VW Polo First Drive
There was a time, and not long ago, where if you wanted an upmarket supermini, the only choice was the VW Polo. Now though, the market has moved on. Cars have grown, refinements have been made, and the classy supermini choice is far from an easy one. Volkswagen wants to make it so again, with this latest sixth generation model a clear step forward over the outgoing Polo - at first glance at least. NGC gets behind the wheel to find out if first impressions stand up to scrutiny.
Review by Chris Lilly
The Polo's engine line-up covers just about all the bases a supermini buyer could want. There are five petrol choices in all and two diesels, with power for the most part ranging from 65 hp to 115 hp. One of the five petrol units is the 2.0 litre TSI which provides 200 hp to the Polo GTI model, but since it's not available yet and is very much a sporty option, we're concentrating on the conventional Polo range for now. The 1.0 MPI engine is available with 65 or 75 hp, while the TSI in non-GTI trim is offered in 1.0 litre guise, tuned to 95 or 115 hp. Diesel options are both from the 1.6 TDI engine, with 80 or 95 hp available. Tested were the entry level 1.0 MPI 65 hp with five-speed manual, and the 1.0 TSI 115 hp with a seven-speed DSG transmission. The lesser powered option of the two does a job well enough, but the acceleration time of 15.5 seconds 0-62mph tells a story, and is the slowest of the Polo range. To get anywhere in a hurry, the driver will need to work both engine and gearbox hard, and it would be best suited for short trips since it's not the most refined powertrain around. A sturdy choice, but similar rivals give greater value for money as a budget option. The 115 hp 1.0 TSI on the other hand is a high-quality pick, with plenty of power and a smooth gearbox to get that oomph to the front wheels. A 0-62mph time of 9.3 seconds is far more reasonable for real-world driving than the entry-level option, and the engine is both willing and responsive to the driver's commands. It's a great choice for the car, and the combination of engine and transmission is well suited to the Polo's premium feel.
The Polo has never been the most exciting car to drive, and the same rings true of this latest generation model. The likes of the Ford Fiesta and Seat Ibiza offer a more dynamic driving experience, and even the now-ageing Mazda 2 would likely put a bigger smile on a driver's face down a twisting road. However, despite this seemingly damning analysis, the Polo does drive well, and can be thrown about should the mood really take. For regular supermini thrills, the GTI is going to be the pick of the Polo range to take into a 'fun to drive' contest. But the conventional Polo manages to hold its own in terms of grip, precision, and control of body roll in the bends. What's even more impressive for these last points is that the Polo is such a refined drive that I would have expected the compact VW to be a bit of a wallowy old barge when cornering. The Polo is so easy and comfortable to drive that it belies its compact size and gives the impression that you are in a far larger model. I'm not just suggesting one class up for many rivals, but even two or three. The Polo rides better than a number of family saloons I've driven, and is as luxurious as you are going to get without moving into full-on executive territory. It's stable at high speeds, composed on the open road, and deals with all the pit falls of urban roads with aplomb. The Ford and Seat might be more fun to drive, but I would prefer to drive the Polo every day on the commute for example, sacrificing weekend smiles for workday comfort.
