Volkswagen Polo review
The sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo arrives on the supermini scene boasting the same strengths as before. Put simply, this is the quality option in the class and it’s very spacious for a supermini too. You’ll be buying into a small car that rides with a similar level of composure to its larger sibling, the VW Golf, while the interior feels best in class. It is an expensive small car though, and its chief adversary, the latest Ford Fiesta, feels more fun from behind the wheel.
8 May, 2018
From a design standpoint, the sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo is an evolution of the fifth-generation car, and while it lacks the sharp flair of the SEAT Ibiza or the Mazda 2 it’s a neatly designed supermini.
The chunky, signature Volkswagen front end features C-shaped LED daytime running lights, which are standard across the range. The new lights form an angular signature, feeding directly into the front grille. The rear end has a more squared-off look, and is much more in tune with the previous generation car – the taillights and tailgate are pretty much the same shape as before.
S, SE, Beats and SEL cars all make use of the same standard bodykit, though the SE and SEL models are fitted with alloy wheels as standard, and the Beats gets distinctive badging, a decal stripe running from front to rear, plus unique 16-inch alloy wheels. R-Line cars get a sporty bodykit inspired by the Polo GTI. SE cars up can be equipped with a glass panoramic sunroof.
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While the business-as-usual shape means that the VW Polo isn’t quite as eye-catching as some rivals, you can’t fault the level of the fit and finish. Tight shut lines are a sign of its quality, plus the classless looks mean it will appeal to a broad cross-section of customers. An enormous paint colour palette and roster of optional alloy wheels means that you’ll be able to make the Polo your own.
In contrast with the subtle exterior redesign, the interior is wholesale change. The new dashboard layout is dominated by a large, sweeping angular panel, which allows the Polo’s myriad of infotainment options to sit neatly in the centre of the cabin. As you’d expect, material quality and fit and finish is right at the top end of the class, and the interior itself is fairly customisable.
The flagship addition is the availability of a fully digital instrument panel – Volkswagen’s 10.5-inch Active Info Display is big car tech, and unique in the supermini class for now. The interior can be customised with Dashpad packs – available in a trio of colours, while the Polo Beats sports a vibrant and youthful interior colour scheme as standard.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
New generation infotainment is a headline feature of the Mk6 Polo, and even the entry-level S model comes equipped with a Volkswagen Composition media touchscreen unit measuring eight-inches. Unsurprisingly, it’s slick to operate and boasts pinpoint sharp graphics. With a system this good as standard, it’s easy to see why the Polo has earned its upmarket reputation.
Bluetooth connectivity is standard, though Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are enabled through the optional Car-Net App-Connect function, bundled with satellite navigation at £650 on the options list. SEL models come equipped with this as standard.
The 10.5-inch Active Info Display is standard on the Polo GTI+, and optional on all other models except the entry-level Polo S. The crisp display sits behind the steering wheel, replacing the physical dials with digitalised, customisable instruments and mapping.
If the Ford Fiesta is seen as the fun choice in the supermini class, it’s certainly fair to stick the refinement and comfort crowns on the Polo’s head. It boasts a supple ride for a small car, edging out its competitors with Golf-like composure. Volkswagen’s engineers have coaxed a comfortable character out of the Polo compared to the SEAT Ibiza – a car also using the MQB A0 architecture.
Unsurprisingly, it can still develop a rough edge on potholed roads or over nasty ridges in the tarmac, particularly with larger wheels fitted, but the overall the ride quality is very high, and basic models on 15-inch wheels ride very well indeed.
On A-roads and motorways, the Polo feels a much larger car than it actually is. Refined power units only assist in this regard, while wind and road noise levels are impressive, too.
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The trade-off is that some rivals are more fun when the road begins to narrow and twist. The steering itself on regular versions is sharp and direct enough, but devoid of feel. It’s the same deal with the pedal box and gearshift on manual models, revealing that the Polo is focused towards being as easy and as relaxing to drive as possible, rather than on providing outright fun. There is a balance between comfort and capability, but the bias is towards the former.
It does mean that the Polo works well in town, however. The good low speed ride paired to the direct, lightweight steering means that it shouldn’t be too terrible a place to be stuck in stop-start traffic.
As standard most Polo versions are equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox, with a six-speed transmission on the most powerful variant of the 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder unit. The basic engine is an older 1.0-litre MPI three-cylinder petrol without a turbocharger, developing 64bhp and only available on the entry level Polo S.
