Volkswagen Polo Review
The Volkswagen Polo is a small car that’s comfortable to drive and has a spacious, plush cabin, but it’s far from exciting to drive.
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Upmarket for a small car
- Comfortable to drive
- Big boot for a car this size
What's not so good
- Alternatives are more exciting to drive
- Basic petrol engines are sluggish
- Desirable features cost extra
Volkswagen Polo: what would you like to read next?
There’s a lot of Russian dolls going on in manufacturer car ranges these days. Cars tend to look similar on the outside, but the great thing is that big-car luxury is making its way down to smaller models. The Volkswagen Polo is evidence of that – glance at it and you’d be forgiven for think it was the firm’s large and more expensive Golf.
And it’s the same on the inside. For a small car, the Volkswagen Polo is very comfortable and practical, with a distinctly upmarket feel to it. Inside, there are swathes of soft, squidgy plastics, as well as a range of colourful dashboard trims to brighten up its cabin even further.
It all helps to give the Polo a real big-car feel – one of the main reasons why it picked up the Little Legend Award at the 2018 carwow awards, seeing off alternative small cars such as the Skoda Fabia, Seat Ibiza and Ford Fiesta.
It’s easy to get comfortable inside the Polo, as there’s plenty of seat adjustment on its front seats and more headroom than you’ll find in alternatives. Things are equally comfy in the back, and as the Volkswagen Polo has rear doors, climbing into the back seats is a breeze.
Every version of the Volkswagen Polo comes with a slick 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with crisp graphics and responsive, intuitive menus. And, as long as you avoid the most basic S trim, this system also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. But the Polo’s party piece is its 12-inch Active Info display – an optional digital screen that replaces the conventional dials.
The Polo proves being a jack of all trades is no bad thing – it’s so good you have to wonder why anyone would buy a VW Golf.
You can get the Volkswagen Polo with a range of petrol and diesel engines and most come with a manual gearbox. However, if you go for a 1.0 TSI petrol engine, you also have the option of a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
Go for the turbocharged 95hp 1.0-litre TSI. Not only does this engine have some useful extra power, it’s also more economical than the basic engine. That said, if you do lots of driving on the motorway, it’s worth considering one of the 1.6-litre diesels.
The Volkswagen Polo is also impressively relaxing to drive. It’s comfortable around town and tackles twisty country lanes with confidence. OK, so it’s not quite as much fun to drive as the SEAT Ibiza, but the Polo is quieter on the motorway and less bouncy on bumpy roads.
Furthermore, all Polos come with automatic emergency braking that’ll apply the brakes if it senses an obstacle on the road, and as such, a full five stars crash rating from Euro NCAP.
So, if you’re looking for a small car that’s safe, spacious, well built, comfortable and available with bundles of cutting-edge tech, the Polo should be right at the top of your shortlist.
The Volkswagen Polo has a smart, upmarket cabin and feels impressively well built for such a small car. Unfortunately, plenty of desirable features aren’t standard
It might look small on the outside, but the Volkswagen Polo is impressively roomy on the inside. The boot’s very spacious too, but you’ll still have to remove a bike’s front wheel before it’ll fit
The latest Polo is so roomy it'll make you wonder if you'd ever need the larger (but not much more practical) Golf…
The latest Volkswagen Polo is much more spacious inside than the old model. It’s so spacious in fact that it runs the larger VW Golf very close in terms of outright roominess.
There’s loads of space in the front and plenty of adjustment to help you get comfy, even if you’re tall. All the controls are within easy reach and it’s dead easy to tweak the steering wheel position to give you a good view of the digital instrument display.
Things are just as roomy in the back seats. There’s almost as much leg and headroom as in a Golf and far more space than you’ll find in a Vauxhall Corsa or even the Skoda Fabia. Your taller passengers will have no trouble getting comfy and there’s enough space under the seats in front for them to tuck their feet under, too.
The Volkswagen Polo is one of the best small family cars for carrying three abreast. It’s still a little cosy with three adults on board but the central seat’s reasonably wide and there’s only a small lump in the floor to get in the way of your middle passenger’s feet.
The Volkswagen Polo comes with five doors as standard so you won’t have to jump out to let your friends climb in the back and it’s a breeze to fit a child seat using the standard Isofix anchor points. These anchors are clearly marked but you’ll have to be careful not to lose their removable plastic covers.
The Volkswagen Polo’s large front door pockets have no trouble holding a large and a small bottle each and the glovebox is reasonably roomy, too. The cupholders beside the handbrake are fair if not particularly generous and there’s a sliver of extra storage under the centre console for your phone.
The rear door bins are big enough to carry a large bottle and the front seats come with some fabric seat-back pockets too, but there’s no folding rear armrest.
The Volkswagen Polo’s 351-litre boot is a massive 71 litres larger than the old car’s and has 21 litres more space than the practical Skoda Fabia. The Polo has a slight boot lip which can get in the way when you’re loading heavy items but its square shape makes it easy to pack full of large boxes.
With the rear seats up there’s enough room to carry a baby buggy or two suitcases and there’s a selection of handy tether points and hooks to keep smaller items secure.
You can flip the back seats down using the latches beside the headrests without having to worry about lifting the seat bases up first – unlike in the old Volkswagen Polo. Entry-level cars come with a single folding bench seat while Highline versions get a two-way (60:40) split seat instead. This’ll let you carry as many as two passengers and some long luggage in the boot at once.
With the rear seats folded, the Volkswagen Polo has an almost flat load bay – there’s no annoying step in the floor like in a Corsa. This makes it easy to slide heavy boxes right up behind the front seats. There’s enough space to carry a bike too, but you’ll have to remove one of its wheels first.
The Volkswagen Polo is a breeze to drive around town and reasonably quiet on the motorway but you couldn’t call it exciting and its entry-level petrol engines are weedy
It might not be as sporty as a SEAT Ibiza but the Polo feels a bit more grown up – like a Golf that’s been zapped by a shrink ray
You can get the Volkswagen Polo with a range of petrol and diesel engines and with either a manual or an automatic gearbox.
The entry-level non-turbocharged 65hp and 80hp 1.0-litre petrol engines are best avoided – they feel sluggish around town and will struggle to keep up with fast-moving traffic.
The 95hp turbocharged 1.0-litre model is a much better bet. It’s fairly quiet around town (although it does grumble slightly when you accelerate hard) and feels much less strained at motorway speeds. In fact, it’s so good that the range-topping 115hp petrol seems unnecessary.
The Volkswagen Polo is available with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, which will give your left leg a rest in heavy traffic but can be a little jerky at slow speeds – particularly when you’re trying to park.
The top-of-the-range 95hp diesel is available with the same automatic gearbox. It (or the lesser 80hp diesel) makes sense if you’re a high-mileage driver. They’re noticeably louder than the petrol Polos around town but they have more effortless grunt that makes them feel better suited to motorway driving.
The Volkswagen Polo is easy to drive around town thanks to its light steering and good visibility. The relatively slim pillars (where the front doors meet the windscreen) don’t block your view out at junctions and its large rear windscreen helps make parking a doddle, too. For a little extra peace of mind, pick a Highline car – they come with parking sensors as standard.
To really show off to your passengers (or if the thought of parallel parking fills you with dread) you can get a system that’ll steer the car into tight spaces all on its own – all you have to do is operate the pedals.
The same system can also steer you out of spaces and as you head out of the city you’ll find the Volkswagen Polo is impressively comfortable for such a small car. Even in top-spec models (with larger 17-inch alloy wheels) you won’t be shaken too much by monster potholes and it doesn’t lean excessively in tight corners either.
You can pay extra to get adaptive suspension but the standard Polo’s more than comfortable enough, and the addition of a Sport setting in a supermini feels a bit superfluous.
It isn’t as fun to drive as a Ford Fiesta but the Volkswagen Polo is more grown up at motorway speeds. It does a good job of muting both wind and tyre noise and it feels impressively stable for a small car.
Euro NCAP crash-tested the new Polo in 2017 where it scored the maximum five stars. part of the reason for that was that even entry-level S models come with automatic emergency braking that’ll stop (or try its best to stop) the car for you if it detects an impending collision.
Adaptive cruise control (that can adjust the Polo’s speed to match cars in front then return to a preset speed once the road’s clear) is available across the range as an option, too.