What's the used Volkswagen Polo hatchback like?
What’s so clever about this generation of the Volkswagen Polo is that it shares many of the attributes that buyers love about its larger sibling, the contemporary Volkswagen Golf, but in a smaller and cheaper to run package.
Trouble is, the used small car class has always been a highly competitive one, packed with rivals that include the Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia and Hyundai i20, so it's a good job the Polo distinguishes itself by having an added layer of sophistication about it, without costing as much used as a contemporary first-generation Audi A1.
As long as you avoid the 59bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine, the Polo is one of the best small cars for tackling big trips. In a 2014 facelift, that engine was later replaced by a 1.0-litre with 59bhp or 74bhp. The 74bhp version is okay for town work but runs out of puff on the motorway. In the original line-up, there was also a bigger 1.4-litre unit that's much happier, but it’s the 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre turbo petrol engines from 2014 onwards that make the most sense; they’re smooth and quiet, but also fuel-efficient. The diesel engines, particularly the Bluemotion models, are great if you do lots of miles, since they return fantastic fuel economy figures.
The Polo comes in a number of flavours: S, S A/C, Moda, SE, Bluemotion, SEL and R-Line. We'd avoid S models because they're very basic and don't even have remote central locking. S A/C has air-con, Moda has air-con as an option but adds a unique set of 15in alloys, front fog lights and an iPod connection for the stereo. SE, though, is a far better choice; it comes with 15in alloy wheels, air-con and electric door mirrors.
On top of the standard equipment, Bluemotion versions mostly add fuel-saving aerodynamics and technology, but also add cruise control. R-Line trim provides sportier exterior and interior features, while top-spec SEL has 16in alloys, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake, a front centre armrest and extra storage drawers under the front seats.
Revised 2014 cars in SE spec and above received a 6.5in colour touchscreen infotainment system. With the optional Car-Net system, you can connect your smartphone via a USB connection, supporting Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink smartphone integration. Match came in later to replace SE and Moda, adding cruise control, rear parking sensors and front foglights. Match Edition became available from 2017 onwards and added the Convenience Pack, which included automatic lights, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto wipers, electric folding mirrors, front parking sensors and Car-Net as standard.
BlueGT is the only model to get the 1.4 TSI petrol engine that uses cylinder deactivation technology to save fuel, while the GTI has model-specific exterior look, sports suspension and 17in alloys.
Thanks to its composed ride, excellent visibility and light controls, the Polo is an easy car to drive in town. Keen drivers, however, will be better off with the Fiesta, which is more composed in bends and has sharper steering. However, the Polo is very refined for a small car, making it a great choice for those who regularly have to commute on the motorway.
Used three and five-door versions are in plentiful supply, both offering more room for passengers than the equivalent Fiesta. The Polo's driving position offers loads of adjustment, with even the entry-level S version having a height-adjustable driver's seat. The boot is a decent size, although Bluemotion models do without split-folding rear seats in order to save weight, and therefore maximise fuel economy.
Notable accolades for this generation of Polo include being voted European Car the Year in 2010 and scoring top marks in Euro NCAP’s crash tests, with all models being fitted with electronic stability control as standard.
Advice for buyers
What should I look for in a used Volkswagen Polo hatchback?
With so many used Polos around, you can afford to be picky. Avoid anything with obvious signs of crash damage, because poor repair work could lead to future rust issues or potentially compromise safety.
Avoid cars with an incomplete service history; you need to know whether it’s been looked after and fluid changes have been completed in a timely fashion. Ensure that all of the warning lights on the dash turn off within a few seconds of the engine being started.
Brakes and tyres
Brake discs and front tyres can wear surprisingly quickly, so check the condition of these. Any juddering when you brake suggests worn discs, but a protruding lip on the face of the disc is another clue. Make sure there’s plenty of tyre tread left or factor replacements into the price.
Timing chain or cambelt
If you’re considering a 1.2 petrol model, make sure its timing chain isn’t rattling. All of the other engines use a timing belt that needs changing every four years; so ensure this work has been carried out to schedule.
