making plant in Spain. Released in ten versions, the trim levels were the same as the Polo Saloon, with the addition of a new GL specification. The car was the same length as the Saloon, but offered more loadspace because of it's deliberately 'squarebacked' tailgate.
The car was made available with the same engine options as the Polo Saloon and specification levels were also identical. The 1.6 75 bhp L started the range at 11,205 and included height-adjustable front seats. The L trim level was also available with the 1.9 64 bhp SDI diesel engine. The CL was released with the two 1.6s (75/100 bhp) and the SDI diesel unit. The range-topping GL was fitted with the larger 1.6 litre unit.
Shortly after the car's introduction, Volkswagen announced that this car and the Saloon would be available with a 1.9 litre, 90 bhp TDI engine. Fitted to the Saloon and Estate in GL trim, the Estate range now topped off at 13,550. Both cars were also available in this specification with the 1.6 100 bhp engine. The new GL specification included: 14" 'Solitude' alloy wheels, Polo 16V Hatchback interior trim with front sports seats. A further advantage that the Estate had over the Saloon was that the new TDI engine was fitted to the car in more lowly L and CL trim.

New Polo Estate was (like the Saloon) based on a SEAT, in this case, the Vario. The Polo range now mirrored (to a certain extent) the three-tier range of the 1980/90s.

The biggest news concerning the Polo was yet to come, however. The GTI was launched on the continent in Autumn 1998, 23 years after the Polo's introduction - long time coming! Launched in Germany in a limited run of 3000 cars and appearing at the Paris AutoSalon, the car was labeled with the famed 'GTI' moniker. It was seen as a spiritual successor to the Series 1 Golf GTI (their dimensions were almost identical), Volkswagen UK delayed plans to introduce the car into Britain until the range was revamped (Series 5 Polo) in mid-1999. The GTI then joined the European and UK ranges as a full-scale production model.
The car was available as a three or five-door and got interior tweaks which included: body-coloured door panel inserts and deeply padded front seats trimmed in upbeat new fabrics. The GTI also came with a leather-rimmed steering wheel, red floor mat edging and seatbelts, and VW's new trademark blue instrument lighting. Cosmetic exterior changes included the use of 'GTI' badges on the grille and tailgate and unique BBS 15" alloy wheels wrapped in 195/45 15 rubber. The car also had red plug leads and brake calipers.
The engine that powered the new sports model, was completely new. A 1.6 16V 120 bhp unit it was said that the car would sprint to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, whilst top speed was a claimed 120 mph. Chassis modifications included the use of uprated suspension with modified McPherson struts, while the rear saw a modified torsion beam. The ride height had been lowered by 15 mm all round and the braking system was upgraded to cope with the extra power over the then top-flight 16V model. The front track was widened by 21 mm, the rear by 16 mm and ABS was fitted as standard, in addition to EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and EDL (Electronic Differential Lock) traction control. The car was sold in Germany for around the UK equivalent of 11,000.

Polo GTI finally came in late 1998. Boasting 120 bhp from a new 1.6 litre engine, it could reach 60 mph in 9.1 seconds and romp on to a top speed of 120 mph.


The range remained much the same for the last year of Series 4 production. In the Spring the UK market saw the introduction of the 'Match' special edition. Based on the Polo L, it had a sprinkling of optional equipment, that on its own would have cost more to add to the cost of the base-model car. Available in 1.0 and 1.4 litre guises and with three or five-doors, this extra equipment included: Votex '5 Star Softline' alloy wheels and manual glass tilt/slide sunroof. The 1.4 also had power steering, tinted glass, central locking, electric windows, height adjustable front seats, rear head restraints and a split folding rear seat. This engine was also available with an automatic gearbox.
Volkswagen also offered its '1999 Polo Summer Campaign' a few months later. It was a range of special offers to heighten the Polo's appeal. The 16V and GL were offered with manual air-conditioning in lieu of the sunroof that came as standard. The 'Open Air' electrically-operated sunroof module was offered to L and CL Hatchback drivers for 160 (normally costing 565), while any customer that ordered a Polo L or CL Hatchback, Saloon or Estate had a manual glass tilt/slide sunroof fitted free.
The first 'spy' photographs of the revamped model started to appear in early Autumn, and the new car was launched in Vienna in October 1999.
Polo Match was launched in 1999 offering extra equipment. Polo '1999 Summer Campaign' featured many special offers, including air-conditioning on 16V.
All text copyright Richard Gooding/VW Polo Register 2002.