A sprightlier version of this engine with 74bhp also exists. The newer, turbocharged TSI 1.0-litre is available with either 94bhp or 113bhp, the latter equipped with a six-speed gearbox. These cars are available with a seven-speed DSG transmission as an optional extra.
Diesel options consist of a 1.6-litre TDI four-cylinder with two power outputs, both linked to a five-speed manual gearbox. On Beats and SE Polos, the unit develops 79bhp, while it gets a bit more power under the bonnet of the SEL car, with 94bhp on offer.
At the top end of the line-up, the new Polo GTI uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor lifted from the Golf GTI. However, power is capped at 197bhp and 320Nm of torque. The hot Polo is only available with a six-speed DSG gearbox for now, but a manual version is coming. Sports Select suspension is on the options list, serving up two-mode switchable, though not adaptive damping.
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Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The entry level, 64bhp, 95Nm MPI engine option can’t really overcome the sluggish performance suggested by its on-paper figures. Taking 15.5 seconds to reach 62mph, it feels a little out of its depth on motorways and dual carriageways, and you won’t want to rely on it for overtaking purposes. It’s probably a similar story with the 74bhp option, which takes 14.9 seconds to hit 62mph from standstill and is only marginally quicker, chalking up a top speed of 106mph to the 64bhp car’s 102mph official figure.
In almost every case, we’d recommend stumping up a bit more cash for one of the newer, more powerful 1.0-litre TSI units. In either 94bhp or 113bhp guise it delivers a dollop of refined performance, while the turbocharger means torque swells to 175Nm – there’s much more grunt to lean on and it’s easier to find when dropping down a gear to overtake.
It’s a peppy unit, but it’s impressively quiet at motorway speeds too. The 94bhp TSI car does 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds and tops out at 116mph. The 113bhp, six-speed car ducks under ten seconds to record 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds, with top speed clocked at 124mph.
We’d recommend leaving the seven-speed DSG automatic out of the equation, and stick with the slick and easy standard fit manuals. We haven’t sampled a diesel, though the 1.6-litre TDI offering under the bonnet is a proven unit. Diesel sales are expected to account for only a tiny fraction of Polos leaving showrooms, however.
As for the GTI, the familiar 2.0-litre motor serves up 197bhp and 320Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm, so there’s plenty of performance low down in the rev range, a competitive 6.7-second 0-62mph time and 147mph top speed. However, it does feel like it’s been reined-in so as not to step on its more powerful (and more expensive) Golf GTI sibling’s toes. In the DSG version, the step between second and third means the powertrain doesn’t feel as snappy as it might with a manual box, either.
The Volkswagen Polo’s high level of perceived quality is matched with strong safety features, culminating in a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP, with a 96 per cent score for adult occupants. Volkswagen’s Front Assist setup is standard on all models, enabling automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, as is a Driver Alert system. It monitors the driver, and alerts them to take a break, if erratic driving patterns are recorded.
Elsewhere on the options list, Blind Spot Detection with rear traffic alert is available on the Polo SE upwards, as is Park Assist, which automatically steers the car into a space – the driver only has to operate the brake and accelerator.
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Buyers can build on the standard Front Assist package with city autonomous braking by specifying the full PreCrash suite. This detects hazardous driving situations and attempts to minimise danger, by pre-tensioning the front seat belts, closing the electric windows and deploying the brakes if necessary. Adaptive cruise control is standard on the Polo GTI+, and optional on SE cars upwards.
Volkswagen provides a three-year/60,000-mile warranty but it’s worth investigating the small print. Years one and two are manufacturer cover with unlimited mileage, while year three is a 12-month/60,000-mile retailer warranty. Should you exceed 60,000 miles in the first 24 months, the manufacturer warranty will remain valid but the extra year will no longer be available.
An extended warranty is available for a fee, offering cover up to a maximum of five years or 90,000 miles. Body protection is good, the Polo’s internal body sections and panels covered against rusting through from the inside for 12 years. The paintwork is covered for just three years, though.
Volkswagen offers two servicing plans. The Fixed Service plan is recommended for drivers who will cover fewer than 10,000 miles a year, predominantly driving their Polo in urban environments and stop start traffic. The Flexible Service plan is aimed at drivers regularly chalking up more than 25 miles a day with plenty of motorway miles per year.
