Volkswagen Polo review

Category: Small car

The Polo is one of the best small cars around, but rivals undercut it on price

VW Polo front cornering
  • VW Polo front cornering
  • VW Polo rear cornering
  • VW Polo interior dashboard
  • VW Polo boot open
  • VW Polo interior driver display
  • VW Polo rear right driving
  • VW Polo front left driving
  • VW Polo front right driving
  • VW Polo rear right driving
  • VW Polo rear driving
  • VW Polo headlights detail
  • VW Polo alloy wheel detail
  • VW Polo rear lights detail
  • VW Polo interior front seats
  • VW Polo interior back seats
  • VW Polo interior steering wheel
  • VW Polo infotainment touchscreen
  • VW Polo interior air-con controls
  • VW Polo interior detail
  • VW Polo front cornering
  • VW Polo rear cornering
  • VW Polo interior dashboard
  • VW Polo boot open
  • VW Polo interior driver display
  • VW Polo rear right driving
  • VW Polo front left driving
  • VW Polo front right driving
  • VW Polo rear right driving
  • VW Polo rear driving
  • VW Polo headlights detail
  • VW Polo alloy wheel detail
  • VW Polo rear lights detail
  • VW Polo interior front seats
  • VW Polo interior back seats
  • VW Polo interior steering wheel
  • VW Polo infotainment touchscreen
  • VW Polo interior air-con controls
  • VW Polo interior detail
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Introduction

What Car? says...

The Volkswagen Polo has always been highly regarded, but for most of its life it's played second fiddle to its big brother. You know the one we’re talking about – the iconic Golf.

This latest Polo, though, is the biggest and best to drive yet, so while it remains a small car, it's far from overshadowed by VW's incredibly popular family car. Add to that its classy, roomy interior and it's hardly surprising that it's a huge seller in its own right.

Those traits also help the Polo to stand out against a seriously accomplished crowd of rivals, including the very practical Honda Jazz, the comfort-focused Skoda Fabia and the sporty Seat Ibiza.

So is the VW Polo still a contender among the best small cars out there? That’s what we’ll tell you in this review – read on to find out how we rate it.

Overview

The VW Polo is a great all-rounder that's smart, comfortable and roomy inside, and good to drive. While it has a higher list price than some small cars, that’s largely offset by competitive monthly finance rates and strong resale values. However, hybrid rivals offer better fuel economy and the Skoda Fabia is even more comfy and refined.

  • Good to drive
  • Generous interior space
  • Attractive PCP finance deals
  • Fiddly touch-sensitive controls
  • Gutless entry-level petrol
  • Reliability could be better
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Our Pick

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Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI Life 5dr review
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

Our pick of the VW Polo’s engine line-up is the 1.0-litre TSI 95 petrol. While its 94bhp output might sound a bit weedy and the 0-62mph time of 10.8 seconds is not that brisk, it pulls strongly from low revs. We think it makes the more powerful 1.0 TSI 110 petrol, which has 109bhp, seem an unnecessary expense.

We’d advise you to avoid the entry-level 1.0-litre 80 petrol engine. Unlike the TSI engines, it doesn’t have a turbocharger, so you’ll need to work it really hard to get any kind of decent acceleration, which can make journeys rather tiresome.

There's also a hot hatch version of the Polo – you can read about that in our VW Polo GTI review.

Suspension and ride comfort

The Polo is one of the smoothest-riding small cars you can buy. Around town, it deals with pockmarked roads better than the Seat Ibiza, and even if you drive over a particularly nasty crater, it stays surprisingly composed. Only the most comfort-oriented versions of the Peugeot 208 and Skoda Fabia offer a smoother ride.

It’s a similar story when you venture on to a motorway. The Polo remains calm enough, with only a tiny amount of fidgeting over small imperfections (something pretty much all small cars are prone to). Indeed, on smoother stretches of road you could be mistaken for thinking you’re driving a family car.

VW Polo rear cornering

Handling

If you really enjoy driving and want something fun and agile, you'll be better off looking at the Ibiza, which gets firmer suspension, sharper steering and generally more playful handling. Or, of course, there's the hot hatch version, the VW Polo GTI (which we've reviewed separately). 

Volkswagen Polo image
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That’s not to say the regular Polo isn’t competent through corners. Far from it – it’s surefooted, with plenty of grip and well-weighted steering that allows you to thread it confidently through a series of bends, even at quite fast speeds. So, if you simply want something that’s composed and easy to drive, you’ll be pretty happy.

Noise and vibration

Although the Polo's engines make themselves heard when you're accelerating, you don't feel too much vibration filtering up through the pedals or steering wheel.

