Volkswagen Polo (2014-2017) Review
The Volkswagen Polo is a smart small car that’s easy to drive and efficient, but it’s not cheap, fun to drive or as roomy in the back as similar models
What's not so good
Volkswagen Polo (2014-2017): what would you like to read next?
The Volkswagen Polo – it’s a good car if you’re after a small hatchback with simple controls and a range of fuel-efficient engines. It’s comfortable, relatively practical and has that desirable Volkswagen badge on the front.
It was released in 2012 and updated in 2015 with new bumpers, a restyled dashboard and a new infotainment system. On the outside it looks much like its bigger brother – the Volkswagen Golf – and it’s more conservatively styled than similar small cars such as the Vauxhall Corsa, or even a Ford Fiesta. The Polo is more expensive than those cars, too, and the hit-and-miss interior quality is at odds with its posh exterior. It’s worth noting that the Polo is available in three-door and more practical five-door forms – both of which are covered here – and a powerful hot-hatch version, called the Polo GTI.
Considering the amount you pay, you’d expect the Polo’s interior to be made out of nicer plastics – but its infotainment system is one of the best out there. All Polos come with a colour touchscreen system as standard, which not only makes the dashboard look a bit more modern and less dull, but can mirror your smartphone’s sat-nav and media apps.
Speaking of equipment, the Polo is really well kitted out – so long as you ignore the entry-level S model. Go for the Match Edition version and you get everything you really need, such as a leather steering wheel, cruise control and all-round parking sensors.
The Polo is a good small car – it's just not the best small car
If you like to pack a lot into your small car then the Polo is definitely worth a look – the boot is a good size and shape for a small car, and up front there are big door bins and a large glovebox.
You better be ready for complaints from the back seats though – there’s not much headroom or knee room for tall adults, and if you regularly carry adults in the back then the Vauxhall Corsa is a roomier choice. The Polo should be safe though – as well as having a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating (albeit from the less stringent test in 2009), it’s available with some optional safety kit from the more expensive Golf.
The Polo is a doddle to manoeuvre around town thanks to a great view out, very few blind spots and light steering. It’s perfectly at home on the motorway so long as you avoid the weedy 1.0-litre non-turbocharged petrol engines. The best petrol engine is the 1.2-litre turbocharged option with 110hp because it’s smooth and powerful enough for a relaxed motorway cruise. Some of the Polo’s engines are available with a quick-shifting DSG automatic gearbox that takes the effort out of stop-start driving, but you can’t have an automatic Polo with a diesel engine.
The Polo’s suspension soaks up bumps pretty well but it doesn’t feel as fun to drive fast down a twisty road as a Ford Fiesta, but do you really care? It does most of the things that really matter including comfort, quietness and practicality – and does them well enough to make it a consummate all-rounder.
The Polo’s comfortable, easy to drive and comes with a choice of economical engines, but it’s not as much fun on a country road as a Ford Fiesta
The 1.2-litre petrol engine is fun – it's a shame the rest of the car isn't. It does get good fuel economy though
You can get the Polo with a range of petrol and diesel engines, as well as an automatic gearbox. You’ll want a petrol Polo unless you do lots of motorway miles because they’re cheaper, smoother, quieter and generally feel quicker than the diesel options – and still get decent fuel economy.
The best pick is the 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 110hp. It’s more than quick enough for motorway driving and still relatively economical with a claimed 63mpg – better than you’ll get from the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine in a Ford Fiesta. The Polo’s 1.2-litre engine is also the only petrol engine available with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox on Match Edition and Beats models.
There’s also a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine in the efficient BlueMotion model. With 93hp it’s quick enough and returns a claimed 68mpg – the only downside is that the BlueMotion is one of the more expensive Polo models to buy, and you can’t have it with an automatic gearbox.
The least powerful petrol engine is a non-turbocharged 1.0-litre engine with either 60 or 75hp. It’s not as economical as the 1.2, but is still pretty efficient – Volkswagen says the 75hp version is capable of returning 58mpg but, in day-to-day driving, you’ll achieve around 55mpg. Both versions are adequate for town driving, but aren’t quick enough to comfortably overtake other cars on a country road.
If you want more power from your petrol Polo then there’s also a 1.4-litre petrol engine with 150hp in the sporty BlueGT model, and a 1.8-litre with 192hp in the Polo GTI. It’s not worth buying the BlueGT really, because it’s just too close in price to the much-more-fun and more desirable GTI.
If you do want a diesel engine in your Polo you have one choice: a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine with either 75hp in Match Edition or Beats trims, or 90hp in top-spec SE L and R Line cars. Pick the 90hp version for motorway journeys because you don’t have to work it so hard and you’ll get closer to the claimed fuel economy of 83mpg in Match trim or 74mpg in SE L and R Line models. Annoyingly, you can’t get a diesel with an automatic gearbox.
Speaking of gearboxes, the Polo’s seven-speed automatic shifts gears smoothly once you’re on the move but can be a bit jerky at manoeuvring speeds. It’s available on the 1.0-litre turbo petrol, 1.2-litre petrol, the 1.4 in the BlueGT and the 1.8 in the Polo GTI. The manual gearbox is just fine, however – it feels a little notchy but isn’t going to get on your nerves in day-to-day driving and the clutch is light on all models.
The Polo is a very easy car to drive and live with. All-round visibility is great, you can see easily out of the back and there are hardly any blind spots so driving it through town is stress-free. The same goes for the clutch, brakes and steering – they’re all light and easy to use.
You won’t be jarred on a bumpy road in the Polo – its suspension does a great job of ironing out the bumps, but you do hear a bit of tyre noise at motorway speeds. Also, while the Polo corners securely there’s more body lean than you’ll get with a Fiesta, and overall it doesn’t feel as fun to drive as the Ford. But do you care? The important thing is that the Polo grips perfectly well even when you drive it quickly, and it’s comfortable over long distances.
The Polo was awarded a five-star safety rating when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2009. Just be aware that today’s crash tests are far more stringent than those in 2009, so a five-star car tested more recently may well be safer. That said, the Polo is available with optional automatic emergency braking which automatically slams the brakes on if it thinks you’re about to crash – although this only works up to 19mph.
The Polo’s interior is comfortable, the boot is usefully shaped, and the optional smartphone mirroring works really well – but the dashboard looks a bit drab and some of the plastics feel cheap