Check that the air conditioning system blows cold air. If it doesn't, some of the time it’ll be a simple case of re-gassing the system, but if that doesn’t work, your potential purchase may have a leak that will require inspection.
What are the most common problems with a used Volkswagen Polo hatchback?
EA189 diesel engine emissions
The Polo used the EA189 diesel engine that was implicated in the Dieselgate emissions scandal and was subject to a recall to update its software.
The 1.2-litre diesel engines built between 1 April 2010 and 1 April 2014 were subject to a recall for cracked fuel filters. If the filter develops a crack, fuel will leak out. Contact your local VW dealer to check if the work has been completed.
There was an issue with some airbags installed on cars constructed between 1 February 2014 and 2 August 2014, where an incorrect signal from the accelerator sensor used by the system could cause the airbags to deploy. Check with your dealer to find out if your car is affected.
High oil consumption
Some owners of GTI models that use the 1.4 TSI engine have experienced high oil consumption. Regularly check the levels otherwise you may find out that your engine is running low without you knowing it and could lead to engine failure in the future.
A small number of Polos assembled between 21 April 2015 and 23 April 2015 may have been fitted with seats where the welds on the backrest could fail in an accident. A replacement seat was required to solve the problem.
Child lock failure
The child locks on examples manufactured between 25 November 2015 and 15 April 2016 might disengage without warning and allow occupants to open the rear doors. Dealers fitted a new lock to sort the problem, so check that work has been completed if you think your car is affected.
On Polos built between 29 March 2017 and 20 April 2017, the towing eyes supplied with the tool kit might not be up to specification and could break if used to tow the vehicle. Check with your dealer to see if your car is affected.
Loose camshaft adjuster
The bolts holding the camshaft adjuster in place in the engine can work loose on some examples made between 17 December 2013 and 4 December 2014. Check this with a Volkswagen dealer because if your car is affected, it will need to have the adjuster replaced to prevent any future issues.
1.4 petrol software update
Although not an official recall, some 1.4 petrol models also required a software update earlier in the Polo’s life, so inquire with a VW workshop as to whether this was carried out.
The manual gearbox has a better reputation for reliability than the seven-speed DSG automatic. The latter was recalled in some markets, but this didn’t include the UK, despite a notable number of owners reporting problems. Make sure the oil has been changed according to the service schedule.
DPF (diesel particulate filter)
If you tend to do lots of short journeys from cold, opt for a petrol model rather than a diesel one, because the diesel particulate filters can clog up if they don't get regular motorway exercise.
Is a used Volkswagen Polo hatchback reliable?
Unfortunately, the Polo isn’t the most reliable of cars, according to our latest What Car? Reliability Survey. The Polo came in 18th place out of a class of 28, with owners citing problems with the air conditioning, engine start/stop system and infotainment screen. Rivals such as the Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia and Honda Jazz all did much better.
Volkswagen as a brand finished in 22nd place out of 32 manufacturers – this isn’t a fantastic result.
If you would like to see the full reliability list, head to the What Car? Reliability Survey pages for more information.
What used Volkswagen Polo hatchback will I get for my budget?
Prices for this generation of Volkswagen Polo start at £2500 but, for that amount, you’ll be looking at an early, high-mileage car with a basic spec and an underpowered engine. We’d recommend increasing your budget to at least £3500 for a lower-mileage example with the 1.4 petrol, or £5000 for a 1.2 TSI turbocharged petrol.
The ultra-economical Bluemotion model starts at £5000 for a pre-facelift 1.2 diesel, or £8500 for a 1.0 TSI petrol.
At the other end of the power scale is the slightly lacklustre GTI model with the 1.4 TSI engine, that starts at around £6500. A far better prospect would be a BlueGT model, and decent examples of those can be had for £7500.
Spend between £5000 and £7000 on a 2015 car, and between £6000 and £8000 on a good 2016 car. A late model 2017 1.2 TSI Match Edition car with a full service history and below-average mileage will start at around £8500. Spend between £8000 and £10,000 on a good 2017 car.
Check the value of a used Volkswagen Polo with What Car? Valuations
How much does it cost to run a Volkswagen Polo hatchback?