What’s more, the Polo does a better job than most rivals of suppressing wind and road noise, although the Fabia is a fractionally quieter motorway cruiser.

The five-speed manual gearbox you get as standard with most Polo engines has quite a slick action, making it easy to drive smoothly. Alternatively, a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox is standard with the TSI 110 and optional on the TSI 95.

“The DSG auto gearbox is a tad jerky at very low speeds, but it shifts smoothly the rest of the time, so I'd definitely consider it if I was buying a Polo.” – Chris Haining, Sub-editor

Driving overview 

Strengths One of the best-riding small cars; good to drive on a twisty road; good turbocharged engines

Weaknesses Entry-level engine is gutless; some rivals are more fun to drive; automatic gearbox isn’t great at low speeds

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

Driving position and dashboard

You shouldn’t struggle to get comfortable in the VW Polo because all versions provide a generous amount of driver’s seat and steering-wheel adjustment. The standard seats fitted to Life models could do with a bit more side support – something you get from the sports seats in Style and R-Line models.

Those top two trim levels also come with standard adjustable lumbar support, a feature you have to pay a small premium for with entry-level Life and Match (and we'd recommend you do).

The air-con controls depend on the trim you pick too. Lower-spec Life and Match cars get more user-friendly physical controls, while Style and R-Line have more sophisticated dual-zone climate control, but with a fiddlier touch-sensitive interface.

Visibility, parking sensors and cameras

Unlike the Peugeot 208, the Polo benefits from relatively slender pillars both front and back, as well as tall, wide windows all around. With such an unobstructed view, you’ll find it straightforward to place the car on the road and see what’s approaching at roundabouts and T-junctions.

To help when parking, all Polos come with rear parking sensors, but you’ll need to step up to Match trim if you want a rear-view camera. If you’d like front parking sensors, you’ll need to opt for one of the two top trims or add them as a rather expensive option.

You get basic LED headlights on Life and Match models. Style trim upgrades them to matrix LED headlights, which can move the beam away from other drivers, allowing you to keep the main beam on without dazzling them.

VW Polo interior dashboard

Sat nav and infotainment

As standard, every Polo has an 8.0in infotainment touchscreen in the middle of its dashboard, with built-in sat-nav included if you go for Style or R-Line trim. Even so, you get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring across the range, so you can display your favourite phone navigation app on the screen instead.

The Polo’s standard touchscreen offers high-quality graphics and responds quickly enough to your prods. To help you navigate the system with a little more ease, there are touch-sensitive shortcut buttons around the screen.

All trim levels come with a fairly average six-speaker sound system. For better sound quality, you can upgrade to the optional Beats sound system, which gives you a punchier experience with six speakers and a subwoofer.

Quality

The interior of the Polo is a pleasant place to be, with plenty of soft-touch materials across much of the dashboard. You'll find very few scratchy plastics. Whichever trim you go for, you get a leather steering wheel and gearknob, giving it a more upmarket feel than the Skoda Fabia and Suzuki Swift.

Indeed, in some respects, the Polo is classier inside than the pricier Audi A1. Only certain versions of the Peugeot 208 and Mini are better, with more plush materials lending them that extra touch of luxury (but also increasing their price tags).

As you’d expect from a VW model everything feels as though it’s been screwed together well, with all the buttons, switches and stalks feeling solid and built to last.

“Don't bother forking out for the 9.2in Discover Pro touchscreen upgrade; it's expensive and doesn't really improve usability.” – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Interior overview

Strengths High quality interior; good all-round visibility

Weaknesses Fiddly touch-sensitive controls in higher trim versions; entry-level seats could do with more side support

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Front space

The VW Polo is among the roomiest small cars. Tall adults will have plenty of head room in the front, and if you slide the front seats back on their runners, there's more leg room than you’ll find in a Renault Clio or Toyota Yaris.

The Polo’s interior is broader than in the Clio and Peugeot 208, so there’s no danger of you rubbing shoulders with your front passenger. In fact, you’ll find more space in the latest Polo than in a VW Golf from just a few years ago.

Beyond that, you can cram quite a bit in the Polo's front door bins, the glovebox is a reasonable size and there’s a handy cubby in front of the gearlever that's ideal for stowing a wallet, smartphone and keys. Only the Honda Jazz offers notably more.

Rear space

The Polo is surprisingly roomy in the back – a pair of 6ft adults will fit with leg and head room to spare.

Predictably, as with most small cars, sitting three adults side by side is a bit of a squeeze, but the Polo is still slightly better at this than the Seat Ibiza. If you want even more space for your rear passengers, look at the very spacious Jazz.

When it comes to storage space in the back, each door has a generous-sized bin, and you'll find good-sized pockets on the backs of the front seats. There's no centre rear armrest though.

