This is what his VW Polo has given back to him, after he was shot in his home on the 18th July 2010. While most of the country was celebrating Mandela Day, and winding down after the World Cup final, Karl became another statistic of South African crime. Would-be burglars shot Karl as he peeped outside from behind a curtain after hearing noises outside. The single bullet severed his spine at T5 and left him a complete paraplegic.

Karl has amazed his family and friends with his positive response and the way that he has handled his disability. Until now he has been dependenton other people to give him lifts to and from work and anywhere else he needed to go to. This has been a major frustration, and has slowly been leading toward isolation – something that does not suit Karl’s personality!

After many months of saving, Karl was recently able to roll out and buy himself a brand new Polo 1.6 Comfortline. I had the privilege of meeting him two days after he got his Polo. He had just had the Chairman Co-Driver hand controls fitted, and it was the first time he had loaded his wheelchair into the car by himself. He was still building up his confidence driving with the hand controls but just glowed with the joy of driving his own car again.

Karl has always been a VW fan. A main reason that he keeps goingback to VW is their after-market service and the security provided by the VW brand. One of his previous cars was a Seat Ibiza and he was stung when the company pulled out of the country, finding it difficult to get the carmaintained. He is not going to be caught out like that again, so he now sticks toreliable ‘tried and trusted’ brands. According to City Business, sales statistics in December 2011 show the VW PoloVivo is the best selling passenger vehicle in SA with the VW Polo coming insecond, so Karl is not alone in his appreciation of this brand!

The 1.6 TDi Polo hatch won the Car of the Year 2011, but is unfortunatelynot available in automatic whereas the petrol 1.6 Polo is available with a Tiptronic gearbox, making it a suitable vehicle for a person driving with hand controls.

So why is it so popular? Well, apparently, one of the main reasons is the fuel consumption. The 1.6 TDi gets a phenomenal 3.6 l/100km on theopen road, and 4.2 l /100km on the combined cycle (open road and around town). Drivers with disabilities are limited to the petrol Polo 1.6 Comfortline, which gets 6,7 l/100km on thecombined cycle, and the Polo Vivo 1.4 Trendline which gets 6.6 l /100km. Theseboth have Tiptronic gearboxes, so they are slightly more thirsty thanthe rest of the Polo range. The Car of the year award is judged on value formoney, safety, dynamics and technology… so it seems that Karl has made a goodchoice.

ThePolo Vivo was launched in 2010 as a replacement for the well-loved, 25 year-oldCitiGolf. It is available with a choice of a 1.4 or 1.6 engine and in a 3-door,5-door or saloon. It is VW’s entry level vehicle, with the Tiptronic version starting at R 146,865. This is the baby of the popular Polo range, with subtle restyling of the bumpers, grill, indicators and wing mirrors to give it its own distinctive design compared with the big brother Polo. The interiors of these two models are very similar. The Tiptronic version of the Polo 1.6 Comfortlinestarts at R205,800.

Asstandard the Vivo range has power-steering and driver and passenger airbags aswell as a height and reach adjustable steering wheel. ABS is standard on the1.4 Trendline and 1.6 models whilst optional extras such as air-conditioning,cruise control, metallic paint and the radio/cd/mp3/sd/usb/bluetooth compatible4-speaker sound system vary across the range.

The Polo Vivo is “Proudly South African” as it is manufactured at VW's Uitenhage plant and 70% of the parts are sourced locally. This means that there is a verylow rebate available for drivers with disabilities, as the rebate only covers the import duties on the imported parts of a vehicle. Karl got R5,000 off his Polo after going through the whole rebate process.

The driver seat has a reasonable amount of range of adjustment,including forwards and back as well as up and down. Unfortunately, with itbeing an entry level car, it only has manual seat adjustment which Karl foundfairly challenging to do without the use of his legs. To recline the back restfor loading the wheelchair there is a round handle that has to be wound up anddown, which is slower that using a simple lever. He also found the door openingsurprisingly narrow, with the narrowest point being just 63cm. The 3-door modelhas a much wider door opening but the seat does not move back far enough to takefull advantage of this extra space.

It has a 280l luggage compartment, 95cm wide at the narrowest point and 67cm deep atthe lowest, widest level. This is just too narrow for his rigid frame wheelchair to lie flat, so he turns it on its side to fit it in. If additional space is needed, the rear seats fold easily and neatly forward.

A lovely featureis the air conditioned glove compartment. This is great place to keep a bottleof water, or for keeping medication cool – just don’t forget it there when thecar is parked in the sun!

VW seem to havegot most things right on the Polo range, developing a reliable and popular car.The design is clearly for the able body market and there are a few areas wheresmall design changes would make it more suitable for drivers with disabilities.There are also only two models which are available with an automatic / Tiptronicgear box, which restricts choice for drivers with disabilities, but at least there are these two.

For Karl it is safe, reliable, comfortable, easy to drive, did not cost a fortune and it hasgiven him back his independence – and that is what he was looking for – anotherstep towards getting his life back.