Volkswagen Polo hatchback (2009 – ) expert review

By Ivan Aistrop, 1st May 2014

The verdict

The Polo is one of the most appealing superminis out there, with a high-quality interior, a desirable image and a grown-up driving experience. It's available with a wide range of efficient engines and most models are pretty well equipped.

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Expert rating:

4.1

Pros

  • Great image
  • Excellent build quality
  • Huge range of engines

Cons

  • Top models are expensive
  • Sober interior
  • Not as fun to drive as some in its class

Full Review

1. Exterior

Volkswagen’s designers are notorious for their conservatism, and that’s evident with the Volkswagen Polo. There’s nothing radical about it whatsoever, and it looks very much like a scaled-down version of its bigger brother, the Volkswagen Golf. However, that’s not to say it looks dull. The sharp-nosed grille and angular headlamps give it a smart, sophisticated appearance, and experience tells us that’s exactly what VW buyers love. As you progress further up the range, you get more and more body-coloured bits and chrome trims, and the range-topping models look seriously swish. The sportier models, the BlueGT and GTI, also get a sporty body kit and sit 15mm lower to the ground thanks to their sports suspension.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

The Polo is an extremely grown-up supermini, which successfully manages to feel like a bigger car than it is. The dashboard is made from high-quality, soft-touch material, and unlike in some rivals, the high level of quality is continued throughout the rest of the cabin. The black dials with white graphics are simple but attractive, as are the easily laid-out knobs and switches. Some may find it boring compared with the funkier interiors of the Fiesta and Mini, , but it has a functional, upmarket charm of its own. Importantly, all models have a height-adjustable driver’s seat and rake-and-reach steering adjustment to help you find a comfortable position, and all-round visibility is superb.

Our rating: 5

3. Practicality

The Polo does a good job in this area without really dazzling. Like most rivals, there’s enough space inside for four adults to travel comfortably, although a fifth person would be better off finding an alternative means of transport. The boot is about average for the class at 280 litres, but it’s a usefully square shape and most models have a removable boot floor that gives you more depth. It also allows you to level off the step made when you fold the rear seats down for extra load space. Around the cabin there are useful door bins and cubby holes, as well as several cup holders and a chilled glovebox.

Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

The Polo is a cracking little car to drive compared with the vast majority of its rivals. It majors on comfort, with a soft, cosseting ride that keeps things civilised on all kinds of roads, and at all speeds. The handling, meanwhile, is grippy and predictable. The only slight black mark against it is the inconsistent behaviour of the steering – you sometimes feel a whole bunch of weight being dumped into it mid-corner, which can feel rather unsettling. Even when you disregard the steering, though, the Polo neither rides as smoothly, nor handles as sweetly, as a Ford Fiesta. The same is true even of the BlueGT and GTI, despite their sports suspension.

Our rating: 4

5. Performance

There’s a vast array of engines available in the Polo. We’d advise against going for either of the 1.2 petrols, which have either 59 or 69bhp – both can struggle at motorway speed, and are too noisy for a sophisticated little car like the Polo. The 84bhp 1.4-litre is much better on both counts, and isn’t that much more expensive to buy, so that’ll be the pick for most buyers. For those willing to pay extra, the 103bhp 1.2-litre turbo petrol is even better, with strong, flexible performance and superb refinement. Better still is the Blue GT’s 138bhp 1.4-litre petrol, which combines hot-hatch pace and impressively low fuel consumption thanks to its cylinder deactivation technology. It’s extremely pricey to buy, though, almost as much as the GTI hot hatch, which uses a stonking twin-charged 1.4 giving 178bhp. The standard diesel is a 1.6-litre with 90bhp, which is reasonably refined and perky. Bluemotion models get a 1.2-litre three-cylinder diesel which, while being hugely economical, is rather noisy and needs working hard to make decent progress.

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

The Polo isn’t exactly cheap in the supermini scheme of things, but the prices are reasonable and resale values are impressively strong. All versions of the Polo offer low running costs, but it’s the amazing Bluemotion version that steals the show with CO2 emissions of 91g/km and the ability to average 83mpg. All the diesels average more than 65mpg and emit less than 112g/km of CO2. The BlueGT is the star performer of the petrol line-up, with an average economy of 60.1mpg and emissions of just 107g/km of CO2, despite its brawny power output. The standard 1.4-litre petrol is the least efficient, emitting 139g/km of CO2 and averaging 47.9mpg.

Our rating: 5

7. Reliability

The Polo is built to exacting standards, which should give you plenty of confidence in how well it’ll last. The engines and transmissions have been proven in countless models across the Volkswagen, Skoda and Seat brands, and no horror stories have emerged yet. The Polo has an impressive score in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, although Volkswagen only places mid-table in the manufacturer rankings.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

All Polos get the same safety kit throughout the range, and the roster includes anti-lock brakes and an electronic stability programme. You only get four airbags instead of the six, or even seven, you get in many rivals, but the Polo’s side ‘bags inflate upwards as well as outwards to cover the same area as a curtain airbag. Proof that the system works comes in the form of the Polo’s impressive performance in Euro NCAP crash tests, in which it has already earned the full five stars.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

The entry-level S trim Polos are very basic, with equipment including front electric windows, boot-mounted 12V socket, luggage hooks and a four-speaker CD player and DAB radio. Match trim is the pick, adding the niceties you need including air-con, remote locking, cruise control, rear parking sensors, alloy wheels, split-folding rear seats, a six-speaker CD player/radio, USB and iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and body-coloured exterior trim. The equipment you get with Bluemotion models is similar to what you get with Match models. Top-of-the-range SEL models feature a front centre armrest, ambient lighting, leather trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, plus bigger alloy wheels. The R-Line models get various sporty styling upgrades, as do the BlueGT and GTI models.

Our rating: 4

Why buy?

The Volkswagen Polo is a car bought with the head. It has a timeless appeal, thanks to its subtle design and impressive build quality. Volkswagen is a company at the top of its game, and versions like the BlueMotion and cylinder-deactivating BlueGT perfectly showcase the firm’s innovation.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 4.1stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior5
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance4
  • Running costs5
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Pick of the range

Polo 1.4 85 Match 5dr

This version is affordable, well-equipped and desirable – everything a Polo should be

Most Economical

Polo 1.2 TDI Bluemotion

If you’re looking for economy, you can’t argue with 83mpg

Best avoided

Polo 1.2 60 R-Line Style 3dr

Costs loads more than the equivalent S, but only gets styling tweaks

The Polo is a cracking little car to drive compared with the vast majority of its rivals. It majors on comfort, with a soft, cosseting ride that keeps things civilised on all kinds of roads, and at all speeds.