VW Polo boot open

Seat folding and flexibility

All Polos have 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, something the vast majority of small cars come with as standard. 

You get a height-adjustable front passenger seat on all trim levels, although there's no option to have a folding front passenger seat to carry extra-long loads. Nor does the Polo have the Jazz's super versatile and clever cinema-style flip-up rear seat bases.

Boot space

The Polo’s boot is up there with the best small cars for practicality, with a capacity of 351 litres. It’s also a good square shape and has a height-adjustable floor. If you lift the floor to its highest setting, there’s no lip at the boot entrance.

On paper, it’s around the same size as the Peugeot 208’s, comfortably bigger than the Renault Clio’s and only marginally smaller than in the Skoda Fabia. As a result, you’ll easily be able to fit a buggy or a decent weekly shop below the parcel shelf.

“Unless you're an audiophile, I wouldn't bother with the optional Beats audio system; if you specify this, the boot floor is permanently set in its highest setting (to accommodate a speaker beneath) meaning you have less room for luggage.” – Steve Huntingford, Editor

Practicality overview 

Strengths Plenty of boot space; generous front and rear space

Weaknesses The Honda Jazz’s rear seats are more versatile

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2

As a cash purchase, you can expect to pay slightly more for the VW Polo than you will for a lot of its rivals, including the Renault Clio, Seat Ibiza and Skoda Fabia. It should depreciate slower than all those rivals though, helping to keep PCP finance rates competitive. You can check the latest prices using our New Car Deals pages

In any case, you’ll pay less for the Polo than for the hybrid-powered Honda Jazz or Toyota Yaris, or the premium Audi A1.

Officially, our favourite engine – the 1.0 TSI 95 – will manage between 52mpg and 54mpg, depending on which gearbox you go for. However, if fuel efficiency is a priority, it's worth bearing in mind that the hybrid Jazz and Yaris will both return much better MPG figures.

Equipment, options and extras

We’d go for the entry-level Life trim because it keeps costs down but still gets you a respectable amount of standard equipment. That includes 15in alloy wheels, air conditioning, automatic windscreen wipers, heated and power-folding door mirrors, as well as the 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system. 

Upgrading to the mid-spec Match trim won’t cost you much more, so we wouldn’t blame you for making the jump. That trim adds larger 16in wheels, tinted rear windows, wireless phone-charging and a reversing camera.

At the top of the range, you have two trims – Style and R-Line. They both cost the same and come with 16in alloy wheels, adjustable lumbar support, dual-zone climate control and a 10.25in digital cockpit. Style adds matrix LED headlights while R-Line gets sportier styling.

VW Polo interior driver display

Reliability

Volkswagen didn't do particularly well in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, claiming 22nd place out of the 32 brands featured. That's way below Toyota in second place, Honda in sixth and Hyundai in seventh, but still just above Renault.

Things were a little better for the Polo as a model, where it placed near the middle of the 18 strong field in the small car category. It managed to draw with the Ford Fiesta (which is going off sale) but placed below most rivals except the A1 and Ibiza.

You get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty as standard with every Polo, as well as the option of extending it to four or five years for a reasonable price. That’s fairly par for the course, but Toyota gives a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty if you service your car each year at an authorised centre.

Safety and security

The Polo was awarded the full five stars for safety by Euro NCAP when it was tested in 2022. Diving deeper into the results shows that the Polo scored a fair bit better than the Ibiza for protecting adults in the front.

You get a decent amount of standard safety equipment on the Polo, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance, speed-limit recognition and a system that monitors driver drowsiness.

“In our real-world tests, the five-speed manual version of the 1.0 TSI 95 Polo averaged 46mpg, which is slightly better than the figures posted by the equivalent Ibiza and Fabia.” – Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor

Costs overview 

Strengths Lots of standard equipment; strong resale values; efficient engines; 

Weaknesses So-so reliability record; more expensive to buy than many rivals


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FAQs

  • If you’re after a small car that’s comfortable, good to drive and quite practical, the Polo is a good choice, but it's also worth checking out our best small cars guide.

  • The Polo is a great car in almost every area, but it loses out to some of its rivals when it comes to reliability and cost.

  • It depends whether you need a small car or a family car. The Polo is cheaper but not as practical as the larger VW Golf.

At a glance
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Target Price from £19,783
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From £16,784
RRP price range £20,975 - £30,195
Number of trims (see all)5
Number of engines (see all)4
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol
MPG range across all versions 43.5 - 54.3
Available doors options 5
Warranty 3 years / 60000 miles
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £1,159 / £1,971
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £2,318 / £3,943
Available colours