Always one of the classier superminis, the new Polo comes into a small car sector bursting with hot new models. How does it compare to the best?
On the road
On the road
The Volkswagen Polo has always been the sensible and grown-up choice among superminis. The Ford Fiesta is the one that’s most fun to drive, while the Citroen C3 or the new Nissan Micra – our CCT100 Supermini of the Year – both look funkier. But the new Polo is, as ever, the classier and more premium take on a small car, with VW majoring on its reputation for quality and comfort.
That’s set to continue with this sixth generation of a car that can already claim more than 14 million sales worldwide. VW has focused on giving its latest supermini more safety, space, technology and comfort, in only a five-door hatchback bodyshell. That’s because the sector has moved away from three-doors, with the Polo following on from the likes of the Nissan Micra, Renault Clio and others in dropping the less practical alternative.
Two diesels and four petrol engines make up the launch line-up, with a 200hp GTi hot hatch Polo also in the pipeline. The biggest seller will be the most efficient petrol model: the 1.0-litre 95hp TSI SE driven here which manages a CO2 output of 101g/km. The range starts with the 65hp and 75hp versions of the 1.0, while there is also a 115hp TSI engine as well as the 80hp and 95hp 1.6-litre diesels. The lesser-powered diesel is the most efficient model in the range at 97g/km and an official combined 76.3mpg. However, given the looming four-band BIK penalty, the 1.0-litre petrol is a no-brainer for company use, unless you’re doing an astronomical annual mileage – in which case you should probably be in something bigger than a Polo in the first place.
That’s not to say the Polo struggles with high mileage, in any way, because it really doesn’t. It feels like a bigger car, and as long as you don’t need to regularly carry four people or large amounts of luggage it almost clouds the argument for the larger Golf. The new car has grown, with the wheelbase up by 94mm over the previous Polo’s, and it’s both wider and taller than the fourth-generation Golf that was sold here until 2003. In addition, the boot is up from a relatively paltry 280 litres to a more generous 351, which makes a real difference to the Polo’s ability to serve as the lead car in a household.
Despite the new Polo sporting typically VW evolutionary styling, it is an all-new car rather than a revision, and the sleeker and narrower nose and headlights give away the new one much more than the rear end design manages. VW describes the new look as more dynamic thanks to more use of styling creases, but it’s not an earth-shattering departure. Still, this makes sense given the car’s previous success, and the way the brand has evolved models such as the Golf, and the shorter overhangs are designed to give it a more dynamic appearance.
The inside is more of a change, with a new horizontal axis for the central infotainment and dashboard information screens that has also involved shifting the centre air vents downwards, which is radical for Volkswagen. The interior is suitably high-quality, especially across the dashboard, although it’s noticeable that there are cheaper plastics evident further down the cabin. Nevertheless, stowage is good, including big door bins, and there’s enough rear space for adults.
Safety is a priority for Volkswagen, and the Polo achieved the maximum five stars in its Euro NCAP crash test last year, including a 96% adult occupant protection score. The city emergency braking and front assist systems are, impressively, standard on all Polos, along with a driver-alert system and hill hold, while adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection with rear traffic alert and the park assist system are all reasonably priced optional extras at £600, £255 and £435 respectively. Other kit on the entry S trim level includes an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with DAB radio, manual air-conditioning and connectivity via the Volkswagen Connect app that allows the driver to check fuel levels, mileage and service intervals, analyse business and private journeys including mapping and cost, check driving style and monitor fuel consumption, among other functions.
Moving up through the trim levels, SE adds alloy wheels, rear electric windows and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, while Beats trim is a tie-up with the audio brand that adds bonnet decals and upgraded audio system. The SEL gets two-zone climate control, satellite-navigation, front foglights and chrome detailing inside and out. The top (at least until the hot hatch GTi arrives this summer) R-Line trim level adds a styling pack, electric folding door mirrors and rear privacy glass.
To drive, the Polo is really very unremarkable – and that is genuinely meant as a compliment. Everything about the experience seems designed to happen without being noticed; the car has been set up to be forgettably pleasant. From the steering and gearchange to the ride, refinement and engine performance, everything is just there and does its job nicely without any fuss or drawing attention to itself. It’s maybe not the most interesting or characterful car in its class, but it acts like a grown-up rather than a needy child drawing attention to itself. There are no irritations in the driving experience, which is a real achievement in itself. The opposite of showy, it’s classy and understated, and just gets on with doing its job, which includes acting like a bigger car in terms of long-distance comfort and all-round ability.