Early Polos, both with the 59bhp and 69bhp 1.2 petrol engines, return a combined economy figure of 51.5mpg, while cars with the 1.4-litre unit average 47.9mpg. The 1.0 TSI and 1.2 TSI turbocharged petrol engines in facelifted Polos are a much better bet, with average economy figures of 62.8mpg and 60.1mpg respectively. The rare 1.0-litre Bluemotion is the most frugal petrol, at 67.3mpg.
The GTI model's 1.4 TSI and post-facelift 1.8 TSI average 47.9mpg and 47.1mpg respectively. If that's too low for you, consider the BlueGT; the cylinder deactivation technology of its 1.4-litre engine helps this particular model to achieve 58.9mpg in more powerful 148bhp form.
The diesel models are much more economical. Up to 2014, the range consisted of a 1.2 that averaged 72.4mpg, a Bluemotion version of the same engine averaging 80.1mpg, and a 1.6 that has a combined figure of 65.7mpg. After 2014, there was a 1.4 in 74bhp and 89bhp form with 74.3mpg (later boosted to 83.1mpg), while a Bluemotion version, with all its aerodynamic tweaks, averaged 91.1mpg.
Both of the 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engines in pre-facelift Polos emit 128g/km, but the revised 1.0-litre engines cut this down to 106g/km. The regular 84bhp 1.4 and 178bhp 1.4 found in the GTI are also equal for emissions at 139g/km, with the 189bhp 1.8 just a little worse at 140g/km. The popular 89bhp 1.2 TSI petrol is a fine compromise at 109g/km, and there's also the 94bhp 1.0 TSI Bluemotion that emits just 94g/km.
The entry-level 74bhp 1.2 diesel emits 102g/km, while the 89bhp 1.6 emits out 112g/km. Facelifted diesel Polos, along with all Bluemotion models powered by diesel, get below the 100g/km threshold for free road tax
If you are looking at a late Polo, be aware that the tax system changed on 1 April 2017, so any vehicles registered after this date will have to pay a yearly flat-rate fee. Anything registered before this date will be charged based upon the CO2 emissions the engine produced. To find out more about the current road tax costs, click here for further information.
Fixed price servicing costs £179 for a minor service and £349 for a major one, and is required annually or every 10,000 miles. This is more expensive than a Ford Motorcraft service, which costs just £159 for every visit.
Insurance groups for all models aside from the GTI are relatively low. The lowest being for both versions of the 1.2, three-cylinder petrol, which are in group four, the non-turbo 1.0-litre in six, and the popular turbocharged, 89bhp 1.2 in group 15. BlueGT models are in group 23, while GTI Polos are in 29.
Diesel models start in group 9 for the 74bhp 1.2, rising to 13 for an 89bhp 1.6.
Which used Volkswagen Polo hatchback should I buy?
The Volkswagen Polo was offered in numerous guises, from entry-level 59bhp 1.2 or 1.0, three-cylinder petrol to the 189bhp GTI hot hatch, and with a wide range of petrol and diesel engines in between
Unless you do lots of miles, you’re better off with a petrol engine rather than a diesel. Of the various versions on offer, the 74bhp 1.0 is fine if you need cheap insurance, but we’d recommend going for a 1.2 TSI because it has low running costs and decent performance.
SE comes with all the basics, but it is the Match version that is the one to go for; it’s very well equipped and makes the Polo feel like a car from the class above. Match Edition is also worth looking out for, but, because it came in during the final years this generation of Polo was on sale for, you'll need to spend a bit more to get into one compared with a regular Match.
Our favourite used Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI Match
What alternatives should I consider to a used Volkswagen Polo hatchback?
It’s impossible to ignore the Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa in this area of the market, as well as the Seat Ibiza, which is based on the Volkswagen Polo. All are cheaper to buy and in plentiful supply, but lack the Polo’s upmarket image.
We’d also recommend looking at the Skoda Fabia for the excellent value for money it offers, as well as the Mazda 2 for something that is almost as good to drive as the Fiesta and comes from a company with a great record for reliability.