Volkswagen Polo hatchback review
“Spacious, handsome and good to drive, with sophisticated equipment and options, the Volkswagen Polo impresses”
- Sophisticated options
- Strong driving experience
- Steering lacks feel
- No three-door model
- Six-speed manual not standard
The Volkswagen Polo is so well recognised it hardly needs an introduction. If you’re in the market for a Ford Fiesta, Audi A1, Peugeot 208 or Renault Clio – or any other supermini for that matter – you’re bound to have at least thought about a Polo. It’s quite often the standard that other superminis try to aim for.
The current Polo is larger and more technologically sophisticated than its predecessor. Its boot is 25% bigger than before, for example, while VW’s optional ‘Digital Cockpit Pro’ – a configurable digital dial cluster – was a first for the supermini class and is bound to woo buyers. Adaptive cruise control, a self-parking system and a panoramic sunroof are among the options, bringing systems and features from the class above. While still recognisable as a Polo and hardly a radical aesthetic departure, the new car looks distinctly different from its predecessor, calling to mind the larger, plusher Golf with its intricate headlight design and geometric rear.
Volkswagen has announced that a facelifted Polo will be available in summer 2021. A fresh headlight design features LED lights as standard. The rear lights of the updated model look very similar to those of the latest Golf and the electric Volkswagen ID.3. Every Polo will have the digital instrument cluster, while trim levels will be renamed too.
The Polo is offered with a good selection of engines to suit most buyers. We suggest side-stepping the 79bhp 1.0-litre petrol unless cheap insurance is a priority – it feels a little underpowered and VW’s 94bhp 1.0-litre turbocharged TSI petrol is so zesty and characterful, and not much more expensive by comparison.
A 108bhp version of this engine is also offered on high-spec models, while the Polo GTI - that we've reviewed in full separately - gets a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol. Those after a diesel will now have to look elsewhere or at second-hand models, while a DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox is offered as an option on the two 1.0-litre engines.
But enough background. What’s it like?
Impressive, in a word. The outgoing Polo was always an easy car to recommend with its class-defying image and comfortable experience, and the new model builds on those strengths. It’s impressively quiet at speed – you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a Golf – while passenger space is a real strong point, running costs should be minimal and standard equipment is generous.
There’s one slight negative, though: this new Polo’s sister car, the latest SEAT Ibiza, which is better and more polished than ever before. While the Ibiza has traditionally followed the Polo and taken its cues from the VW, that’s been swapped around recently; the Polo now follows the lead set by the Ibiza, and its dashboard is similar. There are differences: the air vents are set lower in the Polo and the dashboard cowling has a different shape, and the Polo keeps its mature ambiance with plusher-feeling materials.
Such things will bother some people more than others and if you’re still with us at this point, it’s likely you fall into the latter camp. That’s good news, as there really is little else to dislike about the new Polo.
Build quality is above reproach, for example, with millimetre-perfect gaps between the bodywork panels and an impressive sense of solidity inside. Even though there are one or two dashboard surfaces that could be made from softer materials, it’s important to bear in mind this is a supermini – albeit one built to exacting standards.
The 351-litre boot beats some rivals from the class above while room in the rear is adequate for adults in general terms and genuinely impressive for a supermini. The Polo easily beats the Fiesta in both these aspects.
Drive off after initial inspection and you’ll continue to be impressed. The Polo’s steering is a little light and ultimately lacks feel compared to the Fiesta, but it’s more fun to hustle down country lanes than its predecessor was. Take it up to speed on the motorway and things get even better thanks to a hushed ride, with next to no wind, road or engine noise making it into the cabin in most trim levels. It’s impressive on B-roads, too, with sharp steering, minimal body lean and good comfort thanks to well judged suspension. In fact, we think it rides even better on British roads than the Ford Fiesta.
All cars come with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and LED running lights, as well as an eight-inch infotainment screen. A youth-focused Beats trim adds an impressive sound system and several points of aesthetic garnish. New United and Active trims offer high levels of equipment with sat nav, heated seats and cruise control, while the R-Line model has some of the sporty trappings of a Polo GTI without the high insurance bills or running costs.
As an ownership prospect, expect the Polo to impress, particularly in our favourite spec: the 94bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol with a manual gearbox in Beats trim. Choosing a Beats model means you get various styling upgrades and a powerful stereo for only a small increase in price. While the Beats and high-spec Active trims are both good value - they’d only cost a few pounds a month more than the Match trim on a PCP finance deal - obviously check whether what’s included actually appeals to you. If not, stick with the Match trim, which is still very well equipped. This replaced the SE in 2020, adding an improved infotainment system and better front seats.
Strong standard safety equipment helped the Polo achieve a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating, and Volkswagen owners tend to remain very loyal to the marque. Reliability is no better than average, though, with 20.2% of VW owners who participated in our 2020 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey reporting at least one fault with their cars during the first year of ownership.