Entry-level petrol power comes from ageing 1.2-litre three-cylinder engines. The 84bhp 1.4 engine is better, while the torquey 1.2 turbo, the 1.4 turbo (which sometimes shuts off half its cylinders to save fuel) and the turbocharged and supercharged 1.4 in the GTI are stronger still. The diesel engine range includes 1.2- and 1.6-litre units, but the emphasis here is firmly on economy rather than performance.
The Polo isn't as much fun as a Ford Fiesta because there's a fair amount of body lean through bends and the steering has an inconsistent weighting that's feather-light one second and too heavy the next. Bumps can cause a bit of bounce, but the ride is very supple and very comfortable.
Some wind noise builds up at motorway speeds, but road noise is kept to a minimum and the 1.2 turbo and 1.4 turbo engines have so much oomph that you rarely need to rev them hard. The non-turbo 1.4 is also pretty refined, but the three-cylinder 1.2s are downright noisy. The diesels are disappointingly clattery and transmit some unpleasant vibrations through the pedals.
The Polo may be a premium product, but it's surprisingly affordable to buy and run. In fact, prices actually undercut those of many mainstream rivals. Some petrol versions are a tad thirsty, but the diesels are frugal. What's more, few superminis have a better image or are as desirable. This explains why the Polo has some of the best resale values of any car in its class.
There's little to rival the Polo for quality at this end of the market. All models have an impressively upmarket feel, with dense, soft-touch plastics covering the dashboard and solid-feeling switchgear. The reliability record of Volkswagens is generally pretty solid, too, even if the Polo's reliability was rated as merely average in the 2012 JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
Curtain airbags cost extra, but every Polo has front and side airbags as standard, as well as stability control. It also scored five stars and an excellent 90% for adult safety in its Euro NCAP crash test. The usual deadlocks, visible vehicle identification number plate and security-etched parts are fitted as standard.
Few superminis rival the Polo's simplicity and fine ergonomics. Clearly labelled instruments and large dials, buttons and switches, plus a well-ordered centre console make all help make the Polo exceptionally user-friendly. There's a massive range of adjustment for the driver's seat and steering wheel, while all-round visibility is excellent.
The Polo has a decent amount of space in the front, but several rivals have more room in the back. The cabin is pleasantly airy, though. The boot isn't the biggest in the class, but it’s large enough for most people's needs. Some models have a false floor that can be removed to create a surprisingly deep hold, while you can also lift the rear seat bases and fold down the seatbacks to create more space.
The regular trims are S, Match and SEL. S is pretty basic, but gives you electric front windows, central locking and a CD player. Match adds alloy wheels, remote central locking, electric rear windows (on five-door models) and air-con. SEL models have extra stowage, upgraded upholstery and trim, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. R Line brings sporty visual touches, while the range-topping GTI models have a semi-automatic gearbox as standard.
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The VW Polo 1.4 85 Match is the Polo to go for. It has a decent engine and you get all the kit you need at a fairly reasonable price.