Volkswagen Polo hatchback (2017 - ) review
The Polo is nothing short of supermini aristocracy. With few, if any, rivals able to match its classy image and high-quality construction, the only question is: is it worth the price premium over such excellent cars as the Ford Fiesta and Seat Ibiza?
Interested in buying a Volkswagen Polo?
How good does it look?
If you happen to be a fan of the three-door supermini look, your choices are becoming increasingly limited these days. Just like most of its newer rivals, the latest Polo is available as a five-door. Volkswagen’s designers are notorious for their conservatism, and that’s patently obvious when looking at the Polo. This sixth-generation car is still instantly recognisable as a Polo and looks very much like a scaled-down version of its bigger brother, the Golf.
Choices in trim level are plenty, starting from the entry-level S and running through SE, Beats (after the Dr Dre-started headphones brand), SEL, R-Line, GTI and GTI+. Phew. We won't run through all the details here, but we suspect the SE trim, with its 15-inch alloy wheels, will be particular popular. The Beats has bigger, 16-inch wheels, front fog lights and some fancy graphics on the bonnet and roof, while the GTI models get 17-inch wheels, lowered suspension and a sporty bodykit, as well as red brake calipers.
What's the interior like?
Volkswagen has certainly upped the ante with the Polo's perceived quality and wow factor, with lots of soft touch plastics and high-tech display screens (the number of which depends on which version you get). While the steering wheel and switch gear look and feel as if they’ve been lifted from a top-end Audi, the undoubted highlight is the 8.0-inch infotainment touch-screen. Mounted high up in the middle of the dashboard, it looks like an extension of the main instruments behind the steering wheel. It’s also a very quick system, responding rapidly to prod and voice commands, while the graphics are sharp and crystal clear. Like all touch-screens however, it quickly gets covered in finger marks, so it’s a good idea to keep a microfibre cloth handy to wipe away any excessive smears.
While the driving position is spot-on, with a generous amount of adjustment for the steering wheel and driver's seat, the Polo’s body is punctuated by plenty of glass, so its light and airy inside and visibility is excellent in all directions.
Volkswagen has been historically rather conservative with its colour choices, the latest Polo has seven different interior trim colour options, which means you can stick with black or gray, or go a bit bonkers and splash some red and white around.
How practical is it?
For a supermini, interior space is simply superb, with generous leg-, head- and elbow-room for two adults in the front, and plenty of room for another two behind, and maybe even a third if they're not too tall. Only if your rear occupants are prone to slouching will their knees come in contact with the back of the front seats. The boot is a good size too, at 351 litres, and because the hatchback aperture is wide, you should just about be able to squeeze in a baby buggy or a set of golf clubs. Ditch the rear passengers and the rear seats fold down almost flat for extra load space. There’s also some decent knick-knack storage, with a large cubby located below the heating controls, a decent glovebox, and a couple of good sized door pockets. If we're being really nit-picky, the cup-holders are on the small side, but other than that it's a job well done.
What's it like to drive?
The Polo is a very comfortable car, and it’s also extremely refined, which means not only will it be happy doing the everyday stuff, it will also get you to the other end of the country in relaxed fashion. The steering is nicely weighted, supplying sufficient assistance to make light work of city driving and parking, and as speeds increase it gets seamlessly meatier, which helps in a couple of key areas. In the first instance, it provides an additional sense of feel, which, along with plenty of grip, helps you place the car accurately on the road. Secondly, it gives the car a solid, planted feel on the motorway, so it only requires the lightest of monitoring touches to maintain a steady course. The Polo is also as quiet as many larger cars, producing extremely low levels of road- and wind-noise.
While the Polo does comfort very well, the non-GTI versions don't quite have the zingy character of Ford's excellent Fiesta. If that's not what you're after, then that doesn't matter. But if you like maximum fun behind the wheel, then maybe check the Fiesta out before you buy.
How powerful is it?
Eventually, there will be a couple of feisty performance models in the Polo line up. A sweet-revving 152 horsepower 1.5-litre will probably provide more than enough oomph for most folk, but if that’s not enough to float your boat, there will also be a potent, 203 horsepower GTI versione.
