What Car? says...
The Volkswagen Polo has always been highly regarded, but for most of its 47-year history it's been in the shadow of its bigger brother. You know the one we’re talking about, of course: the iconic Golf.
This latest-generation Polo is finally finding the spotlight, though, having brought the gap between the two models closer than ever. That's because it has grown up considerably over the years.
Indeed, Volkswagen has made today’s model bigger than ever and better to drive. Add to that a classy, roomy interior along with tempting finance deals, and it's hardly surprising that it's such a huge seller.
Choosing the right model for you should be pretty straightforward. For starters, you can only have the standard Polo with a 1.0-litre petrol engine, although it's available in three different power outputs. (If it's the hot hatch variant you want, see our full VW Polo GTI review.)
And there are just three trim levels. The range kicks off with entry-level Life trim, which gets you a reasonable amount of standard kit. From there, you can choose whether you want more luxury with Style trim, or to make your Polo a bit sportier with R-Line. Style and R-Line cost the same, so it really comes down to your priorities.
It can't ignore the premium offerings in the class, either, including the closely related Audi A1 and the Mini 5dr. In this review, we'll tell you how the Polo stacks up against its rivals in all the key areas, and we'll also fill you in on which engines and trim levels make the most sense.
Whichever small car you decide is right for you, make sure you check out our free What Car? New Car Buying service. You’ll find big discounts on most makes and models of car – including some of the best VW Polo deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Our pick of the Volkswagen Polo’s engine line-up is the 1.0-litre TSI 95. While its 94bhp output might sound a little weedy, this engine actually pulls strongly from low revs thanks to how promptly its turbocharger spins into life. In fact, it makes the more powerful 1.0 TSI 110, which has 108bhp, seem an unnecessary expense.
We’d advise you to avoid the entry-level 1.0-litre 80 engine, though. 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. This can end up making journeys rather tiresome.
If you’re after a Polo with hot hatchback levels of performance, see our full separate review of the VW Polo GTI.
Suspension and ride comfort
The Polo is one of the smoothest-riding cars in the class. Around town, it deals with pockmarked roads better than the Ford Fiesta and 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 car from the class above.
If you really enjoy driving and want something fun and agile, you'd be better off looking at the Fiesta or Ibiza. Their firmer suspension, sharper steering and more playful handling make them more fun on twisty roads. The Polo's optional sports suspension helps level the playing field, but only to a degree.
That’s not to say the Polo isn’t competent through the corners with its standard suspension. 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 quite happy.
Noise and vibration
Although the Polo's engines make themselves heard when you're accelerating, you don't feel too much engine vibration filtering up through the pedals or the steering wheel.
The Polo also does a better job than most rivals of suppressing wind and road noise on the motorway, although the Fabia is a fractionally quieter cruiser on the motorway.
Better still, the five-speed manual gearbox is slick and the Polo is easy to drive smoothly. If you go for the optional seven-speed automatic (DSG) gearbox, you'll find it a little jerky at very low speeds but it shift smoothly the rest of the time.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
You shouldn’t struggle to get comfortable in the Volkswagen Polo: 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 we'd recommend you do).
If you stick to Life trim, you get user-friendly air conditioning controls. Style and Life models have more sophisticated dual-zone climate control, but also introduce a more fiddly 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.
Front and rear parking sensors are standard if you opt for Style or R-Line trim, but are a fairly pricey option with entry-level Life. If you want extra assistance when reversing, a rear-view camera is an optional extra across the range.
You get basic LED headlights on Life and R-Line models. However, Style trim gets you a full LED upgrade, with an impressive 'matrix' feature that moves the beam away from other drivers, allowing you to keep the main beam on without dazzling them. You can add matrix LED headlights to other trim levels but they aren't a cheap option.
Sat nav and infotainment
As standard, every Polo has an 8.0in touchscreen in the middle of its dashboard, with built-in sat-nav included on all trims except entry-level Life. Even so, you get Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring across the range, so you can display your favourite phone navigation app on the screen instead.
The Polo’s 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. We wouldn't bother forking out for the expensive 9.2in Discover Pro upgrade.
All trim levels come with a fairly average six-speaker sound system. Audiophiles in search of better sound quality will want to upgrade to the optional Beats sound system, which gives you six speakers and a subwoofer. It sounds punchy, although the B&O stereo in the Ford Fiesta is even better.
The interior of the Polo is a nice place to be, with plenty of soft-touch materials across much of the dashboard and few scratchy plastics anywhere that you’ll see or touch often. Every Polo comes with a leather steering wheel and gearknob, making it feel more upmarket than, for example, the Skoda Fabia.
