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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For Quality build; good safety kit; roomy; strong residuals

Against Expensive to buy; dull cabins; questionable reliability

Verdict Pricey, but it deserves its classy reputation

Go for… 1.2 S 5dr (65bhp)

Avoid… 1.4 TDi Dune 5dr

Volkswagen Polo Hatchback
  • 1. Suspension and axle faults are common
  • 2. Gearboxes are known to cause problems on Polos
  • 3. There's plenty of room inside for four adults
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Volkswagen Polo Hatchback full review with expert trade views

The Polo feels very grown-up for a little car, but it’s more about comfort than fun. Road and wind noise are largely shut out and the ride is cushy, for example, but it lurches through quick corners.

Inside, there's enough space for four adults, but the accommodation isn’t class-leading. At least the boot is sizeable, although it has a high lip, which is a pain to lift heavy loads over.

And, while we're talking about pain, in the cheapest models the seat height is fixed and it’s too high for some; and, the seats are generally soft but fail to give all-round support. At least the steering adjusts for reach and rake.

Perhaps the Polo's biggest problem is that prices are high. But, they're offset by slow depreciation and a decent showing for safety - twin airbags are standard and the Polo gained four stars out of five from Euro NCAP for protecting its occupants in a crash. However, its one star of a possible four for pedestrian protection is poor.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Watch for engine management issues

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

Our choice is the mid-trim S model with the 65bhp 1.2 engine, but don't bother with the 55bhp 1.2 because that’s a bit slow. The more powerful model is most commonly teamed with the entry E trim, which has only central locking and a CD player.

Instead, track down a car with S trim, which adds air-con, electric windows and door mirrors. Or, for more go, move up to the 1.4 petrols (standard and FSI).

Alternatively, there are four diesels: two versions of a 1.4 giving 70bhp and 80bhp, and two 1.9s offering 100bhp or 128bhp. Of these, the 80bhp 1.4 and the 100bhp 1.9 are strong and frugal, but the entry 1.4 is weak and the more powerful 1.9 is totally unsuited to the Polo’s ‘don’t rush me’ road manners.

The top-end trim levels are SE and Sport. The first adds remote central locking, alloy wheels and an alarm, while the Sport also has stiffer suspension, but you can get everything that's great about the Polo in one of the cheaper trims, so there's little point in spending any extra.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Diesels are the retail choice, but there are plenty of 1.2 petrols around

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Although dear to buy, Polos shouldn’t cost much to run and, come trade-in time, you should recoup a fair bit of what you originally paid - the Polo’s glossy image means it loses value more slowly than most.

Spares are reasonably priced and servicing will be, too, provided you steer away from main dealers and their sky-high labour bills. All models need servicing annually or every 12,000 miles, which is par for the course, and the What Car? Reliability Index, compiled by Warranty Direct, says repairs on Polos are reasonably priced.

Insurance and fuel economy are fine, too. The 55bhp 1.2 slips into insurance group 2 and everything else is group 5 or less, except for the 128bhp 1.9 turbodiesel, which is group 8.

All manage 40mpg with ease and the diesels promise 50mpg on a long, gentle run. Bear in mind, though, that the FSI petrol needs to be filled with super unleaded.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Watch for engine management issues

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

The Polo may have an upmarket image, but according to the JD Power Customer Satisfaction survey, the reality is a little differernt. Owners love the reliability of the Polo’s rivals such as Yaris, but the VW struggles. True, it’s nowhere near the worst in class but owners register a fair few gripes, mostly concerning the suspension and engine.

Look at the What Car Reliability Index and the story’s similar: the Polo gets only average ratings. Gearbox, clutch and driveshaft faults show up as problems, along with axle and suspension faults and electrical glitches.

Gearboxes on older Polos are a known source of trouble and it seems that the problem has passed to the newer generation.

Otherwise, the 1.4 petrol can suffer with ECU trouble (which is difficult and expensive to fix) and too many cars have needed new dampers early on.

Finally, water leaks into the cabin also plagued a few cars from new but we’d expect those to have been cured by now.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Diesels are the retail choice, but there are plenty of 1.2 petrols around

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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