Small diesel cars have fallen out of favour in recent years, for a couple of significant reasons.
Firstly, they’re expensive for manufacturers to produce, particularly as emissions standards become ever more strict. That cost is passed to you, the consumer, making the average diesel supermini a great deal more expensive than its petrol counterpart.
The second reason is that petrol cars themselves have made such strides in economy, driveability and performance that even the best modern diesels now once again sound and feel a bit agricultural next to a good petrol.
And since petrol is cheaper than diesel, you have to do tens of thousands of miles to make up the cost deficit. Most buyers, keeping their car for three or four years, will never make that money back. That’s before you even consider that diesels really aren’t at their best around town – economy suffers on short journeys, and diesel particulate filters can quickly fill up and cause problems.
So, a car like the Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI SE has a difficult job to do. It must be significantly better to drive than the petrols and be a great deal thriftier on fuel to overcome the extra cost.
At the risk of spoiling the verdict further down, we’re not so sure it’s quite that good.
The Polo is a great car, without a doubt. It feels more like a car from the class above, is well-built, has a comfortable cabin, and in SE spec plenty of equipment. Even navigation in our test car, though you pay £700 extra for that. It also nips around corners with little fuss (though little fun) and rides better than many rivals.
But it’s not quite as convincing in diesel format. Firstly, while this model achieves a claimed 83.1mpg, the reality of our test was closer to 65mpg. Excellent in its own right, but only 5-6mpg better than we achieved over the same route, on the same day, as the much cheaper 1.0 petrol SE.
The diesel is quicker, of course, by a couple of seconds to 60mph, but it’s less pleasant in the way it goes about getting there. There’s more noise than the ultra-refined 1.0 petrol (or the quicker 1.2 TSI), there’s more vibration, and acceleration isn’t as linear. It makes the Polo difficult to drive smoothly – under gentle acceleration little happens, so you give it some more gas and all of a sudden surge off towards the horizon.
That could get annoying around town – and if you’re driving in town, the economy gap is likely to be even less apparent. And if you’re swayed by the diesel’s tax benefits, don’t be: it may be free each year, but £20 for the 1.0 or the 1.2 TSI will hardly break the bank.
There’s nothing deal-breakingly wrong about the 1.4 TDI Polo, and driven ultra-gently it’ll no doubt make a mockery of most cars on the road in terms of economy.
But the price you pay to get there – £14,645 for our 3-door 1.4 TDI SE test car – seems like too much for a car that isn’t as good to drive as its petrol counterparts and won’t really shame them on economy in regular day-to-day driving. Ultimately it’s still a Polo, and therefore a very good car – but it isn’t the best Polo, and doesn’t deserve your money as much as the excellent, smooth and frugal petrols.
Pick your perfect Polo
Use the carwow configurator to build a Polo using this 1.4-litre diesel, or any of the other engines on offer. Then you can sit back and wait for the friendliest Volkswagen dealers in the UK to send you their best offers!