In-depth reviews

Volkswagen Polo review - Engines, performance and drive

The Polo is safe and comfortable rather than fun on the road, but the 1.0 TSI turbo petrol is a cracker

If the Ford Fiesta is seen as the fun choice in the supermini class, it’s certainly fair to hand the refinement and comfort titles to the Polo. It boasts a supple ride for a small car, edging out its competitors with Golf-like composure. Volkswagen’s engineers have coaxed a comfortable character out of the Polo compared to the SEAT Ibiza – a car that also uses the MQB A0 architecture.

Unsurprisingly, the Polo can still develop a rough edge on potholed roads or over nasty ridges in the tarmac, particularly with larger wheels fitted. But overall the ride quality is very high, and basic models on 14- or 15-inch wheels ride have excellent ride composure.

On A-roads and motorways, the Polo feels a much larger car than it actually is. Refined power units only assist in this regard, while low levels of wind and road noise are impressive, too.

The trade-off is that some rivals are more fun when the road begins to narrow and twist. The steering on regular Polos is sharp and direct enough, but devoid of feel. It’s the same deal with the pedal box and gearshift on manual models, revealing that the Polo is focused towards being as easy and as relaxing to drive as possible, rather than on providing outright fun. There is a balance between comfort and capability, but the bias is towards the former.

It does mean that the Polo works well in town, however. The good low speed ride paired to the direct, lightweight steering means that it shouldn’t be too terrible a place to be stuck in stop-start traffic. 

Most Polo versions are equipped with a standard five-speed manual gearbox, with a six-speed manual transmission on the most powerful variant of the 1.0 TSI three-cylinder. The turbocharged TSI is available with either 94bhp or 113bhp, the latter coming with the six-speed box. These two are also available with a seven-speed DSG transmission as an optional extra.

Your only diesel option is a 1.6 TDI 95PS four-cylinder with a five-speed manual gearbox. It only comes in high-spec SEL trim, where it has 94bhp on offer. 

At the top end of the line-up, the new Polo GTI uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor lifted from the Golf GTI. However, power is capped at 197bhp and 320Nm, delivered via a six-speed DSG gearbox. Sports Select suspension is on the options list, serving up two-mode switchable, though not adaptive damping. 

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

The 1.0-litre 79bhp option is sluggish, as suggested by its on-paper figures taking 15.4 seconds to hit 62mph from standstill, reaching a top speed of 106mph.

In almost every case, we’d recommend stumping up a bit more cash for one of the newer, more powerful 1.0-litre TSI units. In either 94bhp or 113bhp guise it delivers a dollop of refined performance, while the turbocharger means torque swells to 175Nm – there’s much more grunt to lean on and it’s easier to find when dropping down a gear to overtake.

It’s a peppy unit, but it’s impressively quiet at motorway speeds, too. The 94bhp TSI car does 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds and tops out at 116mph. The 113bhp, six-speed manual car ducks under ten seconds to record 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds, with top speed clocked at 124mph.

We’d recommend leaving the seven-speed DSG automatic out of the equation, and stick with the slick and easy standard-fit manuals. We haven’t sampled a diesel, though the 1.6-litre TDI offering under the bonnet is a proven unit. Diesel sales are expected to account for only a tiny fraction of Polos leaving showrooms, however.

As for the GTI, the familiar 2.0-litre motor serves up 197bhp and 320Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm, so there’s plenty of performance low down in the rev range, giving a competitive 6.7-second 0-62mph time and 147mph top speed. However, it feels like it’s been reined-in, so as not to step on its more powerful (and more expensive) Golf GTI sibling’s toes. With only DSG auto transmission available, the step between second and third means the powertrain isn't as snappy as it might be with a manual box, either.

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