New Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris vs Volkswagen Polo

As hybrids, the new Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris should be frugal, but are they as well rounded as a conventional small car such as the Volkswagen Polo? Let’s find out...

Honda Jazz vs Toyota Yaris vs Volkswagen Polo fronts

The contenders

NEW Honda Jazz 1.5 i-MMD Hybrid SR

List price £20,585
Target Price £20,052

All-new iteration of Honda’s unconventional small hatchback promises an unusually spacious interior and, like the Yaris, frugal hybrid power


NEW Toyota Yaris 1.5 VVT-i Hybrid Icon

List price £19,910
Target Price £19,445

One of the pioneers of hybrid small cars moves into a new generation with the promise of improved interior space and spectacular fuel economy


Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 Match

List price £17,970
Target Price £16,858

Eschews electrical assistance in favour of a regular 1.0-litre petrol engine, but the Polo has long been our favourite small car, majoring on comfort and interior space


Modern small cars have big responsibilities. They need to be good to drive, comfortable to sit in, affordable to run, safe, well equipped and, ideally, reliable. In short, only great all-rounders have a shot at class supremacy.

Honda Jazz 2021 rear

The Volkswagen Polo has been top of the pile since 2019, when trim revisions brought better value for money to the range and saw it leapfrog the closely related Seat Ibiza. Despite being more than three years old, there’s no question the Polo is still a fantastic buy, but there’s also little doubt that, in some respects, it’s starting to look like a bit of a dinosaur.

How so? Well, for one thing, it runs purely on petrol; there’s no electric version or even any hybrid assistance to improve fuel efficiency. But is that a dealbreaker? To find out, we’re pitting our favourite version of the Polo against two brand new hybrid rivals, both hailing from Japan.

The first is the all-new Toyota Yaris, a car that promises spectacular fuel economy, agile handling and ‘intelligent packaging’ to maximise interior space. But it’ll need to be a proper Tardis to match the larger Honda Jazz for practicality. This all-new model also promises to be more fun to drive than its overtly sensible predecessor.

Toyota Yaris 2021 rear

Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

The Japanese cars are what marketing folk have christened ‘self-charging’ hybrids. Both have small batteries that are charged up when the cars harvest energy that would otherwise be lost during braking. However, they can only store tiny amounts of electricity, so don’t go thinking you’re getting all the benefits of a plug-in hybrid without the need to trail cables.

True, they both have electric modes, and if the road is flat and you’re exceptionally gentle with the accelerator pedal, you might get a few hundred yards before the petrol engine kicks in. But in reality, the electric motor is there to work in tandem with the petrol engine, improving fuel economy (more on that later) and performance. If you want a hatchback with the ability to handle short journeys solely on battery power, you’ll need to look at the larger, pricier Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in or Seat Leon e-Hybrid.

Volkswagen Polo 2021 rear

On the whole, the two hybrids are smooth and easy to drive – especially because both come with automatic gearboxes. The type of gearbox they use (called a CVT) is particularly good when you’re pottering around town, because it means smooth acceleration with no jerkiness at low speeds. Even when you venture out of the city limits, they are perfectly agreeable; it’s only when you ask for a quick burst of acceleration that things become less so.

The acceleration does, after a small pause, arrive – but it’s accompanied by an immediate spike in engine revs, creating quite a racket. And the engine carries on revving away like a blender stuck on smoothie mode until you ease off the accelerator pedal as you reach your desired speed. The din is actually louder in the Jazz, although you feel more vibration filtering up though the pedals and steering wheel in the Yaris.

Couth it isn’t, but it’s effective enough. The Jazz can accelerate from 0-60mph in a brisk 8.6sec, so it never feels out of its depth on faster roads. The Yaris isn’t far behind, hitting 60mph in 9.0sec, although it always feels slightly less urgent when you put your foot down.

Honda Jazz 2021 front

If you’re worried we’ve forgotten there’s a third car in this matchup, fear not; it’s just that the Polo is so conventional in its approach that it needs less explaining. A 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine has sole responsibility for driving the car along, and you have full control over the engine revs, because there’s a clutch pedal and a manual gearbox with five gears to choose from (although for an extra £1390 you can have a seven-speed automatic).

The gearshift is light and pleasant to use, and if you rev the engine hard before changing up through the gears, the Polo comes within a whisker of matching the Yaris’s acceleration. There’s far less noise in the process, so in some ways the Polo is the least stressful to drive moderately quickly.

Even at a steady cruise, the Polo is easily the quietest of the trio, with the least wind and road noise making its way inside. There’s more wind noise in the Jazz, but the roar of the Yaris’s tyres makes it the rowdiest at 70mph.

Toyota Yaris 2021 front

The Polo is the best to drive in other respects, too, with a generally smooth and controlled ride – particularly at low speeds. The Jazz’s softer suspension initially fools you into thinking it’s even more comfortable, but hit a pothole or expansion joint and there’s a bigger bang, followed by a shiver through the body of the car. The Jazz is still one of the comfier cars in the class, though, wafting along on the motorway.

The Yaris is altogether firmer, following the contours of the road more closely and jostling you around in your seat as it does so. While it wouldn’t be fair to label it uncomfortable, it’s certainly not the best choice if a smooth ride is one of your top priorities.

Does the Yaris’s firm suspension help it dart around corners? Well, if you’ve read anything about the new GR Yaris hot hatch and are hoping for similar thrills, you’ll be rather disappointed. That’s not to say regular versions of the Yaris aren’t fit for purpose; they grip well enough and there isn’t too much body lean through corners. There just isn’t much sensation filtering up through the steering wheel, nor any real eagerness to change direction.

Volkswagen Polo 2021 front

Mind you, the same criticisms apply to the Jazz, and its taller stance translates to more body lean through tight twists and turns. You’d never describe it as remotely fun to drive, but it’s perfectly pleasant to steer around at moderate speeds.

The Polo isn’t exactly a thrill a minute, either (you’d be better off with a Ford Fiesta or an Ibiza if that’s a priority), but its more naturally weighted steering gives a greater sense of connection with the front wheels and it feels lighter on its toes.


Next: What are they like inside? >>

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