Both Volkswagen’s Golf and Polo have always been role models in their respective family hatchback and supermini classes. Thanks to high-quality interiors, excellent ride comfort, great levels of refinement and an understated but upmarket image, they’re the benchmarks to which their rivals aspire.
It’s a truth almost universally recognised among critics that the Golf is the “only car you will ever need”. It offers a great combination of quality, comfort, quietness, safety, practicality, equipment, driving dynamism and efficient engines in one affordable package without any real sacrifices.
The only real Achilles heel of the Golf is its price – you do pay a premium for the excellent package the Golf offers over its closest rivals and, as such, people may find it too expensive.
That’s why Volkswagen created the Polo – it offers most of the goodies the Golf has but in a smaller and more affordable package. If you’re going to buy a top-spec Polo, is it worth changing up to a lower-spec Golf? Let’s find out. Oh, and in case VW’s styling department has you confused, the Golf is on the left of all the photos on this page, and the Polo is on the right.
The styling for all Volkswagen cars is understated but classically elegant. They fly under the radar – that’s essentially where VW has got its ‘classy’ but ‘classless’ image from – and the Golf and Polo are no exception.
When the most recent Polo was launched back in 2009, it was in the market at the same time as the sixth-generation version of the Golf, and it was said that if you stood far enough away, the Polo looked exactly like the Golf, only smaller.
Now though, with this seventh-generation Golf in production, the gap between them in terms of their appearance has widened somewhat. The Golf has got an all-new exterior while the Polo only gained a very subtle face-lift in 2014. That’s not a bad thing though because the Polo was a good-looking car to start with.
This is where Volkswagens tend to out-do their rivals. The combination of the quality of the materials and switch-gear used, as well as the ease of use of the interior features really makes them stand apart from the rest of the field.
Between the two, the Golf has the more upmarket interior. This is mainly down to the wraparound dashboard angled towards the driver with its metal-effect or gloss-black trim, and the raised centre console.
The Polo has a more standard-looking dashboard and an almost non-existent centre console, apart from a protruding handbrake (the Golf has an electronic handbrake and accompanying button) and a few cup holders.
Another difference between the two is the amount of space inside them. Both have good levels of leg and headroom but, considering the Polo is narrower than the Golf, larger individuals who sit in the front passenger seat would have to tuck their arms and legs in a little because they could interfere with the driver’s gear changes.
There are no such problems in the Golf, especially in the rear where three adults could sit reasonably comfortably. Three adults could fit in the back of the Polo but only for short journeys – but this is generally the norm for superminis.
Also, because the Polo is smaller, it has less boot capacity – measuring at 280 litres with the seats up and 952 litres with the seats folded. The Golf, on the other hand, has a 380 litre boot capacity with the seats up and 1,270 litres with them folded down.
The equipment on offer for both cars in their entry-level guises is not exactly extensive, but you do get the likes of Bluetooth for connecting your mobile phone, DAB digital radio and a colour touchscreen as standard. The Golf gets air-conditioning as standard where the Polo does not.
This is where Volkswagen – and German manufacturers in general – start to gain an advantage over their international rivals because they tend to balance the art of frugality with power so well. For instance, the flagship Golfs – the GTD, GTI and R – produce up to 181hp, 227hp and 296hp respectively while still providing economy figures of 62.8mpg, 47.1mpg and 40.9mpg respectively.
The engine in the flagship Polo GTI manages 47.1mpg on the combined cycle, but it still produces 189hp – enough to sprint from 0 to 62mph in just 6.7 seconds.
However, Volkswagen does produce more frugal engines for both the Golf and Polo. The Golf BlueMotion has a 1.6-litre diesel returning 88mpg and emitting just 85g/km of CO2, and the Polo BlueMotion gets a 1.4-litre diesel returning 91.1mpg and 82g/km of CO2 – both qualify for free VED (road tax).
There are other petrol and diesel engines available for both models, each being economical and reasonably powerful. One reviewer even said the 148hp 2.0-litre diesel in the Golf provides “pace” that could only be found in sports cars – but even that still averages 68.9mpg on the combined cycle.
Both the Golf and Polo are great cars to drive, but they do lag behind the likes of the Ford Focus and Fiesta for driving entertainment. Critics think this is largely due to the steering not having quite as much feel or the chassis being not quite as adjustable or communicative as the Fords.
That’s not to say their systems are bad, however, far from it – their steering is light, as is the clutch pedal and the manual gearbox is very slick, making driving both the Golf and Polo very easy. The optional six- and seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic gearboxes are also very quick and smooth, making driving even easier if they’re specified. Also, both cars provide good levels of body control as well as providing plenty of grip.
Where the Golf and Polo excel above all else is in refinement and ride comfort – both cars are very refined thanks to excellent sound deadening. There’s little intrusion from road and wind noise coming into the cabin, and both cars are extremely comfortable – the Golf arguably more so. One road tester even described the Golf as being “almost ghost-like” when driving over bumps. Others even say the Golf is more comfortable than considerably more expensive luxury cars.
Over rough surfaces, the Polo can feel a little unsettled at times and, if a wheel drops into a pot-hole at speed, a noticeable ‘thud’ can come through to the cabin. The Golf cushions the blow a lot better, but this doesn’t mean the Polo is uncomfortable – it’s definitely more comfortable than its supermini rivals such as the Kia Rio and Citroen DS3.
Both cars get five-star Euro NCAP safety ratings thanks to the plethora of protective and preventative systems Volkswagen has thrown at both cars.
The Polo comes with the likes of traction control, emergency city braking, anti-whiplash headrests, electronic stability control (ESC) and a post-collision braking system which locks the brakes after you have an accident so you don’t become involved in another.
The Golf gets the likes of a lane departure warning system, the same post-collision braking system as the Polo, a pre-collision braking system that tenses up the seat belts and closes any windows or the sun-roof if the car thinks you’re about to have an accident, emergency automatic braking and automatic distance control which stops you driving too close to the car in front.
Which one should I buy?
When looking at their prices – the Polo costs from £11,250 and the Golf from £17,175 – the Polo seems the logical choice because the price gap is fairly large. Considering the Polo is effectively a smaller Golf, and it offers most of the toys and safety tech the Golf offers, it represents fantastic value.
For some, however, the Golf will be the better car to own – its interior feels more special, it’s more practical and, out on the road, it feels more refined and composed – essentially everything that matters for ordinary, everyday driving.
The Polo is a great car, make no bones about it. Against its nearest rivals, it out-performs them in almost every way and, if it’s specified with the right options, it’s not bad value at all. But the Golf is a special car, and for that, it definitely warrants its near £6,000 price premium over the Polo.
If you’re thinking of buying a Polo, it would definitely be a great purchase and no one would question you for it, but if you have the extra cash to splash and could use the space then definitely stretch to the Golf if you can. You won’t regret it – and the gap between the two can be reduced using carwow to bring the Golf’s price down.
That’s all Volks!
Check out our full reviews of the Volkswagen Golf and Polo then head over to our car configurator so see how much you could save on each. Don’t forget to check out our car deals page for our latest discounts, too.