The sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo represents a big break from its predecessor.
It has been conceived and developed anew from the ground up in a design and engineering programme with the mechanically identical new Seat Ibiza and upcoming fourth-generation Skoda Fabia, together with a production version of the company’s T-Cross Breeze compact SUV concept, and the Skoda Karoq and Seat Arona SUVs.
Based on the latest generation of the German car maker’s MQB platform architecture, specially adapted for the compact car class, the new Polo has grown significantly: it is 4053mm long, 1751mm wide and 1446mm high. That makes it 81mm longer, 63mm wider and 7mm lower than its predecessor. It has a wheelbase of 2564mm, 92mm longer than the previous model, while the track widths are up by 62mm at the front (to 1525mm) and 49mm at the rear (to 1505mm), giving it a considerably larger footprint.
Set for UK deliveries in November, it will be produced in five-door hatchback form only; the three-door version has been consigned to the history books after a run of more than 42 years.
Powering the new Volkswagen Polo
Buyers are offered the choice of up to six engines. The initial line-up comes with the choice of two naturally aspirated 1.0-litre multi-point fuel-injected three-cylinder petrol engines, with 64bhp or 74bhp. The sweet spot in the range, though, is the new turbocharged 1.0-litre direct-injected three-cylinder petrol unit, which serves up 94bhp or, as tested here, 113bhp in the 1.0 TSI.
There’s also a model running Volkswagen’s new turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 148bhp. Officials hint that it will likely come in 128bhp form at a later date. While a 197bhp 2.0 TSI engine will find its home in the new Polo GTI, which will match the new Ford Fiesta ST for grunt.
There is a single diesel engine, a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit with an SCR filter, offering either 78bhp or 94bhp. In selected markets, there’s also a new natural gas variant of the turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder with 90bhp. The engines are mated to either a standard five- or six-speed manual or optional seven-speed dual clutch automatic.
As for standard equipment, there are seven core trims to choose from. Entry-level S trimmed Polos get 14in steel wheels, automatic lights, tyre pressure monitoring sensor, hill start assist, and a wealth of safety technology as standard. Inside there is air conditioning, manually height adjustable front seats and Volkswagen Composition Media infotainment system complete with an 8.0in touchscreen display, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, DAB radio, and access to Volkswagen Connect online services.
Upgrade to SE and the Polo gains 15in alloy wheels, a variable boot floor, electric windows, vanity mirrors and smartphone integration. The Polo beats adds 16in alloy wheels, front foglights, sports seats, carpet mats, beats decals and a 300W speaker system.
Those pining for a bit more luxury can choose for an SEL trimmed Polo, which equips the supermini with 16in alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim, LED ambient interior lighting, climate control, auto wipers and speed limit display. The sporty R-Line models include LED tinted rear lights, a rear diffuser, sports seats, stainless steel pedals, tinted rear windows and electrically folding wing mirrors.
Topping the range are the GTI models which get all the badging and red highlights that are synonymous of hot VWs. The standard GTI gets 17in alloy wheels, sports suspension, a twin chrome exhaust, a sporty bodykit, a leather trimmed steering wheel and an electronic locking differential. Choosing the GTI+ adds more luxury including automatic LED headlights, keyless entry and start, adaptive cruise control and Volkswagen’s marvellous 10.5in Active Info Display.
Getting to grips with the new VW Polo
Grown up. That description applies well to the new Polo. As well as gaining in size, it has improved in other areas, not least refinement, which is now very much the best in its class. Upcoming comparison tests will reveal if the car can top rivals such as the latest Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio and Nissan Micra, as well as its sister Ibiza and Fabia models, for overall competency but, in isolation, it is a very convincing package that will appeal to a wide range of buyers.
It is a smart and thoroughly modern-looking car, with interesting proportions, crisp lines and a confident stance. The key exterior design feature is a double swage line that provides the flanks with a more defined shoulder line. The body is constructed to a level of quality that shames many compact car rivals, with thin panel gaps, well-integrated features and exacting tolerances. You expect this level of fit and finish in the premium car ranks, but it is not a given at this end of the market.
Inside, it delivers a nice balance between customary Volkswagen control simplicity and youthful design flare, with a contemporary-looking cabin dominated by a rather high-mounted dashboard. Available with a wide range of different trim elements and eight colour combinations, it features familiar analogue instruments and a 6.5in touchscreen as standard. VW’s 11.7in Active Info Display digital instrument system is available as an option, along with an 8.0in touchscreen.
