The supermini has a rock-solid image, but there are plenty of pitfalls to be wary of before buying
The small hatch with everything – that’s Volkswagen’s claim for the Polo. The German supermini has image by the bucketload, healthy used values compared with rival models and scores well in crash tests – but does it live up to the hype?
The car has a strong reputation for build quality, and the Polo is a very appealing package, especially in diesel form. However, as our guide shows, it’s still necessary to tread carefully when you’re looking for a second-hand example.
History The fourth-generation Polo arrived in January 2002 as a three or five-door hatchback. It initially came with a choice of 1.2 or 1.4-litre petrol engines and 1.4 or 1.9-litre diesels – the latter in normally aspirated (SDi) or turbocharged (TDI) guises.
In May 2002, an ultra-efficient 1.4 FSI petrol arrived, and from May 2004 there was an off-roader-styled model available, called the Dune. It was withdrawn in August 2005, but subsequently resurrected in June 2006 with increased power. June 2005 saw the introduction of a facelifted Polo. Although there were a number of minor differences, the easiest way to tell models apart is to look for indicator repeaters mounted in the door mirrors of the updated version.
A year later, a 1.6-litre petrol engine was added to the line-up. At the same time, a turbocharged 150bhp 1.8-litre GTI also joined the range.
What to look for If you are going to be using the rear seats regularly, track down a post-April 2004 Polo, as they have three rear head restraints and three-point seatbelts as standard. Petrol cars built in 2002 can misfire due to faulty ignition coils. A recall means that most cars will have been fixed by now, but check any prospective buy carefully.
Diesels make sense because the engines are more reliable and very economical. You’ll have to pay a small premium for an oil-burner, but when you come to sell, you should be able to get most of this back.
Alternatives The Honda Jazz remains our favourite supermini as it’s reliable, has a spacious interior and is practical. Also in the frame are the Toyota Yaris and Skoda Fabia, which are both well built and cheap to run.
However, if you are working on a limited budget, the Fiat Panda and Hyundai Getz are also worth a look, with the Korean contender representing particularly good value.
The Polo isn’t as exclusive as you might think; nearly 250,000 have been sold in the UK since 2002. Despite its tough reputation, breakdowns are worryingly common and it can also be costly to buy and run.
The VW has never scored highly in our annual Driver Power reliability survey, either, but its quality cabin and premium image help to set it apart from rival superminis.
- Twin headlamps identify MkIV Polo. Facelifted cars have repeaters in door mirrors
- Check front lights work, as replacing bulbs is time-consuming and expensive
- If service intervals are ignored, timing chains on 1.2 petrols can break
FEB 2005: Cracks can occur on the pipe to the brake servo, leading to a loss of power assistance. This affects cars built between December 1999 and May 2001. MAR 2005: There may be fuel leaks on TDI PD examples built between March and August 2004. APR 2007: The upholstery could catch fire on Polos built between May 2006 and February 2007, if equipped with heated cloth seats.