Essentially the car was a rebodied Polski Fiat 125p, which Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych (FSO) built under licence from Fiat, based on the Fiat 125. The internal components (engine, chassis, and other mechanicals) were straight from the Polski Fiat 125p, but clothed in an entirely new hatchback body designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. The car was meant to be equipped with Fiat's DOHC engines in the1980s, but a crisis at the time made the purchase of a licence from Fiat impossible. This is also why the 125p was produced simultaneously with the Polonez for more than a decade. Moreover, mechanical modernization only took place when it could be applied to both cars. This situation finally changed after the production of the 125p ended in 1991.
An advantage of the Polonez is its passive safety. Crash tests were performed in 1994 according to EU safety regulations so that the Polonez could be exported worldwide. They proved the car to be very safe. The Caro 1.9GLD hitting a concrete block (without an energy-absorbing metal cage) with 40% of the front at survived very well. All doors could be opened without any difficulty, there were no critical injuries for passengers, and no fuel leakage occurred.
Over the years, the Polonez range was expanded to encompass a wide range of bodies. These included:
There were also many prototypes like: pickup made using rear part of Fiat 125p pick-up, native-looking pickup, 4x4 offroader (Analog), hydro-pneumatic suspension, Sedan (much different to Atu/Celina)
FSO Polonez 1500 X - top version, with AB 1481 cc engine, 60 kW (82 PS), 5-speed gearbox, final drive ratio 4,3 , radio. Sold to Polish people mostly for US dollars .
The new naming system for FSO cars, produced models: FSO 125p: 1.3 L, 1.3 ML, 1.3 ME, 1.5 C, 1.5 L, 1.5 ML, 1.5 MS, 1.5 ME FSO Polonez 1.3 C, 1.3 CE, 1.3 L, 1.3 LE, 1.5 C, 1.5 CE, 1.5 L, 1.5 LS, 1.5 LE, 1.5 X, 2000.
FSO Polonez 2.0 D Turbo with Italian VM engine 1995 cc, 62 kW/84 PS/4300 rpm, /2500, final drive ratio 3,727, 20,0s, , 7,1/10,6/10,0, approx. 100 cars produced in this specification.
FSO Polonez - first cars with additional rear-side windows in the C-pillar.
FSO 125p 1.6 ME with Polonez CB 1598 cc engine, 64 kW/87 PS/5200 rpm, /3800 rpm, , very few cars made.
FSO Polonez modifications: stamped rear spoiler instead of plastic one, new model labels on the sticking foil, new version coding system, the 'S' should have meant the car with additional rear-side windows in the C-pillar, rule often broken in practice, produced versions: 1,3 SCE, 1.3 SL, 1.3 SLE, 1,5 CE, 1.5 L, 1,5 LE, 1,5 SCE, 1,5 SL, 1,5 SLE, 1,6 SLE, 2.0 SLE
FSO Polonez 1.5 SLE Turbo with AA engine, compression ratio 8,5, 1481 cc, 78 kW/106 PS/6000 rpm, /3200 rpm, 11,0 s, , built in rally version only (N-group), on special request a Turbo-kit was installed in mass produced cars.
FSO Polonez 1500 Turbo with AA 1481 cc engine, 140 kW/190 PS/7000 rpm, /3200 rpm, 8,5 s, , rally version only (A-group specification)
The end of FSO's 1295 cc engine production. The UK. FSO import temporarily stopped. FSO Polonez Caro - face lifting: new nose with headlamps and grill (makes the front a bit similar to FSO Wars, prototype car supposed to be successor to Polonez), new front and rear bumpers, steering wheel, new rooflet over instruments, improved front crash safety FSO Polonez Caro 1.9 GLD with Citroen's 1905 cc diesel engine, 50 kW/68 PS, , , sold across mainland Europe. The other versions in pricelist: FSO Polonez Caro 1.5 GLE - 60 kW/82 PS FSO Polonez Caro 1.6 GLE - 64 kW/87 PS FSO Polonez Caro 2.0 GLE - Ford's 77 kW/105 PS engine and gearbox from the Ford Sierra (approx. 1,000 units)
(December) FSO Polonez 1.4 GLI 16V with Rover 1396 cc engine, 76 kW/103 PS/6000 rpm, /5000 rpm, 11,9 s, , with or without catalytic converter.
FSO Polonez Sedan prototype - later produced as the FSO Atu - with 4-door limousine bodywork, with completely new dashboard and upholstery (project by FSO), new rear suspension: rigid rear axle with longitudinal wishbones, reaction bars and coil springs. Rear lamps same as in Caro version.
Two prototypes of the FSO Polonez Kombi (station wagon). The next prototype: FSO Analog 4WD, light off-road car with 4-door pick-up bodywork and four wheel drive.
Export to the UK restarted: FSO Caro (Polonez 1.6 and 1.9 D) and FSO Pick-up (Truck)
Lucas brakes introduced.
Production of the FSO Polonez Caro 1.9 GLD stopped.
(summer) End of export to the Netherlands, the last foreign market for Polonez passenger versions; the last offer in the Netherlands: FSO Prima (Polonez Caro) 1.6 GLI FSO Prima (Polonez Caro) 1.4 GLI 16V FSO Celina (Atu) 1.6 GLI
(August) The first Daewoo-FSO Lanos 1.5 S 4d leaves the FSO assembly line.(December) FSO Polonez Caro Plus and Atu Plus 1.6 GSI - with Bosch multi-point fuel injection, 1598 cc/62 kW/84 PS, , ca. , new door handles introduced.
FSO Truck sold in Italy by Daewoo dealer network.
Polonez was exported to many countries, including Netherlands, UK, China, Greece, Italy, Finland, Egypt (also production kits were assembled here, Polonez is still quite popular in Egypt even today (2008)), Spain, Portugal, and others. In the late 1980s a batch of 150 Polonez hatchbacks was exported to New Zealand . They were also exported to Chile from the late 1980s to early 1990s. In some countries the FSO Polonez was sold as FSO Celina or FSO Prima or just FSO Caro.
Imports to the UK ceased in 1997, though sales continued in some parts of Western Europe - including France - for at least a year afterwards. It had not sold very well in the UK, as demand for such vehicles had declined throughout the 1990s, and by 1997 its price was just about the only thing in its favour. Budget competitors like Skoda and Hyundai had improved their standards and moved on with more modern designs, while the UK had recently gained another budget importer-- Daewoo. FSO, meanwhile, was offering a product that was considered virtually identical to the car launched almost 20 years earlier. Though quality and performance improved, the Polonez was unable to overcome its negative reputation. Polonez had never been a match for most of its competitors. This was the main reason for its withdrawal from the UK market.
Production eventually ended, 24 years after it had begun, due to the fact that potential buyers preferred to buy used cars (even ones in worse condition) imported from western Europe rather than the Polonez whose relatively low price was seen as the main advantage over other cars. Demand slumped and the last versions of the Polonez produced were the Polonez Truck versions, valued for their low price, reliability and high load capability (up to depending on the version). The Polonez is a common sight in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in its home country of Poland, but since Poland joined the European Union in May 2004, the car has been rapidly being replaced by relatively cheap, tax free, and more modern used cars from western Europe.