The dashboard materials, in the top section at least, are soft to touch, with expensive-looking texturing. The seats offer a wide range of adjustment and are supportive with firm cushioning and good side support. Drawing on technology already introduced on the Golf, the new Polo comes with VW’s Front Assist, City Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Monitoring systems, a tyre pressure monitoring function and a hill holder function as standard.
Overall vision is less impressive, hampered by the relatively heavy rake of the windscreen and prominent cowl of the instrument binnacle. That leaves a surprisingly narrow line of sight from the driver’s seat. The overall interior quality is also spoilt by some rather hard plastic surfaces, especially between the front seats within the centre console.
For a car billed as being conceived for the digital age, the lack of a USB port as standard in any of the three specification lines is a major oversight. Model hierarchy plays a role here, of course: too much equipment would push the Polo too close to the Golf, so Wolfsburg has consciously dumbed it down to keep a respectable distance to its larger sibling – while also making it more profitable.
The increase in external dimensions means there’s a greater feeling of space up front; the generous width of the footwells, improved shoulder room and excellent head room being particular strong points. Accommodation in the rear has also increased, although with a higher waistline and shallower rear window you feel a little more enclosed than before. The Polo can accommodate five at a pinch, though VW admits it has been conceived more for four. It also offers a significant 71 litres more luggage space than its predecessor, at 351 litres.
Unleashing the VW Polo on the road
The maturity evident in other areas is manifested in excellent on-road qualities. Delivering 113bhp at 5000rpm, the 1.0 TSI is nippy in nature, delivering determined acceleration on a loaded throttle in lower ratios. There is a hint of low-end turbocharger lag off the line, although the interruption is only fleeting. Once spinning freely, the new engine is smooth and willing through the gears. With 129lb ft on tap from 2000rpm through to 3500rpm, it also boasts a nice flexible nature that sees it pull taller gear at low revs out on the open road without too much fuss. The suppression of engine noise and vibration is vastly improved over the old Polo.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox is light and easy to operate, although it is notchy and has a tendency to baulk when rushed through the gates. The optional seven-speed dual clutch unit provides automatic shifting, but is sometimes a little hesitant on downshifts. VW claims a 0-62mph time of 10.8sec and 116mph top speed.
The adoption of the MQB platform has brought a significant increase in rigidity and stiffness over the old Polo. Volkswagen says stiffness has increased from 14,00Nm per degree to more than 18,000Nm per degree. The result is a supple and superbly controlled ride. Even on badly pitted bitumen with the optional 17in alloy wheels and 215/45 profile tyres worn by our test car, it proved outstanding. The combination of superb damping control and fine absorption qualities bring a new-found calmness to the chassis, making for relaxed traits, both around town and on extended motorway runs.
Light and precise electric power steering makes the new Polo impressively manoeuvrable in tight spaces and it feels right at home in city traffic. Dynamically, it is a clear improvement on the earlier Polo, thanks to the inherent qualities of its new platform and a reworked suspension featuring MacPherson struts up front and a thoroughly revised torsion beam arrangement at the rear. Compared with some rivals, though, it lacks the intrinsic character to make its handling truly entertaining.
The wider tracks help the front wheels grip well, resisting the urge to push on even when hustled through a series of constant radius bends. The body movements are also nicely controlled, with progressive but never overwhelming lean. It achieves most of what you ask of it with imbibing efficiency, but it is sadly without great charisma.
The new Polo is a very good car, although not without its faults. Its styling is more expressive than ever before, the interior feels more upmarket and its increased dimensions make it more practical and accommodating than ever before. It also drives extremely well in combination with the 113bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder, delivering a quiet and absorbent ride, with direct and precise handling traits.
It’s also a thoroughly well-built car with outstanding quality and the sort of finish to match any rival hatchback. In many aspects, it feels like a smaller Golf - very much a compliment for a car aiming to rise above the Fiesta, Clio, Micra, Ibiza and Fabia. You can detect the odd cost-cutting measure, most notably within the interior, although they are largely outweighed by the overall competence of the new Polo.
On the strength of what we’ve seen so far, the new Polo is surely set to continue the success of its previous generations.