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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

4.2 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.

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The suspension is impressively refined, however: it communicates enough information about the quality of the road surface riding over bumps relatively well, 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 optional 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, with the engine offering decent enough progress for a somewhat relaxed driving experience. While the Fiesta still edges it for pure handling, the Polo does feel slightly more sophisticated in the way it drives with decent agility, meaning the gap between the two is closer than ever before. This is helped by the steering, which gives you a sharp turn in and feels secure.

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 15.5 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 makes it a welcome companion when you’re accelerating.

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The 94bhp model with a manual gearbox does 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds, which feels quick enough on the road. It’s also capable of brisk enough acceleration to cope with faster roads, with a decent amount of power for overtaking on motorways. In town is where this engine excels, with plenty of lowdown punch to get you up to speed and a decent amount of smoothness and refinement making it relaxing to drive.

Choosing the seven-speed DSG automatic box with this engine slows the 0-62mph sprint time to 11.3 seconds. At the top of the range, the 108bhp model is equipped with a DSG automatic gearbox as standard and manages 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds.

The facelifted Polo GTI has a more powerful 2.0-litre petrol engine with 204bhp, and zips from 0-62mph in just 6.5 seconds, making it slightly faster than the rival Ford Fiesta ST. It’s worth noting that it's available to order now, with the first customer cars expected later in the year. 

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 'Valencia' alloy wheels, brake discs for the rear wheels for extra stopping power (108bhp engine only), and two-tone trimmed sports seats.

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