The big sellers however, will be the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engines. The 95 horsepower version is a little cracker and we suspect it'll be the one most people go for. It's smooth and quiet and delivers a fair turn of pace, and is happy to rev hard without creating too much vibration. We've also tried the less powerful 65 horsepower version, which will be fine if you spend most of your time driving around town on your own, but lacks grunt on big hills or when pulling passengers around. The 115 horsepower version brings extra fizz to proceedings, if you want a lively response without heading towards GTI levels.
The manual gearbox is really smooth and solid to use, and while the twin-clutch automatic gearbox isn't the quickest acting, it’s still worth having if you spend most of your life sitting in heavy traffic.
Volkswagen reckons only 5% of all Polos sold will be powered by diesel engines, which is a shame because the 95 horsepower, 1.6-litre diesel engine is a corker. It delivers strong performance and great flexibility, while the combination of the Polo’s relatively light weight and the engine’s strong mid-range power means it’s barely working above tickover revs at 70mph.
How much will it cost me?
The Polo isn’t a cheap car to buy, but in the long run it's a similar cost to run as its main rivals. Very solid resale values mean you'll get more for it down the line than a Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa, and it's pretty competitive in costs when it comes to servicing, repair and general maintenance. Fuel economies vary throughout the range, but once again the Polo is right up there with the best on offer in this type of small car.
Leasing companies love the way the Polo holds onto its value better than any other car in the sector, which means they can afford to offer attractive PCP and leasing rates. So, if you’re renting your Polo, it will probably only cost you a few quid per month more than the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Seat Ibiza.
If you opt for the 1.0-litre, 65 horsepower engine, you can order one of several trim levels and benefit from one of the cheapest insurance groups of any car on sale.
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. The previous Polo has an impressive score in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index (although Volkswagen as a brand only places mid-table in the manufacturer rankings). Volkswagen also scored above the industry average in JD Power's 2017 Vehicle Dependability Survey. However, the new Polo comes with a three-year/60,000-mile standard warranty, which is considerably shorter than its rivals from Toyota, Hyundai and Kia.
How safe is it?
The Polo is available with plenty of cutting edge safety kit, and lots of it comes as standard on every model. All versions get automatic emergency braking, which will intervene if you fail to act to prevent an impending accident with either cars or pedestrians. It might only work at urban speeds, but that's still very useful as statistics show that that 75% of all collisions occur at under 25mph.
The Polo scored a maximum five stars in crash tests by safety organisation Euro NCAP, and offers plenty of optional safety systems, many that aren’t normally available at this end of the market. For a start, Blind-Spot Monitoring detects cars travelling either side of you, while Rear Cross Traffic Alert scans behind the car when reversing, automatically braking if it detects a potential collision. Adaptive Cruise Control matches your speed to the car in front, braking and accelerating for you. Specify this with the automatic gearbox, and it comes with a Stop and Go function, which automatically helps you keep pace and distance with slow moving traffic.
How much equipment do I get?
The Polo is well-specced as standard, with plenty of models to fit different budgets, and numerous options if you want jazzy extras. All Polos will come with an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, DAB radio and Bluetooth and air-con, and the most popular SE trim adds a second USB port and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Beats model, as you'd expect, gets a pimped up 300-Watt sound system, while the SEL gets sat-nav and two-zone air conditioning, as well as front and rear parking sensors. R-Line models get extra-classy aesthetic bits on the outside, while the top-spec GTI+ model gets the very cool Active Info Display, which is essentially a digital dashboard in place of traditional instruments. Much of these are available as options down the range.
The Volkswagen Polo has always been a class act, and this latest version is better than ever. Despite some splashes of interior bravado, its subtle design may still struggle to appeal to a younger audience, who may prefer funkier offerings like a Ford Fiesta or a Seat Ibiza. Other than that, and the rather high list price, we really are struggling to find any reason not to buy a Polo. In every way, it really is a wholly impressive car. Good to drive and easy to live with, it’s comfortable, refined, spacious, and is available with a whole host of high-tech options. Put simply, it is the consummate supermini.