That unflappable mentality continues through to the on-paper case for the new Polo. A huge batch of superminis sit around the 37p per mile area, and the Polo is at the sharp end of that, despite starting with a higher P11D price than its less prestigiously branded rivals. Residuals are predictably higher than those of the volume-badged competition, and service, maintenance and repair costs are kept well under control. On top of all that, the Polo isn’t nearly as expensive as its reputation might suggest in terms of list price; it costs just £15 more than a 100hp Ford Fiesta Zetec in this 95hp 1.0-litre SE trim.
The fact that autonomous emergency braking is fitted as standard also helps the insurance cost, with the entry 65hp 1.0 in insurance group one – the lowest possible. And while emissions are just the wrong side of 100g/km, which has an effect on monthly BIK payments, the 95hp petrol engine is still better than its diesel alternatives in terms of company car tax, while offering enough performance to feel a long way from underpowered. Unsurprisingly, Volkswagen expects 95% of Polos to have a petrol engine under the bonnet, while 30% will go into the company car sector.
Fundamentally, Volkswagen has done what it does best with the new Polo. There’s nothing striking or revolutionary about the new supermini, but everything is just that bit better, more advanced and nicer than in the previous car – all of which is certainly not a criticism. It has been the previous recipe for success that would certainly seem set to continue.
The Polo was Volkswagen’s second-best selling car in the UK last year, behind only the Golf in the manufacturer’s line-up. It was also the UK’s number three supermini, beaten by the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, and the seventh most popular car in the country overall.
The new car is the sixth generation of a nameplate that dates back to 1975, and this latest model is the first to be offered with no three-door option. This continues a trend seen with other manufacturers, which are offering their superminis with only a more practical five-door bodystyle.
The Polo started life in 1975 as a rebadged version of the Audi 50, with more than 500,000 finding homes. The second-generation car – the three-door estate shape (pictured) – was launched in 1981; it took the Polo past one million sales in 1983, and on to a second million in 1986.
The third generation of 1994 introduced the basic styling that can be traced through to present day, although the fourth generation (2002-2009) reverted to the round headlights seen in the first two models. The fifth iteration of the Polo ran from 2009 until last year, and is the only version to have been named European Car of the Year.
What they said
What They Said
"For us in the UK, Polo is second only to Golf in sales. Unsurprisingly, in this segment retail is more dominant than fleet (the opposite of how things are for Golf) but, nonetheless, the new car holds more appeal for business users than ever."
"It is now larger, with class-leading space. It is also at the cutting edge of technology and connectivity, and is the only car in its class to offer the option of fully digital, high-resolution instruments. Its TSI engines are dynamic and fuel efficient and therefore, combined with strong RVs, contribute to very low whole-life costs."
Michael O’Shea, head of fleet, Volkswagen UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
The front-end styling, while not dramatic, is sleeker and sharper
The little LED running lights don’t look much, but show up brightly
Interior quality is classy - the bits higher up and in your eyeline at least
...And one we don't
The rear-end styling is the area where there’s the least difference over the old car
The Polo is an all-rounder, and the driving quality almost passes you by thanks to its bigger-car competence and feel.
A shade over the 100g/km mark for this version, but in the right area overall for emissions.
Passenger and boot space are both reasonable without being top of the class, although the cabin does have a decent amount of stowage.
The trim levels offer sensible walk-ups in terms of price and spec, although some option prices are a touch more premium than rivals’.
Typically for Volkswagen, the new Polo is very much an evolution and takes a second glance to spot that it’s all new. At least everyone recognises it as a Polo though.
Comfort and refinement 9/10
The archetypal grown-up small car; the Polo is capable of handling miles, and life, like a bigger model.
Excellent quality, especially in higher-up areas of the cabin. Some cheaper plastics are evident in the door bins and other lower areas.
Looks good and is functional, but the VW Group needs to cure the postcode entry on the satnav system to avoid pointless extra inputs for UK addresses.
Whole life costs 9/10
There’s less than a penny between several excellent players in this market, and the Polo is right at the sharp end despite a higher price than most. Decent SMR cost, too.
CCT opinion 8/10
The grown-up choice. Not the most exciting to drive, but feels higher-quality than most rivals.
Typically Volkswagen in the approach of gentle improvement, the new Polo is better than its predecessor in every way, and a classy option.