If there was an award for the most subtle face-lift ever applied to a car, the Volkswagen Polo would be a strong contender. Visual changes include some new chrome trim around the redesigned front bumper, but little else.
More significant tweaks have taken place both inside the cabin and under the skin. VW now offers its popular supermini with new infotainment and driver assistance systems.
It has also been fitted with a new electric power steering rack, and the engine range has been refreshed, with the old naturally aspirated 1.4 petrol being replaced by the turbocharged 1.2 TSI.
We’ve already tried the mightily impressive Polo 1.2 TSI, which is an excellent all-rounder. However, while that car returns an official 60.1mpg, this new 1.4-litre diesel version claims a massive 83.1mpg, potentially making it the default choice for those looking to lower their fuel bills.
There are two versions of the 1.4 TDI, but both share the same impressive economy figures. A 74bhp model is available from SE trim upwards, starting at £14,645 for the three-door. The model we are testing is the punchier 89bhp, which is available in SEL trim only and costs £1565 more.
Is it good enough to recommend over the smooth, refined, and slightly cheaper petrol model?
What’s the Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI like to drive?
Previous three-cylinder diesels from Volkswagen – particularly the 1.2-litre unit in the old Bluemotion – were notoriously rough and unrefined, but things have improved with this new version. Under hard acceleration there’s still a noticeable diesel clatter, but it settles down nicely when cruising.
It feels strong, too. There's plenty of urgency low down, which means you don't need to rev it hard to make decent forward progress. That's a good thing, too, because when you do rev the motor harder, acceleration quickly starts to tail off, and there's plenty of noise.
The narrow power band means you'll find yourself constantly changing gear to make sure the engine has enough shove to keep you moving forward at a decent rate. It feels less intimidating than the old 1.2 TDI Bluemotion when trying to keep up with traffic on the motorway, though, and driveability in town has improved.
The five-speed manual gearbox has a light, fairly precise shift that makes the Polo easy to drive. The ratios themselves are quite long, however, meaning you can only really use top gear once you're up to motorway speeds. Still, this economy-minded setup keeps the revs nice and low at 70mph.
Engine and road noise are both pretty well contained at cruising speeds, but you can’t help notice the wind whistling around the door mirrors - and it's a fairly constant companion.
Like other new Polos we’ve driven, this TDI model has slightly lowered suspension. That means body control is a little better when cornering, and its nose tucks into bends with a tad more enthusiasm.
However, the Polo doesn’t ride with the same compliance as before, and you'll notice it transmitting more bumps to the cabin, particularly at low-speed and on scruffier town roads. This engine is available only in SEL trim – which comes on 16-inch alloys as standard rather than the 15s you get on lesser versions. It’s not unbearable by any stretch, but it's just a shame that the Polo has lost what used to be one of its best assets, and rivals such as the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio both ride and handle better.
What’s the Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI like inside?
The headline addition to the Polo's cabin is that colour touch-screen infotainment systems are now standard across the range. A 6.5-inch display is standard from SE models upwards, and the SEL we tested also gets 16-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control and a front armrest.
Sat-nav can be specified on SE models and above for another £700, while Mirrorlink – which pairs the Polo up to the screen on your smartphone via various apps – is a £150 extra. At the moment it's not compatible with iPhones, which is something that VW hopes to remedy by early next year.
It is very easy to get comfortable because there's a wide range of adjustment to the driver's seat. The combination of the slick display, simple climate controls and new wheel-mounted buttons make the Polo a triumph of form following function. Some might accuse it of being dull or conservative, but it's hard to argue with when everything in the cabin works this well.
The 6.5-inch screen is intuitive, with sharp, clear graphics, simple menus and lots of functions. Sensibly, VW has kept the climate controls separate to the touch-screen, meaning you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to adjust the temperature.
Quality is very good, something that’s always been another big selling point for the Polo. Dense soft-touch plastics cover most surfaces, and it all feels tightly screwed together. The chunky steering wheel from the Golf has also been fitted, and its thick rim and soft-grain leather add an extra touch of class.
Space in the back is decent – better than you'd get in a Renault Clio or Peugeot 208 – and on a par with the Ford Fiesta. Four adults will be more comfortable than five, but that's true of any small car.
With 280 litres of space behind the rear seats, the Polo is not the biggest when it comes to carrying luggage. However it gets a split-level boot floor as standard, which means you can choose between a flat loading bay or being able to carry more stuff.
Should I buy one?
If your heart is set on a diesel supermini, you could do a lot worse than the new Polo 1.4 TDI.
This new engine is punchy at low revs and relatively refined, and although the Polo isn't as much fun to drive as a Ford Fiesta, it does have a quieter diesel engine.
The Renault Clio provides stronger competition, though, with a smoother and more flexible diesel engine. True, the Polo has a much smarter interior, but also costs more to buy.
The other issue with this high-powered 1.4 TDI model is that it’s only available in the expensive SEL trim, and it's £510 more than the superb 1.2 TSI 90, which is more refined, faster and efficient enough for most buyers.
So, for most buyers, the excellent 1.2 TSI is a much better buy. If you really must have a diesel, we'd point you in the direction of the excellent Renault Clio 1.5 dCi.
What Car? says...
Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI