"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."
Unlike many superminis, the VW Polo manages a unique blend of style, economy and practicality, as well as low list prices and top-notch quality. It's comfortable to drive and has a unique big-car feel thanks to a desirable interior and solid build-quality – and if you avoid the base-spec S models, you get a decent level of kit, too. The current Mk5 car is much bigger than earlier cars like the Mk2 and Mk3, but benefits from a more versatile interior as a result. Economy is good, especially if you opt for the economical BlueMotion TDI or clever BlueGT, though the smaller petrol cars all manage a respectable 50mpg. It's not as enjoyable as a Ford Fiesta to drive and prioritises comfort over a sporty ride, but that does mean it's genuinely relaxed over rutted roads and deals with longer motorway journeys with ease. Thanks to its VW badge, used prices are strong, while running costs can be kept to a minimum with fixed price servicing and a comprehensive warranty.
There is a bewildering array of engines on offer in the VW Polo, with the smallest petrol and diesel cars struggling to give the small supermini the performance to match its big-car feel. The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol cars feel underpowered and noisy at high speed, but shouldn’t be confused with the superb 104bhp 1.2 TSI turbo, which offers decent pace and great economy. Sitting at the top of the range are the punchy BlueGT and Polo GTI, the latter of which will hit 60mph in 6.9 seconds when fitted with the slick DSG automatic gearbox. The diesels are smooth, but not as punchy as the petrols, but on the upside they do offer impressively low running costs. With the suspension tuned to smooth out bumps and light steering, the Polo is an effortless drive, although the Ford Fiesta provides a sharper, more exciting driving experience.
Although the VW Polo may trail the Ford Fiesta in terms of driver enjoyment, comfort is excellent, with lots of space up front and in the back. The ride is firm but not uncomfortable, dealing with rough and rutted roads extremely well indeed. The entry-level three-cylinder petrol engine is well suited to town driving but struggles on the motorway, while the noisy diesels can detract from the car's otherwise low noise levels. Interior quality is top-notch and overall, the small VW offers a relaxing driving environment for such a small car.
The Polo has proved to be reliable so far, though owners seem less than impressed – resigning the VW to a disappointing 74th place in the 2012 Auto Express Driver Power survey. That said, problems like the lack of performance and cutting-edge engines have been addressed recently with the introduction of cars like the BlueGT and lively 1.2 TSI turbo petrol. In terms of safety, the Polo scored the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, with safety kit like stability control and ISOFIX child seat restraints standard across the range.
Both three and five-door models offer near-identical space inside although access to the rear seats is a bit trickier in the three-door version. There's enough room for four adults, but journeys in the back are best kept short due to limited rear head and legroom. That said, boot dimensions are good for a car of this size, offering 280-litres – four litres more than you’ll find in a Ford Fiesta. Access to the load area is good, while the easy fold rear seats increase luggage room to a respectable 952 litres. A false floor is also standard, hiding extra depth and offering more secure storage. A large glovebox and plenty of stowage space around the cabin round off a well-packaged supermini, and mean you’ll never be short of places to lose things inside the VW Polo.
Value for money
No other supermini blends the Polo's upmarket feel, with rock-bottom running costs and low list prices. It feels like a quality product inside and out and can only really be matched by the likes of the Audi A1, which costs considerably more to buy. There are a huge variety of models on offer, ranging from the entry-level S – which does without air-con and alloy wheels, through to the frugal BlueGT and range-topping GTI. For the best mix of spec versus price, choose the Match specification, which adds all-round electric windows, 15-inch alloys and body coloured bumpers. Residual values are particularly strong thanks to the VW badge and high quality interior, but there are plenty for sale on the used market, so choose wisely and you should have one of the most dependable superminis money can buy.
Not only is the VW Polo cheap to buy, it's incredibly cheap to run, too. With fixed-price servicing and a set of economical engines, lifetime costs for the small VW are among the best in class. If you go for the super-frugal BlueMotion TDI diesel, you’ll manage 80.7mpg and only 91g/km of CO2. This means it is road-tax free and London Congestion Charge exempt, as well as rivalling cars like the Toyota Prius hybrid for efficiency. Also worth considering is the sporty BlueGT version – announced in late 2012 – which features a clever TSI turbocharged petrol engine that's good for 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds and an average of 61.4mpg. That said, it's expensive to buy and cheaper cars are equally impressive in terms of quality and rock-bottom running costs.