"The Volkswagen Polo is a cut above its supermini rivals, as it offers good looks, a high quality interior, plenty of space and sensible pricing."
The fifth-generation Volkswagen Polo's potent mix of practical, stylish economy positions it above a lot of its key rivals in the UK supermini class. Its excellent build quality and inexpensive list prices make it easily one of the best value cars you can buy. It has a top-notch interior and general sturdiness that makes it feel like a bigger car, while it's also easy to drive and most models come fitted with loads of accessories and equipment as standard. The current model's dimensions are significantly larger than the Polos of old, so while it isn’t as mini as it once was, it is now more versatile. You get strong fuel economy throughout the range, while the efficient BlueMotion TDI or smart BlueGT are simply brilliant. However, even the smaller petrol engines are still capable of returning 50mpg. You won’t have as much fun as driving a Ford Fiesta, mainly because the Polo's primary focus is comfort, not performance, but it is very serene over rough roads and is also good on long motorway drives. Volkswagens always have strong resale values on the used car market, so a Polo should be a good investment, while running costs should be low because of the comprehensive warranty and fixed-price servicing available. The Polo is available in a huge 10 specifications – S, S A/C, R-Line Style, Match Edition, R-Line Style A/C, R-Line, BlueMotion, SEL, BlueGT, and GTI.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The Polo is cheap to run. Fixed-price servicing and the efficient engine range means lifetime expenditure is the lowest in the supermini class. The super-frugal BlueMotion TDI diesel, for example, will happily return 80.7mpg and emit only 91g/km of CO2. So, not only is it exempt from road tax, but it also rivals the likes of the Toyota Prius hybrid for sheer fuel efficiency. We’d also suggest considering the sporty BlueGT, which has a clever TSI turbocharged petrol engine that can accelerate from 0-60mph in only 7.9 seconds and still returns 61.4mpg on average. However, the BlueGT is expensive to buy and many of the more inexpensive models are just as impressive for quality and low running costs.
Interior & comfort
This is where the Polo excels. Space in the front and back is plentiful, and the ride is soft enough for all passengers to be comfortable as it absorbs most bumps, but firm enough to make it decent to drive. The entry-level three-cylinder petrol engine is really only useful for driving around town, however, as it starts to genuinely struggle on the motorway – and gets loud enough to intrude and annoy. The interior quality is as good as you’d expect in a VW. Overall, the Polo offers an extremely soothing driving environment – that few other small car manufacturers can come close to matching.
Practicality & boot space
Although you can get the Polo with either three or five doors, you get more or less the exact same amount of space inside, with only access to the back seats suffering a bit in the three-door model. There's loads of headroom in the back for two relatively tall adults to get comfortable, although legroom may get a bit tight over long drives. The boot offers a decent 280 litres of space – which trumps what you’ll find in the Ford Fiesta. A low load lip also makes it easy to load, while the rear seats fold down easily to expand the boot capacity to a pretty impressive 952 litres. There's also a convenient false floor that adds more depth to the boot while also offering an out-of-sight secure storage option. Inside, there are plenty of storage cubbies scattered through the interior and a big glove compartment, so you’ll never be short of places to store your bits and pieces.
Reliability & safety
The big conundrum with modern Volkswagens is why a manufacturer with such a high reputation for quality and reliability doesn’t rank higher in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. In 2013, VW ranked firmly mid-table at 16th out of 32 in the manufacturer rankings, having actually climbed up two places from its 2012 result. Then there's the fact that the Mk5 Polo failed to make it into the list of top 100 cars, ranking 102nd overall, when we know that it has so far proven to be a fairly reliable car, with any reported problems – such as insufficient performance or inferior engines – being addressed. Certainly, bringing the BlueGT and 1.2 TSI turbo petrol into the range has further strengthened its position in the marketplace. It's also a safe car, with a full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and comes fitted with safety equipment like electronic stability control (ESP), anti-whiplash head rests and ISOFIX child seat anchor points as standard in all models.
Engines, drive & performance
As well as a slightly dizzying number of specifications to choose from, the range of engines available in the Polo is equally wide. Personally, we’d avoid the very smallest engines as both the petrol and diesel feel underpowered, and the 1.2-litre petrol even gets pretty loud when driven at higher speeds. We’d go for the excellent 104bhp 1.2-litre TSI turbo, which offers great performance and strong economy in the same package. For those looking at the top end, the BlueGT and Polo GTI offer cracking speed in such a small car, with the latter accelerating from 0-60mph in just 6.9 seconds when it comes paired with the particularly slick DSG automatic gearbox. The diesels don’t offer quite the same level of performance, but are otherwise equally good, balanced out by especially low running costs. And with the suspension tuned to handle the UK's rough-and-tumble road network, it is very easy to drive, with light steering making it very handy around town - even though the steering doesn’t quite offer enough feedback to the driver on winding country roads. The Fiesta is certainly more exciting and intense to drive, but the Polo does hold its own.
Price, value for money & options
Considering how upmarket the Polo is for a supermini, it really is quite cheap to buy – though it's far from being the cheapest available. Its quality is only challenged by the Audi A1, which costs significantly more - and even then the Polo just has the edge inside. The range is huge, so while the entry-level S is fairly basic and does without air-conditioning or alloy wheels, you should be able to find a good match for your needs without breaking the bank further up the specifications. For the best balance of equipment and price, we’d go for the Match Edition, which adds all-round electric windows, parking sensors, 15-inch alloys, tinted windows and body-coloured bumpers all as standard. Resale values are especially strong because of the Volkswagen badge and the top-quality interior, but there are already quite a lot available on the used market, so anyone shopping about should choose wisely. But no matter which Polo you choose, you’ll end up with one of the best superminis on the UK market.