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 Volkswagen, everything feels as though it’s been screwed together well, with all the buttons, switches and stalks feeling solid and built to last.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Polo’s interior is also 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. Talk about progress.
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.
The Polo is surprisingly roomy in the back – a pair of six-foot 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 and the Ford Fiesta. If you want even more space for your rear passengers, look at the Tardis-like 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.
Seat folding and flexibility
All models have 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, something the vast majority of small cars also 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 clever cinema-style flip-up rear seatbases that feature in the Jazz.
The Polo’s boot is up there with the best of the class. It's bigger than those of the Fiesta and the Peugeot 208, and only marginally smaller than in the Skoda Fabia. You’ll easily be able to fit a buggy or a decent weekly shop below the parcel shelf.
The Polo’s load bay is usefully square in shape because the wheel arches don’t protrude into the boot, and all models come with a height-adjustable boot floor as standard. When this is in its highest position, there's hardly any lip at the boot entrance, and there's no step in the floor of the extended load bay when the rear seats are folded down.
Be aware, though, that if you opt for the optional Beats audio system, the boot floor is permanently set in its highest setting. That means you’ll have less room for your luggage.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The entry-level Volkswagen Polo is cheaper as a cash buy than the Renault Clio. It does come in more expensive than the Seat Ibiza and Skoda Fabia but it's predicted to hold on to its value better than any of those rivals, which makes PCP finance deals surprisingly attractive.
Officially, our favourite engine – the 1.0 TSI 95 – will manage between 51mpg and 54mpg, depending on which gearbox you go for. In our real-world tests, the five-speed manual version averaged 46mpg, slightly better than the figures posted by the Ibiza and Fabia. However, if fuel efficiency is a priority, the hybrid Jazz and Yaris will 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 kit includes 15in alloy wheels, air conditioning, automatic windscreen wipers, heated and power-folding door mirrors, as well as the 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system.
If you want to spend a little extra, Style and R-Line trim cost the same. They both 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.
Volkswagen didn't do particularly well in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, claiming 22nd place out of the 32 brands featured. That's way below Hyundai in joint fifth but still above Ford down in 27th.
The Polo comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty as standard, as well as the option of extending the warranty to four or five years for a reasonable price. That's par for the course, but if you want better cover, Hyundai and Renault offer five-year warranties as standard, while Kia offers a seven-year warranty.
Safety and security
The Polo was awarded five stars (out of five) for safety by Euro NCAP.
All Polos come with automatic emergency braking (AEB) as standard. AEB can stop the car at low speeds without you pressing the brake pedal if it thinks you're about to run into another vehicle.
Lane-keeping assistance is also standard across the range, with blind-spot monitoring available as an option. As for security, an engine immobiliser and remote locking come as standard.
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Not particularly. The Polo finished 16th out of 17 models listed in the small car section of the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey (only the Ford Fiesta did worse). As a brand, Volkswagen performed fractionally better, coming 22nd out of 32 car makers in the same survey. Read more here
No, the Polo is sold with a range of petrol engines, none of which have any kind of hybrid technology. That doesn’t mean the Polo will cost you a lot to run, though – most versions are fairly efficient. Indeed, our favourite 1.0 TSI 95 petrol engine will officially return up to 54mpg. If you want an electric VW, have a look at the ID 3, 4 or 5. Read more here
We think the mid-range 94bhp 1.0-litre petrol, called the 1.0 TSI 95, is the best engine option for the Polo because it mixes peppy performance with fuel efficiency. As for trim, we recommend sticking with entry-level Life, which includes everything you’re likely to need, including 8.0in touchscreen infotainment, air-con and 15in alloy wheels. Read more here
The Volkswagen Polo Life is the entry-level trim in the Polo range, so it’s cheaper than R Line. It comes with air-con, automatic windscreen wipers and 15in alloy wheels. R-Line versions of the Polo have extra kit including sportier styling, larger alloy wheels and a 10.25in digital instrument cluster. Read more here
The Polo is a very safe small car, and was given five stars out of five when it was tested by the safety experts at Euro NCAP. It comes with lots of systems designed to protect you and your passengers, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance and blind-spot monitoring. Read more here
The Polo’s boot is bigger than in most rival small cars, 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 to heave your items over. Read more here
|RRP price range||£20,730 - £32,335|
|Number of trims (see all)||5|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||42.8 - 54.3|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,146 / £2,151|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,292 / £4,302|