Volkswagen sold over quarter of a million Polos in Europe last year, making it the fourth best-selling car behind VW’s own Golf, the Ford Fiesta and the Renault Clio.
Quarter of a million people didn’t buy the Polo because it’s exciting, or spectacular to drive, or aspirational. They bought it because it’s affordable, practical and has a dependable badge on the nose. That it was the third best-selling supermini in Europe despite both the Fiesta and particularly the Clio being newer designs is testament to the draw of VW’s stalwart small car.
Earlier this year, the Polo range received a facelift and a selection of new and updated engines. The model you see here, a 1.0 75 in SE trim, is one such new engine and is expected to be one of the biggest sellers.
A mere one-litre engine in a car the size of the Polo sounds like a recipe for disaster, but customers are clearly undeterred. Car reviewers may scoff at the lack of performance – a whole 14.3 seconds to 60mph and a 108 mph top speed – but the average supermini buyer cares not for these things. The 1.0 may be slow, but it’s also frugal (58.9mpg) and in SE trim, has a nice mix of affordability (£13,590) and equipment levels.
To that end, our car came with a touchscreen display, 15-inch alloy wheels, a leather multifunction steering wheel, several ways of hooking up your personal electronic devices, and manual air conditioning. Since the base S model lacks most of these features it’s easy to see why buyers are prepared to pay the extra.
And while VW’s 1.2 TSI engine also available is excellent, you probably won’t suffer with the 1.0. It doesn’t feel notably less lively than it does in the smaller, lighter VW Up. You only notice the Polo’s extra weight on particularly taxing hills, but elsewhere the combination of a willing motor, slick gearshift and light controls makes it a breeze to drive – particularly around town.
It handles neatly, and while there’s little feedback through the steering wheel it’s accurate and quick enough to twizzle at a moment’s notice. The brakes are strong and predictable and there’s enough grip for most. It even feels at home on the motorway, where mid-50s mpg at 70mph is a realistic proposition. In gentler inter-city driving a figure in the 60s may not be so far away and around town, traffic would have to be particularly dire to drop from the 40s.
The Polo remains as practical as ever too, particularly with this five-door model. There’s a decent boot, a set of comfy seats and good visibility.
The Polo will never tempt the truly enthusiastic driver but its grown-up feel, refinement and in 1.0-litre form its economy are all attractive characteristics.
You’ll have more fun in a Fiesta, a Peugeot 208 feels more special and innovative and if you really wanted to save money, there are cheaper superminis out there. But if you want to toddle around town in a car that’s trendy, comfortable and feels built to last, it’s hard to recommend anything else.