In-depth reviews

Volkswagen Polo hatchback - Engines, drive & performance

Sharper and with greater agility than before, the Volkswagen Polo is an enjoyable car to drive

Carbuyer Rating

4.4 out of 5

Owners Rating

4.0 out of 5

Read owner reviews
Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.5 out of 5

The previous Volkswagen Polo was an impressively quiet and mature car on the open road, but it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi where outright handling was concerned, historically playing second fiddle to cars like the Ford Fiesta.

The new Polo, we’re pleased to report, has found a sense of playfulness – a difficult-to-put-your-finger-on element of fun – that’s been largely absent before. Its accurate steering doesn’t provide a huge amount of feedback, sure, but ever since manufacturers switched from hydraulic to electric power steering (the latter is more efficient) that’s a trend we’re used to seeing.

The suspension is impressively refined, however: it communicates enough information about the quality of the road surface without being unduly hard, or disconcertingly bouncy. It even manages to ride more comfortably on British roads than the Ford Fiesta. Just steer clear of large 17-inch alloy wheels, because these do introduce an amount of road noise that upsets the calm somewhat. Throw in the 94bhp 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and you’ve got a car that’s hard to beat as the road opens up. The Fiesta still edges it for pure handling, but the gap is closer than ever before.

Volkswagen Polo petrol engines

The cheapest petrol engine available with the Polo doesn’t have a turbocharger. Offered with 79bhp, it should suit those who drive most in town, but if you take to motorways and the open road more often than not, you’ll likely want one of the more powerful (and expensive) turbocharged petrol engines. The 79bhp model takes a leisurely 14.9 seconds to reach 62mph from stationary and needs plenty of revs if you’re joining a dual-carriageway, but is at least quite refined once up to speed.

There are two 1.0-litre ‘TSI’ turbocharged petrols to choose from. Offered with 94 and 108bhp, this engine has a great, willing character, delivering plenty of power throughout the rev range with very little turbo lag. It makes a great noise, too, and even if you’re not the type of person who gets excited about engine notes, its thrummy nature make it a welcome companion when you’re accelerating away. The 94bhp car reaches 62mph in 10.8 seconds, which should be fast enough for most, while the 108bhp model takes 9.5 seconds. The Polo GTI, reviewed separately, has a more powerful 2.0-litre petrol engine with 197bhp, and zips from 0-62mph in just 6.7 seconds - as fast as the more powerful Skoda Octavia vRS. It’s worth noting that it’s not available to order right now but will return with the facelifted model later in 2021.

To make the most of the Polo’s handling, go for the optional Driving Profile Selection, which brings different driving modes, allowing you to liven up the Polo’s character at will. You can also opt for the R-Line trim level, bringing the style of the GTI without the high running costs. Upgrades include 16-inch 'Sebring' alloy wheels, brake discs for the rear wheels for extra stopping power (108bhp engine only), and sports seats.

Do note that the engine you choose determines which gearboxes are available: the non-turbo 1.0-litre petrol, the 94bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol and the now-discontinued diesel engine all come with a five-speed manual, while the 108bhp petrol get a six-speed manual as standard. An optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is offered with all variants of the TSI petrol engines.

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