By VW's own admission, a great focus for the Polo was interior space - both in the cabin and for occupants. It shows too, with the Polo feeling very large from inside, and the boot space far larger than the outgoing model. It's one of the most practical cars in its class, with a wide hatch for access, not much of a load lip to lift things over, and a false floor to make the boot space flexible. Passengers in the rear will have few complaints about leg and head room, even for tall occupants sitting behind tall drivers - and over long distances too. As such, a family will find the Polo more than useful as a practical runabout. This added space shouldn't be too surprising considering the Polo has grown considerably outside too, but the designers have managed to hide its size well. There are a number of styling tricks that give the Polo a youthful yet grown-up feel - ambivalent concepts I know, but look at the Polo and you will see what I mean. The overall style is sensible, VW-like, and distinctly premium. However, the narrow grille and headlights, rising window line, creases and folds in the large surfaces, and clean design - notably at the rear - tick all the boxes a supermini should by appealing to a more youthful audience than larger cars. It's a good blend of potentially contrasting design concepts, but VW has pulled the ideas together well.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The premium feel of the exterior continues to the interior. The seats are very comfortable full stop, not just for their class. The space adds a sense of luxury to a compact car too, and the various personalisation options allow for buyers to make the car very much their own. VW's designers have put the large, high-quality infotainment screen on the same level as the dials, a trick also employed on the T-Roc and mimicking the latest Mercedes executive saloons. It's a nice touch, is safer since it keeps the eyes closer to the road, and gives the impression of a premium model thanks to large expanses of screen well integrated into the dashboard. The rest of the centre console is more conventional, but continues with the traditional VW themes of good ergonomic design and high build quality. The switchgear feels solidly put together, and the materials used are excellent across the board. It's a very nice cabin, and will win a lot of buyers over as soon as they climb in and sit behind the wheel.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
For maximum miles per gallon, the diesel options are the engines to pick with an official figure of 74.3 MPG for both the 80 and 95 hp models. The petrols vary more (though that isn't difficult), but all are frugal options. Even the GTI is likely to be perfectly respectable, but the non-GTI models vary from 58.9 MPG for the 1.0 MPI 65hp petrol, to 64.2 MPG for the 1.0 TSI 95 hp. The 115 hp 1.0 TSI DSG model tested returns 58.9 MPG according to official figures. Even over a relatively short period of time in it, the model driven managed to return 50 MPG without any conscious eco-driving effort - and that in normal traffic and on Home Counties roads. All will be perfectly affordable to run in terms of fuel costs, and the petrol units will likely be the best overall pick for everyone not covering large motorway distances each day. In terms of tax, the Polo range will cost Â£140 per year after the first year. The diesels will cost Â£120 for the first year rate, while the petrols' first year rates will cost Â£140 for all models apart from the GTI. It's worth remembering first year rates are included in a car's OTR.
The Polo features a few different systems to help improve driving efficiency. CO2 figures are less than 100 g/km for the diesels, and only up to 110 g/km for the petrols (ignoring the GTI). VW offers the Driving Profile Selection system on the Polo, which allows drivers to pick an Eco mode out of Eco, Normal, Sport, and Individual. This reduces throttle response and drain on the engine from air conditioning and other auxiliary systems. With DSG transmissions, it also changes up sooner to improve efficiency, and will coast when the driver lifts off the throttle too. All engines are compact and turbocharged, and the Polo is built on the new MQB A0 platform, which is both strong and lightweight. According to our calculations, the VW Polo range has a Next Green Car Rating from 35.
All Polo trim levels come well equipped, with even the entry level S trim getting VW's eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, air conditioning, automatic headlights, and front assist with pedestrian monitoring safety system. Moving up to SE sees the introduction of alloy wheels as standard with 15-inch alloys fitted, along with Car-Net App Connect connectivity, an extra USB port, and a leather trimmed multi-function steering wheel. Beats trim upgrades the wheels to 16-inch alloys, and adds front fog lights, rear privacy glass, 'beats' decals, and a beats sound system. SEL fits different alloys but they remain 16-inch wheels, plus includes front and rear parking sensors, automatic wipers, climate control, and navigation. Finally R-Line sees another design of 16-inhch alloys, rear LED lights, and R-Line styling. You can also specify big-car features such as VW's Active Info Display (digital instruments), adaptive cruise control, and wireless mobile charger on the Polo.
If pure driving thrills are your thing, the Polo is beaten by aforementioned rivals from Ford and Seat. However, in just about every other aspect, the Polo is one of the top cars in its class. Stylish, practical, frugal, and comfortable, the Polo is a grown-up choice, and one that will please the head. It's excellent, well worthy of the Polo badge, and is one of the best superminis around.
Model tested: VW Polo
Engine / CO2: 1.0 MPI, 1.0 TSI, and 2.0 TSI petrol; 1.6 TDI diesel / from 97 g/km
Trim grades: S, SE, beats, SEL, R-Line
On-road price: From £11,970
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars