The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.1
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, too.
Reasons to buy
- Smart exterior
- Excellent build quality
- Huge range of engines
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
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 body kits and sit 15mm lower to the ground thanks to their sports suspension, larger alloys and roof spoilers, but are still more understated than other junior hot hatches, including the Ford Fiesta ST and Vauxhall Corsa VXR.
What's the interior like?
The Polo is a very 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 neatly 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. If we had one bugbear about the Polo's cabin, it would probably be that the driver's seat is set a tad too high, which might cause problems for lankier drivers.
How practical is it?
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. A Renault Clio or Hyundai i20 would both swallow considerably more luggage, as would the Skoda Fabia. Around the cabin there are useful door bins and cubby holes, as well as several cup holders.
What's it like to drive?
The Polo is a cracking little car to drive compared with the vast majority of its rivals. It used to major on comfort. It had a soft, cosseting ride that kept things civilised on all kinds of roads, and at all speeds, but the current model is a lot firmer. 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, and the GTI will push into understeer once it does finally give up its tenacious grip on the road.
How powerful is it?
There’s a vast array of engines available in the Polo. Ten, in fact, so you really do have all the bases covered. We’d advise against going for either of the low-powered 1.0 petrols, which have either 59 or 74bhp – both can struggle to reach motorway speeds, and are too noisy for a sophisticated little car like the Polo. The 89bhp 1.2-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 108bhp 1.0-litre turbo petrol is even better, with strong, flexible performance and decent refinement. Better still is the Blue GT’s 148bhp 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 1.8-litre petrol giving out 189bhp. The standard diesel is a 1.4-litre with 89bhp, but while efficient, it's not especially refined or smooth, the diesel lump in the Mini Cooper D is much nicer.
How much will it cost me?
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 1.4-litre diesel version that steals the show with CO2 emissions of 88g/km and the ability to average 83.1mpg. All the diesels average more than 65mpg and emit less than 95g/km of CO2. The Bluemotion is the star performer of the petrol line-up, with an average economy of 68.9mpg and emissions of just 94g/km of CO2, despite its perky power output. The hot 1.8-litre GTI is the least efficient, emitting 129g/km of CO2 and averaging 50.4mpg, but it's hardly what you'd call thirsty.
How reliable is it?
The Polo is built to exacting standards, which should give you plenty of confidence in how well it’ll last the course. Most of the engines and transmissions have been proven in countless models across the Volkswagen, Skoda and Seat brands, but the new range of three-cylinder petrols and diesels is less well proven. The Polo has an impressive score in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, although Volkswagen as a brand only places mid-table in the manufacturer rankings, and it comes with a shorter standard warranty than its rivals from Toyota, Hyundai and Kia.
How safe is it?
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. Technology such as adaptive cruise control has filtered down from VW's larger cars, and is available as an option, but a lot of rivals do offer more safety kit than the Polo as standard.
How much equipment do I get?
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. SE trim is the pick, adding the niceties you need including air-con, remote locking, alloy wheels, split-folding rear seats, USB and iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and DAB radio. The equipment you get with Bluemotion models is similar to what you get with SE 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.
The Volkswagen Polo is a car bought with the head. It has a timeless appeal, thanks to its subtle design and impressive build quality. It's also good to drive and easy to live with. 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.