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Used test: Honda Jazz vs Toyota Yaris vs Volkswagen Polo

The latest Jazz and Yaris are hybrids, while the Polo sticks to petrol power, but which of these small cars makes the best used buy?...

Honda Jazz vs Toyota Yaris vs Volkswagen Polo fronts

The contenders

Honda Jazz 1.5 i-MMD Hybrid SR

List price when new £20,585
Price today £18,000
Available from 2020-present

With hybrid power and strong practicality, the Honda Jazz promises to be a doddle to live with

Toyota Yaris 1.5 VVT-i Hybrid Icon

List price when new £19,910
Price today £18,000
Available from 2020-present

A class leader for fuel economy, yet the Toyota Yaris is also rather capable in the corners

Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 Match

List price when new £17,970
Price today £15,000
Available from 2018-present

The VW Polo does without electrical assistance, so does it feel dated amongst its peers?

*Price today is based on a 2021 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

The automotive industry moves at a fast and furious pace, and no car is ever safe from flash new competition for very long. The Volkswagen Polo knows this all too well: it took only two years after its release for the latest Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris to emerge with hybrid tech to entice punters into their respective showrooms.

Honda Jazz 2021 front

But before you call the Polo a dinosaur and proceed to throw your wallet at the Jazz or Yaris, remember the bigger picture. A car is more than just a tech showcase and, as comprehensive packages, these two still have a lot to live up to – it's no secret that the Polo is one of the most well-rounded and polished small cars in the class.

The proof, as always, is in the pudding, hence we've decided to get these three together and let them battle it out. And to make things even more interesting, our trio are used buys of two years old. This knocks around £2000 their respective prices compared with new – you're welcome. Read on to find out which car proves victorious.

Toyota Yaris 2021 front


Performance, ride, handling, refinement 

The Jazz and Yaris 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 (PHEV) 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.

Volkswagen Polo 2021 front

On the whole, the two hybrids are smooth and easy to drive, especially because both come as automatics. The type of gearbox they use (called a CVT automatic gearbox) is particularly at home 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 Honda Jazz although you feel more vibration filtering up though the pedals and steering wheel in the Toyota 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 rear

If you’re worried we’ve forgotten there’s a third car in this matchup, fear not – it’s just that the VW 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 you can opt for a seven-speed automatic instead).

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 rear

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 Toyota GR Yaris (the hot hatch version of the Yaris) and are hoping for similar thrills, you’ve unfortunately got the wrong idea. That’s not to say regular versions of the Toyota Yaris aren’t fit for purpose: they grip well enough and there isn’t too much body lean through corners, making them capable when the road gets twisty.  

Volkswagen Polo 2021 rear

The taller stance of the Honda Jazz 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 VW Polo isn’t exactly a thrill a minute, either, 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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