More than 14 million Volkswagen Polos have been sold since the launch of the original in 1975, and in the UK it is firmly established as one of the top three most popular superminis alongside the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa.
It is an important car for Volkswagen then, which is why the company didn’t take any chances when it came to developing this all-new, sixth-generation model. The result is a car that is bigger, roomier and more advanced than ever before, all the while adhering to the long-standing Polo benchmarks of quality and safety.
However, it’s not as though rivals have stood still either, with the latest Fiesta and the new Seat Ibiza (which shares the Polo’s platform and engines) setting a particularly high standard. Whether the Polo can match them we are about to find out.
About as big as a small car gets
The boot capacity of the latest Polo has grown by 25 per cent compared with its predecessor, making this one of the most useful cars in its class. As you’d expect there’s a dual-height boot floor that allows you to either divide the load space and create an almost (but not quite) flat floor when the rear seats are folded, or alternatively drop it into its lower position to create a deeper load bay. Less impressive is that the boot lid itself requires a firmer than expected shove to close, so you quite often need to have a couple of attempts before you’re successful at what should be the simplest of tasks.
Given that this new Polo is almost the same size as the Golf used to be it’s not hugely surprising that there’s also lots of room for passengers. This is a supermini in which a six-foot passenger can travel behind a driver of the same height without cause for complaint, much like in the Seat Ibiza. Getting three across the back is still tight (the sizeable transmission tunnel in the middle of the floor doesn’t help), but by the standards of the class the Polo is about as good as it gets.
There’s also a useful amount of in-car storage including a glovebox complete with CD player, and large door bins.
A smooth and quiet car
You’re never going to find a car in this class that rides as well as a Rolls-Royce, but within the parameters of what’s possible the Polo is as good as you could reasonably expect. What that means is that while you do feel bumps in the road, the suspension quietly and efficiently takes the sting out of them, yet it isn’t so soft that the body pitches and sways all over the place.
As you’d expect in a VW, the seats are comfortable, there’s lots of adjustment in the driving position and the petrol engines are quiet unless you rev them hard. We haven’t tested the 1.6-litre diesel in the new Polo yet, but it is not expected to be a big seller.
What really impresses about the latest Polo though is how quiet and stable it is at motorway speeds, lending it the feel of a much bigger car.
Dashboard layout 9/10
Amazingly grown-up for a car in this class
While it is true to say that you need to spend a bit extra on your Polo to benefit from everything its new dashboard design has to offer (including coloured inserts and VW’s Active Info Display digital dials), there are still features common to all models that are bound to impress. For example, the way VW has moved the central air vents to underneath the touchscreen rather than above it makes it easier to operate at a quick glance, and the little patches of soft material on the armrests, or the squidgy surface on top of the dashboard all add up to give a real feeling of quality. True, the plastics become a little scratchy lower down in the cabin, but that’s to be expected on anything but a true luxury car.
The controls themselves are also simple to use, and the 8-inch touchscreen that comes on all models looks excellent and is intuitive to operate. The inclusion of physical dials for the volume and zooming functions is also welcome.
Easy to drive 9/10
Small size and good visibility make it a doddle to park
With so many buyers flocking to SUVs in recent years it’s easy to forget just how simple cars of the Polo’s size are to drive. For a start there’s the obvious factor that being relatively small on the outside means it’s a doddle to slot into parking spaces or down narrow lanes.
In the Polo’s case you also get good visibility front and rear, although slightly larger wing mirrors would help with motorway driving and we’d still recommend specifying parking sensors to avoid low-speed bumps and scuffs.
As far as engines go, the entry level 64bhp 1.0-litre petrol unit is adequate provided you are prepared to drive it fairly hard if you venture out of town. However, our recommendation would be to spend extra to get the turbocharged 95bhp 1.0-litre petrol unit instead, which has more mid-range flexibility and the same easy to use five-speed manual gearbox. It hits the sweet spot in terms of performance and cost, so it is no surprise that this is also the likely best-seller.
If you'd prefer an automatic gearbox VW's DSG dual-clutch unit is an exceptionally smooth performer once on the move, but can sometimes hesitate when pulling away.
Fun to drive 7/10
Not the most thrilling supermini, but still not bad
For outright thrills you’ll be wanting the flagship Polo GTI with its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but if that looks too expensive the 113bhp version of the 1.0-litre engine isn’t a bad substitute. This is, after all, the same engine that you’ll find in the smaller Up GTI, and is still enough to propel the Polo from 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds, helped by the inclusion of a six-speed manual gearbox. What you don’t get is the GTI’s more focused handling, but even in its standard guise the Polo steers with decent grip and precision, and resists body lean reasonably well.
Just be aware that although perfectly competent and equipped with some very good engines the Polo is still not as agile or as communicative as a Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza.
Warranty is no match for many of its rivals
Although the standard Polo’s three-year, 60,000-mile warranty can be extended, to do so costs hundreds of pounds whereas rivals from Renault, Hyundai, Toyota and Kia all come with more generous cover as standard (up to seven years and 100,000 miles in the case of the Kia Rio).
As to whether or not the car is likely to go wrong in the first place, the latest Polo is too new to be able to draw any firm conclusions. However, it is worth noting that Volkswagen finished 12th out of the 25 manufacturers included in the 2017 JD Power UK Vehicle Dependability survey. That puts it ahead of Ford, Honda and Renault, but behind Kia, Skoda and Hyundai.
Fuel economy 8/10
No hybrid option, but otherwise very competitive
If you want the most miles per gallon possible from your Polo it means opting for the 1.6-litre diesel, which returned 74.3mpg in official EU economy tests.
As far as petrol power goes, the non-turbocharged 1.0-litre managed 58.9mpg, and its turbocharged equivalent 62.8mpg. In reality we managed close to 50mpg in both in normal driving, which matches the Seat Ibiza and is about as much as you can reasonably expect of a modern petrol engine. It also exceeds the 40-45mpg we achieved in a 1.0-litre turbocharged Ford Fiesta.
It is also worth noting that all Polos have stop-start technology as standard, so there’s no need to seek out a particular model to get this useful feature which cuts the engine when you’re stationary in order to save fuel.
If you’re in the market for a supermini with hybrid power, however, you’ll still need to look at the Toyota Yaris or Suzuki Swift instead.
Looks particularly tempting on finance
Volkswagen no longer sells a three-door version of the Polo, which is one of the reasons it looks slightly expensive when compared with a lot of its rivals. It’s a slightly different story if you’re using finance to run the car, because the Polo’s excellent residual values make it much more affordable in terms of monthly payments, plus VW dealers will often throw in a generous deposit contribution and incentives such as free insurance for a year.
Most versions of the Polo also fall within the £140 first year tax band, and VW’s service plans represent good value for money.
Lots of big-car features and a fine crash test performance
Volkswagen has thrown an awful lot of safety equipment at its sixth-generation Polo so it’s no great surprise that it emerged from Euro NCAP’s crash tests with a maximum five-star rating. Its 96 per cent score for adult occupant protection is particularly impressive, and it beat the Ford Fiesta and Seat Ibiza (both also five-star cars) for child occupant and pedestrian protection.
In terms of active safety equipment all Polos come with a low-speed autonomous emergency braking system that can warn the driver of an impending frontal impact and automatically apply the brakes if necessary. Other driver assistance systems include post-collision assist, which applies the brakes after an impact to prevent or minimise secondary collisions, as well as blind-spot monitors, rear cross traffic alert (to warn you of passing cars when you reverse), adaptive cruise control, and a park assist function that automatically steers the car into parking spaces.
Standard spec 10/10
All models come with a brilliant 8-inch touchscreen
The Polo is amazingly well equipped, with even the entry-level S model coming with an 8-inch touchscreen with DAB radio, air-conditioning and automatic headlights.
Upgrading to SE adds 15-inch alloy wheels in place of the S’s 14-inch steel rims, plus full smartphone connectivity including Android Auto and Apple Carplay (thus allowing you to use your phone for satnav), a leather steering wheel and an alarm.
Next up is Beat with its 16-inch wheels, upgraded sound system, decals and coloured dash inserts, followed by the SEL with built-in satnav, parking sensors and climate control, and then the top-spec R-Line with its sportier styling.
Our favourite version
1.0 TSI 95PS SE, list price £15,930
Options you should add: metallic paint (£565), carpet mats (£90), parking sensors front and rear (£315)
The latest Volkswagen Polo might not be quite as much fun to drive as the Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza, but in every other area it is a seriously very impressive car, especially considering its size.
Spacious, comfortable, very well equipped and with a good range of petrol engines, this is not only by far the best Polo to date, but also one of the best superminis there has ever been.
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