The Volkswagen Golf is extremely popular for good reason. It has a high-quality cabin, great tech, space for four adults to sit comfortably and a boot that’ll handle all their luggage. It also manages to be premium without being showy – a difficult thing to do.
However, before you sign on the dotted line, spare a thought for the Volkswagen Polo. The two models have never been as close in quality and tech, and the Polo isn’t much smaller in terms of space for passengers and luggage either.
It is cheaper, though, and might be all the car you really need, so if you’re unsure about which to go for, read on and let us help you make your mind up.
Volkswagen is famous for making classless cars, and both the Golf and Polo wouldn’t look out of place outside Selfridges or Sainsbury’s. Of course, you can make your car look more luxurious or sporty depending on what you like.
The VW Golf’s looks haven’t changed much over the years, but the Mk8 is the biggest departure for some time. It’s frowning face is more divisive than before, but it still manages to look solid and classy, while its standard alloys and LED lighting front and back keeps things upmarket.
The Polo is the older of the two models and has a more traditional grille design. Some would call it bland next to other superminis, but like the Golf, it certainly won’t offend anybody. In fact, for some, this reserved classy look is just the ticket. That said, entry-level models come with steel wheels and halogen lights, so you need to jump a trim to make it as classy at the Golf.
Both cars have an R-Line trim if you want a sportier look. This brings larger alloys wheels, a more aggressive body kit with rear diffuser and chrome tailpipes and gloss black details.
Interior style and infotainment
VW Golf interiors have long been sturdy, high quality and easy to use. The same is true of the Mk8 model, although VW has turned up the tech to 11.
Indeed, you’ll find loads of squishy plastics, sturdy buttons and air vents and chrome and piano black accents, but also two screens, one handling the infotainment and the other the driver’s digital instruments. You can upgrade the infotainment screen to a 10-inch unit for extra, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard from the second-rung trim.
The Polo isn’t quite so technologically advanced as standard, although you can add much of it as an option if you wish. Like the Golf, an 8-inch screen is standard, but unlike the Golf it can’t be upgraded, and while analogue dials come as standard, you can upgrade to a digital set. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t standard either, but are present and correct on the second-rung trim.
Otherwise, the Polo really isn’t far off its more expensive stablemate for quality inside. Sure, some of its plastics lower down are a bit scratchier, but everything you regularly touch has the same feel of sturdiness.
Space and practicality
On the outside, the VW Golf is bigger. Comparing the cars’ dimensions side-by-side, the Golf is around 20cm longer, 4cm wider and 1cm taller than the Polo.
But the best choice in terms of practicality entirely depends on your circumstances. Do you spend the majority of time in the car on your own or with one passenger? Do you often carry young kids or adults in the back seats? How reliant are you on a car’s boot?
If you’re often on your own or with one passenger then there’s really no need to look beyond the Polo. It has all the space two people could need in the front, a comfy, adjustable driving position and decent storage options.
If you often carry adults or baby seats in the back then the Golf’s larger rear quarters will come in useful. It has slightly better head and legroom for adults in the back, while getting a child seat followed by a child inside is easier with the Golf’ slightly larger openings.
The Golf’s boot is slightly larger too, although the Polo’s will be big enough for the majority of people. You’ll still fit a couple of large suitcases plus some softer bags in the Polo, but if you’re regularly filling your boot you might be glad of the Golf’s extra 10% over the Polo day-to-day.
Both boots have great access, a nice square shape and adjustable boot floors depending on the model, though, so they are just about as practical as you can get amongst hatchbacks of the same size and price.
Where the Golf’s more recent update really shines through is with engine choice. While the Polo makes do with traditional petrol and diesel options, the latest VW Golf comes with mild-hybrid, petrol and diesel options.
If you’re always slogging it up and down the motorway with work then a diesel is a better bet. Both the 115 and 150hp versions of VW’s 2.0-litre diesel feel quick enough and return very agreeable fuel economy figures.
However, the majority of buyers would be best-off with VW’s mild-hybrid petrol engine, the eTSI. It combines a 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine with clever electric gubbins to help take the strain off when accelerating. All this means smooth, quiet petrol power, with better fuel economy and just enough performance. Lovely.
Both the Golf’s six-speed manual gearbox and seven-speed auto are some of the best of their kind.
The Polo’s choices are more straightforward – there are no diesel models and only three petrols. The best of those is the turbocharged 1.0-litre with 95hp, which feels strong enough in and out of town without ever getting raucous. That said, it does come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, so if you’d prefer six you’ll need to buy the 115hp version instead.
The way the two cars drive is very similar. In town, you’ll be glad of the Polo’s slightly smaller dimensions when threading through town and parking, but both offer great visibility and soak up lumps and bumps well. Out on the motorway, the Golf is maybe a little more settled, but the Polo is still extremely confidence-inspiring for a small car.
Neither the VW Golf or Polo are held up as being the most fun cars of their kind to drive on a country road, but both grip hard, turn into corners crisply and ultimately feel safe when cornering quickly.
Both cars come with automatic emergency braking as standard, while the Golf gets automatic cruise control thrown in too. In both cases you can upgrade to a system that will accelerate, brake and steer to keep you in lane should you wish. The Golf and Polo performed strongly in their respective Euro NCAP crash tests when compared with alternatives.
Both of these cars are at the top of their game, so it’s impossible to make a bad decision. There are better fits for different needs, mind you.
If you’re often making use of the back seats and boot go for the Golf. It also has better standard infotainment and latest engine tech, but will cost you more to buy outright or via finance. Even then, it’s great residual values mean it compares favourably with other family cars.
But that’s where the Polo comes in. If you’re often on your own in the car and have a stricter budget the cheaper Polo might be the better choice. It’ll be an easier car to live with day-to-day in tight urban environments and has 95% of the Golf’s quality inside. It’s a small car that feels like a big one.
Costs and deals
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