New Beats edition aims to add youth appeal with sporty styling and a punchy sound system, but does that transform VW's strait-laced Ford Fiesta rival?

What is it?

Volkswagen's trendiest special edition tasked with bringing down the average age of the Polo buyer. With the under-30s flooding to other VW Group brands, such as Seat, the tie-in with Dr Dre’s (now Apple-owned) sound system company is an attempt at adding personality to one of the supermini class’s more conservative offerings. 

The treatment proved such a success when it arrived late in the last Polo’s life cycle that it’s gone on sale almost from launch this time around. Essentially, VW takes the standard SE-spec Polo and replaces the rather limp stereo with a Beats seven-speaker, 300W sound system, an eight-channel amplifier and a subwoofer hidden in the boot. Sick, etc…

That’s not the full extent of the down-with-the-kids treatment, though, since the Beats edition also receives a two-tone stripe running along the bonnet and roof, Beats logos throughout, funkier seat trim and rear tinted windows, while 16in diamond-turned alloy wheels complete the look. 

Standard kit includes the Composition Media System with an 8.0in touchscreen, auto headlights, electric windows all round and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Images2foriginal2f17668 polobeat10tsi048

What's it like?

While we get what VW is trying to achieve, the Beats treatment seems a little at odds with what is otherwise a commendably grown-up and fuss-free small car. The double bonnet stripe certainly won’t be to all tastes and, for some strange reason, the larger of the two stripes takes the Polo’s existing body colour and is therefore barely visible unless you look from an angle in bright sunlight. 

Yet, personal views on the looks aside, there’s more appeal to be found inside. The Beats system offers plenty of punch and is bass-heavy even before you’ve fiddled with the equaliser, so that's certain to please the car’s target audience. It pairs nicely with VW’s excellent touchscreen infotainment system, offering all the connectivity a twentysomething user is likely to need.

The rest of the cabin still sets the standard for both fit and finish and ergonomics among the Polo’s mainstream competitors. There’s plenty of space for four adults and a useful boot, but other than the more appealing seat trim and lighter plastics there’s little internally to distinguish it from a regular SE model. 

VW is only offering the Polo Beats with the smallest engines in the range — again, reflective of the young, insurance-conscious buyers it's hoping to attract. The lion’s share of sales will come from the 1.0-litre petrol, available in 64bhp, 74bhp and (turbocharged) 94bhp forms. But we’re testing what’s likely to be a niche seller in the UK, the 79bhp 1.6-litre diesel variant. 

It’ll be a rare sight, not least because diesel is hardly flavour of the month, and oil-burning superminis haven’t historically sold in great numbers. It deserves to be, too — there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but the peppy petrols fit in best with the Polo’s town-biased identity. 

The four-pot 1.6 TDI replaces the ageing three-pot 1.4 version used in the previous Polo and fares considerably better in matters of refinement. There’s much less vibration through the controls, while the traditional diesel grumble is only noticeable when you extend it beyond 3000rpm. 

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With a 14bhp and 10lb ft deficit compared with the more powerful 1.6 diesel we tested last week, this 79bhp unit offers nothing more than adequate performance. The 0-62mph sprint takes a yawning 12.9sec; although it doesn’t feel quite that slow due to its torquey mid-range, those often engaging in out-of-town activities will find themselves stirring the positive five-speed gearbox frequently to make progress. 

Still, there’s no arguing with the impressive (and not totally unrealistic) economy claims, meaning higher-mileage drivers will continue to struggle to justify the petrols. But it’s disappointing that the claimed figures for the 79bhp version are exactly the same as the more powerful diesel. 

With no suspension changes for the Beats edition, the rest of the driving experience is unchanged. The Polo reflects the dynamic qualities of its bigger brother, the Golf, in being an utterly sure-footed, composed and predictable steer. It corners with decent agility, while light controls make it a doddle to thread around town. It’s also commendably refined and mature-feeling on a motorway.

However, it still lacks the engagement and general driver appeal of the Ford Fiesta and even its Spanish sibling, the Seat Ibiza, drawing the line at competence and rarely putting a smile on your face. The normally comfortable and controlled ride is affected by the optional 17in wheels of our test car, too, transmitting more surface imperfections and road roar into the cabin than we'd like.

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Should I buy one?

Underneath the largely superficial Beats treatment, the Polo remains one of the most solidly built, grown-up and complete small cars on the market. For those who want refinement and a big-car feel from their supermini, there’s still little else that can touch it.

But all that is at odds with the try-hard funkiness of this Beats car. Put simply, the Ibiza seems like a far more suitable car for such additions, while the cheaper Polo SE offers a better balance of kit and price. 

We’re still convinced that the petrol models will make more sense for the vast majority of Polo buyers. Unless you can offset the £1500 list price jump over the excellent 1.0 TSI petrol with fuel savings, it’s not a particularly enticing prospect. 

Volkswagen Polo Beats 1.6 TDI specification

Tested London Price £18,880 On sale Now Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, diesel Power 79bhp at 2700-4800rpm Torque 170lb ft at 1500-2250rpm Gearbox 5-spd manual Kerb weight 1280kg Top speed 109mph 0-62mph 12.9sec Fuel economy 74.3mpg CO2, tax band 99g/km, 24% Rivals Seat IbizaFord FiestaCitroën C3

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Join the debate

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Citytiger 15 August 2018

Or Simply buy

A Fiesta, which is a considerably better option, and spend £350 on the excellent B&O (Bang & Olufsen) surround sound system upgrade which gives you an 8 inch touchscreen and 10 speakers, without the garish makeover. 

superstevie 15 August 2018

Not sure why people are

Not sure why people are complaining about having a good stereo in a car. It isn't about being loud, it is about having good sound. I drive a dull as ditch water Renault Scenic (1.5 diesel no less!) but it has a Bose sound system. It is excellent for when it is Friday and I want some tunes on, yet it is also great for all the podcasts and audible books I listen to. 

The Polo Beats I have no issue with, but I don't think the Polo is very "yoof" oriented as a base car, and a red strip doesn't make it any better. 

Peter Cavellini 15 August 2018

Just beat it.

  A big sound system in a small car doesn’t work, it just doesn’t....

JezyG 15 August 2018

Another Polo derv review????

Why hs VW made sure yet another Polo 1.6 derv is tested??? That is two in a week Area 51 conspiracy theory... 

Anyhow, I have the Beats setup (not in a Polo) and the sound quality is pretty good for what it is. Sub sits inside spare wheel and can give a wee bit too much bass, but easy to tune to your taste. The rest of the setup produces a very clear and plesant sound.