Volkswagen Polo hatchback (2018 - ) 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 Volkswagen Polo?
If you happen to be a fan of the pseudo coupe 3-door supermini look, your choices are becoming increasingly limited these days. Just like most of its newer rivals, the latest Polo is only available as a 5-door. Volkswagen’s designers are also notorious for their conservatism, and that’s patently obvious when looking at the Polo. This sixth-generation car has lots of subtle body creases, slightly inflated wheel arches, flashier headlights and increased bumper detailing, but is still instantly recognisable as a Polo. Consequently, it looks very much like a scaled-down version of its bigger brother, the Golf, and dare we say it, a wee bit dull compared to a Ford Fiesta or a Seat Ibiza.
Volkswagen has certainly upped the ante with the Polo's perceived quality and wow factor, with lots of soft touch plastics and imaginative coloured interior panels and high-tech display screens. 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 that lie 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 rather boxy body is punctuated by plenty of glass, so its light and airy inside and visibility is excellent in all directions.
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. 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. 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 bins.
Ride and handling
The latest 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 the steering system seamlessly adds in some extra weight, 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 weighty, 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.
Eventually, there will be a couple of feisty performance models in the Polo line up. A sweet-revving 152PS 1.5-litre will probably provide more than enough oomph for most folk – we know this from driving this engine in the heavier Golf – but if that’s not enough to float your boat, there will also be a GTI version, powered by a potent 203PS 2.0-litre engine.
The big sellers however, will be the diminutive 1.0-litre 3-cylinder petrol engines. As things stand, we’ve driven the 95PS version and it’s a little cracker. Although you’re never completely oblivious to the fact that it’s a 3-cylinder engine – thanks to its distinctive exhaust note – it is a lot smoother and quieter than many engines of this ilk. It also delivers a fair turn of pace, and it is happy to rev hard without creating too much in the way of vibration. If you add the twin-clutch automatic gearbox, the tinglings are reduced even further thanks to the additional damping effect the gearbox places on the engine. It’s not the quickest acting gearbox, but 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 real shame because the 95PS 1.6-litre diesel engine is an absolute corker. Even smoother and quieter than the 3-cylinder petrol engines, 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.
The Polo isn’t a cheap car to buy, but in the long run it won’t work out any more expensive than its main rivals. For a start, 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.
The 95PS 1.0-litre turbocharged TSI engine officially manages 64.2mpg, and produces CO2 emissions of 101g/km, which means anyone running one as a company car will incur a BIK tax rate of 19%. Figures for the rest of the engine line up are yet to be confirmed but we expect the 115PS version to be similarly efficient to its lower powered sibling. If you are one of those few folks who love the idea of running a diesel Polo both the 80 and 95PS 1.6-litre diesel engines will give you the economy in the region of 75mpg.
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), and it comes with a three-year/60,000-mile standard warranty, which is considerably shorter than its rivals from Toyota, Hyundai and Kia.
All Polos get the same level of safety kit, including an Autonomous Emergency Braking system that works at urban speeds and can detect pedestrians. This is all the more encouraging when you consider it is calculated that 75% of all collisions occur at under 25mph. The Polo also 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.
Trim levels have yet to be finalised, but we already know all Polos will come with an 8-inch infotainment screen, and we’d be amazed if the most popular SE trim didn’t come with essentials like front electric windows, air-con, remote locking, alloy wheels, split-folding rear seats, USB connectivity, Bluetooth and DAB radio. We’d also expect top-of-the-range models to feature ambient lighting, a leather trimmed steering wheel and gear knob and bigger alloy wheels.
Those who wish to customise the looks of their Polo can choose from a variety of interior panel colours, while exterior enhancements can be made by choosing the R-Line model, which comes with a subtle body kit and further material upgrades inside. Music fans can also choose a Beats package, that adds graphics, a pumping 300-watt stereo, sports seats and extra leather trim. Push the boat out even further and you can even have a digital dashboard that will allow you to hop between various screens including the say nav display.
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.