You’re looking here at the sixth-generation Polo. It might look just like the Mk5 that was first seen in 2009, but this is VW’s clean-sheet redesign of its ever-popular supermini. It’s everything you’d expect of a Volkswagen: solidly constructed, easy to drive, efficient and safe, but unexciting. Volkswagen has given up on three-door Polos so all Mk6 models have five doors, while there’s some cutting-edge tech available as standard or as an extra-cost option. There are cheaper cars out there that are more engaging to drive and offer more flair, but few small cars feel as safe and secure as the Polo.
Volkswagens are renowned for their no-nonsense cabins and the Polo is no exception. You can’t fault the usability as everything is clearly laid out – the instrumentation, switchgear and dash are all easy to understand. The seats are comfortable and supportive despite the lack of hefty bolsters, and because the Polo is no longer a truly small car – and because it’s got a surprisingly high roofline – there’s more head and legroom in the back than you might expect. However, while there are belts and headrests for three in the back, the seat profile means the Polo is best viewed as a four seater.
Textured plastic is all over the place, although clever design ensures the interior doesn’t look or feel cheap. There are plenty of cubby holes but the boot is no better than average with its 280-litre capacity. The Polo comes with a full-size spare wheel as standard, although the Polo SEL gets a space saver instead.
One of the reasons why Volkswagens are more costly than most rivals is because of the strength of construction. So in the event of a collision the Polo should look after you pretty well.
As well as eight airbags the Polo features a full suite of electronic safety systems across the whole range. These include auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and hill hold assist. It’s not until you move up to the Polo SEL that front and rear parking sensors are included.
Volkswagen offers an array of extra-cost options that you can specify on most Polos. These include adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, front and rear parking sensors, a rear parking camera and park assist. This last one will park your Polo for you, although you have to operate the pedals and gears; the car just takes over the steering.
You’re likely to be choosing between two different engines: a 1.0-litre petrol unit with or without a turbo (badged TSI and EVO respectively), or a 1.6 TDi diesel. There’s also a 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre unit in the Polo GTi, which will probably be out of reach.
Around town the non-turbo 1.0-litre Polo is fine. On the motorway it’s stable and very quiet at 70mph, but it doesn’t feel as though there’s much left in reserve, so while it’s got enough power for urban work, we’d be aiming for anything above this.
The turbocharged 1.0 TSI is noticeably perkier, and so is the 1.6 TDI. Both are rated at 94bhp, although in Polo SEL trim the 1.0 TSI engine is tuned to 114bhp, so it’s even more spritely. The 1.0-litre engine’s flexibility means it’ll sit at 30mph in fifth, but it could do with a bit more low-down muscle.
All manual gearboxes have just five speeds, apart from the Polo GTi and the 1.0 TSI when it’s in 114bhp form. The posher trim levels (SEL and R-Line) get this more powerful version of the turbocharged 1.0-litre engine, whereas in the SE it comes only in 94bhp form – which is plenty.
The rest of the driving experience is unexciting but very straightforward, with a slick gear change, light (but rather numb) steering and the controls are all ideally weighted. So while you won’t have much fun driving a Polo, there’s also nothing that’ll faze you.
Volkswagen might have a reputation for being mean, and the Polo isn’t lavishly equipped, but what you get is of a decent quality. Even the entry-level Polo S gets an eight-inch touch-screen display with Bluetooth, DAB radio and six speakers. You can plug your Apple or Android phone in with the supplied cable or stream music via Bluetooth.
All Polos come with Volkswagen Connect, which is an app that enables your car to talk to your phone. As a result you can then access a complete history of your car such as maintenance carried out, all journeys undertaken, a fuel consumption log and you can even set yourself challenges such as efficiency or driving style targets, with a view to constantly improving your scores.
Move up to a Polo SE and Volkswagen also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto software for better integration of your phone’s functions via the touch-screen display. Buy a Polo SEL and you also get navigation along with Volkswagen Media Control, which allows you to control the infotainment system via your phone or tablet. Voice activation for your phone and (if fitted) navigation is an extra, available on all Polos except the entry-level S edition.
The Volkswagen Polo is a semi-premium car and list prices are higher than for many rivals. At just under £14,000 our test car is the cheapest Polo you can buy and it feels too basic. If you move up to a turbocharged 1.0 TSI engine you also have to jump up a trim level (to SE), which we’d very much recommend – or you could buy a 1.6 TDI diesel instead.
While S trim brings air-con, steel wheels, eight-inch touch-screen multi-media with DAB and a full suite of safety systems, the SE adds 15-inch alloy wheels, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors, plus uprated multi-media and instrumentation.
Insurance costs should be low for the cheapest Polo as it sits in group 1; the 1.0 TSI is group 8-11 while the 1.6 TDI is group 6 or 7. While the 1.0 engine in naturally aspirated or turbocharged forms is rated at 45-50mpg, the 1.6 TDi boosts this to 55-60mpg depending on spec.
The entry-level Polo 1.0 S does the job okay, but it’s rather uninspiring and if you’re on a tight budget we’d be inclined to shop elsewhere. But if you can stretch to a 1.0 SE, or even better a 1.0 TSI SE, the Polo is well worth a closer look. But by this point the cost is beginning to mount, and even more so if you choose the ultra-economical 1.6 TDi diesel, which we’d also put on the shortlist. A seven-speed automatic gearbox is available, but only with the 1.0 TSI engine. If you’re fine with a manual gearbox, go for the 1.0 TSI SE or a 1.6 TDi SE.