Though superminis are still wildly popular cars in Europe, more and more buyers are opting for five-door accessibility over three-door sportiness, and the Mk6 Polo is sold strictly with five-doors.
It’s a totally conventional supermini setup, boasting two full size seats in the front, and a bench style pew seating up to three in the back. Again, classic small car versatility means a highly and easily adjustable driving position – you’ll struggle not to find a comfortable setting, while the classy cabin is home to a decent amount of storage bins and cubbies.
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Visibility is good and it’s easy to get a sense of where the Polo’s corners are, though the thick C-pillars at the back are less than ideal. Parking sensors and a rear view camera system are on the options list at £315 and £250 respectively.
Using a modified version of the Golf’s platform called MQB A0, the Mk6 VW Polo grows in size compared to the fifth-generation car. Against the tape measure, it’s 4,053 long, 1,964mm wide, and 1,461mm tall. Compared to the Ford Fiesta, it’s longer, wider and shorter in height, while the 2,551mm wheelbase is longer than the Ford’s too.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
While that longer wheelbase doesn’t necessarily mean that the Polo holds a distinct advantage over the Fiesta when it comes to passenger space, it’s still a roomy car for the class. The modern, pared back dashboard layout means that space up front feels generous, while legroom and headroom in the back is good enough for adults too. Three in the back remains a tight fit though, as the transmission tunnel cuts noticeably into legroom for the middle passenger.
The Polo’s boot sizes up at 355-litres with the rear seats raised, meaning its neck and neck with the SEAT Ibiza and actually pips the Fiesta for practicality. It’s also a huge advance on the previous generation Polo’s 280-litre load space.
The rear bench folds forward with a 60:40 split, though the seats don’t go completely flat. The cargo bay expands to an impressive 1,125-litres with the seats lowered, firmly planting the Polo’s flag as a practical supermini.
With either of the 1.0-litre TSI units forming our favourite choices from a performance perspective, the turbocharged three-cylinder options make sense when it comes to fuel economy and emissions too. Volkswagen claims 64.2mpg for the 94bhp version, with CO2 emissions of 101g/km.
It doesn’t quite match the official 65.7mpg figure of the Ford Fiesta EcoBoost 100, though the difference is minute. In fact, head-to-head Auto Express testing has produced a 43.3mpg real-world figure for the Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE, and 42.0mpg for the EcoBoost Fiesta.
Opt for Beats or R-Line trim, and the figures take a slight hit owing to the additional weight of more equipment – official combined MPG drops to 62.8, with CO2 rising to 103g/km. Add the seven-speed DSG and the figures drop further still, but all Polo TSI models still claim over 60mpg officially.
The underpowered MPI units chalk up very similar figures. Both 64bhp and 74bhp versions officially return between 58.9mpg and 60.1mpg dependent on spec, with CO2 emissions fluctuating from 108-110g/km.
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Diesel options are the most frugal. Volkswagen claims 76.3mpg for the 79bhp 1.6-litre TDI engine with emissions of 97g/km, while the slightly more powerful 94bhp version of the same engine has been rated at 74.3mpg with 99g/km of CO2 from the tailpipe. Of course, the pricetag premium you’ll pay for one of the cheaper to run diesel options means that you’ll have to rack up many miles over the national average annually for it to make financial sense in the long run.
Unsurprisingly, the GTI will be the costliest Polo to run. Volkswagen claims 47.9mpg combined, with 134g/km CO2. That’s for the seven-speed DSG equipped GTI – the forthcoming six-speed manual should be a little more efficient.
From a tax perspective, all Polos bar the GTI slip into the £145 first year VED band when on standard fit wheels, with the hot hatch taxed at £205 for the first year.
Basic S and SE models with the underpowered 1.0-litre MPI engine will be very cheap to insure, as both the 64bhp and 74bhp rated versions sneak into insurance group 1. All cars fitted with our recommended 94bhp 1.0-litre TSI occupy a slot in group 8, with 113bhp cars stepping things up to group 12. The entry-level 79bhp 1.6 TDI diesel in SE trim sits in lowly group 6, stepping up to group 7 in more eye-catching Beats trim. The sporty GTI and GTI+ versions sit in groups 26 and 28 respectively.
Predicted residual values for the Polo are impressive, and experts expect it to retain more value the Ford Fiesta. Our pick – the Polo SE 1.0 TSI 95 – is the best choice in this regard, which is anticipated to retain 43.63 per cent of its value on average over three years.