Volkswagen Polo review
The VW Polo is a fantastic supermini, with smart styling, an impressive interior and great engines
The recently-updated Volkswagen Polo is still one of the most desirable superminis money can buy, thanks to a strong combination of running costs, build quality and practicality. It's still not quite as stylish as the new Renault Clio, and the Ford Fiesta is more fun to drive, but as an overall package the Volkswagen Polo is one of the best small cars on the market.
The economical and powerful engine range is a big selling point for the Polo, with the 1.4 TDI diesel capable of over 80mpg. The Polo received a thorough overhaul in 2014, including a revised specification range, new engines from the up! city car and Golf-sourced in-car tech.
There are three- or five-door body styles, and trim levels comprise S, S A/C, SE, SE Design, SEL and BlueGT. Power comes from a choice of petrol engines and one diesel unit, with all bar the BlueGT's 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI sold in two stages of tune. In addition, there's a fuel efficient BlueMotion diesel, while a new Polo GTI with a 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine has recently arrived at the top of the range.
Our choice: Polo 1.2 TSI SE
Engines, performance and drive
The Polo has always lagged behind the Ford Fiesta when it comes to entertainment behind the wheel, due to rather lifeless steering. However, where the Polo does excel is with its refinement and composure on the move thanks to its big car feel. This facelifted model has been infused with Golf DNA so it's even more grown-up than before.
The entry 1.0- and 1.2-litre petrol engines are almost identical on the road. The 89bhp 1.2-litre motor may have slightly more power but it still feels a little breathless on the motorway or on an incline. The 59bhp 1.0-litre engine is ideally suited if you're sticking to the city, and both engines return a claimed 60.1mpg. You can also get the 1.2 with an excellent DSG automatic gearbox, which shifts smoothly.
A new engine in the Polo is the 1.4-litre three-cylinder diesel. It's a little harsh on start up but for a diesel engine in such a small car it's surprisingly well isolated. It's not a s refined as the petrol engines but even when you really pressing on you'll still return around 70mpg in real world driving. It's claimed economy figure stands at 83mpg. The engine is also a little heavier so the Polo isn't as agile in the corners.
The Volkswagen Polo BlueGT is powered by a revised 1.4 TSI engine with 148bhp and 250Nm of torque, which means it goes from 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds - impressive for a car with economy in mind. The new Polo GTI has six-speed manual or seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox options, while the new 1.8 TSI turbocharged engine is a smaller capacity version of the 2.0 TSI found in the Golf GTI. It delivers excellent overtaking torque, and the GTI manages 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds.
On cars with 16-inch alloy wheels, there's a slight firmness to the ride, but the SE’s standard 15-inch rims help the soft suspension iron out most bumpy surfaces. There’s a touch more road noise than rivals from Mazda and Ford, but the Polo still feels refined on long motorway journeys.
Happily this comfort and refinement don’t come at the expense of handling. There’s a fair amount of body roll, but grip is good, and the VW isn’t unsettled by mid-corner bumps. The steering is naturally weighted and precise, too, while visibility is good, making it easy to place the car. The predictable Polo inspires confidence.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Go for the Volkswagen Polo 1.4-litre TDI diesel, which emits 88g/km of CO2 and returns over 80mpg, if you're after the most efficient Polo you can get. Although the price tag is very high, if you're driving a lot of miles and want low petrol costs it's a solid choice. The entry-level 1.0-litre petrol gets at least 58.9mpg and at worst is claimed to emit an impressive 108g/km, but be aware - it feels very underpowered.
The BlueGT gets up to 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 107g/km thanks to its cylinder shut-off technology, and even the stop-start equipped GTI has a claimed 47mpg economy figure. Insurance premiums will be higher for this model, but other models in the Polo range will suit young drivers' requirement for low insurance groups. There’s a fixed servicing plan for three years, too, which means you won’t get stung for costly maintenance. Optional extras are expensive, however, and the cheapest models don't get too much equipment.
Interior, design and technology
Whichever model you decide to go for, the Volkswagen Polo is a stylish little car. It lacks the imaginative styling of the Renault Clio and new Mazda 2, but it looks smart and understated. The interior quality is up there with bigger cars like the VW Golf, and puts it ahead of rivals like the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208 when it comes to sitting inside the car.
The 2014 model was by no means radical in terms of design, the exterior gaining sharper bumpers, a chrome strip for the grille and redesigned LED headlights on top spec models.
While the Polo isn’t the most exciting car to look at, you can’t fault its fit and finish. Tight shut lines are a sign of its quality, plus the classless looks mean it will appeal to a broad cross-section of customers.
Inside, there's a new three-spoke steering wheel and the same infotainment system as found in the MkVII Golf. A five-inch touchscreen is standard on entry-level models, with all variants getting Bluetooth connectivity, DAB digital radio and a USB port. Opting for higher spec models adds a 6.5-inch display that is better suited to smartphone-style swiping movements used to navigate through the different menus.
Kicking things off once again is S trim, which is now slightly better equipped but still doesn't even get air-con. For that, you'll need to go for the S A/C model, although we'd recommend mid-range SE, which comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, a chrome-trimmed front air intake, leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, glovebox-mounted CD player and electrically adjustable door mirros.
Go for new SE Design for a more stylish look, including 16-inch alloys, black gloss exterior detailing, front fog lights, tinted rear lights and windows, plus front sports seats and revised interior upholstery. SEL cars builds on SE spec with a number of these styling changes, but also feature standard-fit parking sensors. BlueGT models get a unique body kit, lower sports suspension and even bigger rims signalling the presence of a 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine.
The Polo GTI has styling similar to the larger Golf GTI. There's red accents for the honeycomb grille, big alloys, a roof spoiler and twin exhausts out back, while the cabin gets tartan trim.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Polo's 280-litre boot is not bad for its class, but it's nowhere near as spacious as the Honda Jazz and it's not great for trips to the dump. Split-folding rear seats are standard across the range, which boosts the capacity to 952 litres. The Peugeot 208’s 1,152 litres means the Polo falls behind for boot space in its class, but it does get a false floor for hiding valuables.
Even entry-level Polos come with a full size spare wheel, which is rare in this class - so you've got peace of mind in case of a puncture while on the road. There's decent head and legroom in the rear, and if you go for the five-door model it's easy enough to get in and out as well. Avoid the very cheapest models and there's a good level of standard equipment, and the interior is very well built and should stand up to family life very well.
Access to the rear seats is easy thanks to the wide-opening back doors, but legroom is a little tight. A high window line and dark cabin materials mean it feels a little claustrophobic than in the back.
There are deep cup-holders and a handy tray in front of the USB and 12V sockets on the centre console to keep your smartphone in, while the standard touchscreen infotainment system is logically laid out and easy to use.
Reliability and Safety
The pre-facelift Polo finished our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey in a lowly 119th place, so VW will be hoping for a stronger showing in this year’s poll. On the plus side, it does benefit from VW’s latest touchscreen technology, and will come with the most recent software, so it should run smoothly.
VW has also worked hard on the Polo’s safety, and all cars get electronic stability control, traction control, brake assist and post-collision brake application. Extras include adaptive cruise control, parking sensors and a driver fatigue sensor – but lane departure warning isn’t available as an option.
The Polo earned a five-star Euro NCAP rating in 2009, and the percentage score should improve with the new model. However, it only gets four airbags as standard – curtain bags will set you back an extra £465.