From £20,9759
Sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo arrives in the UK with a emphasis on safety and refinement. Could that be enough to see it become supermini king?

What is it?

The sixth-generation Polo, driven here for the first time in the UK after an impressive debut abroad last year.

Built on Volkswagen’s stiffer, lighter MQB platform – in a configuration shared with the Seat Ibiza – VW’s new supermini is substantially longer and wider than before. It’s lower, too. Not that the Polo has been transformed into something overtly sporting – beyond the new, deadpan headlights, a body-coloured lip at the top of the grille and a strip of scalloped bodywork that runs from just behind the front wheel to the rear lights, it’s business as usual. You can no longer buy a Polo with only three doors, either.

The Polo has always been happy to leave the thrills to others, though, focusing on more prosaic matters that are of greater importance to the majority of its buyers. As such, VW has been at pains to highlights the fact that this car as greater boot capacity than some hatchbacks in the class above, at 351 litres, and also features a gamut of safety technology – including blind-spot detection and emergency braking – that’s trickled down from the Golf.

The engine line-up is a mix of turbocharged Euro VI-compliant TDI and TSI engines, with the addition of a 64bhp naturally aspirated petrol that serves as a cheap-to-insure entry point. Volkswagen expects 95 percent of buyers to go for petrol, which is a statistic of its own making, and not just because the Volkswagen Polo suits a powerplant that treads lightly.

The turbocharged 1.0-litre TSI on offer comes with either 94bhp or 113bhp, and it’s the latter – coupled with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox – we’ve tested here. Meanwhile, VW’s 1.6-litre TDI is available with either 79bhp or 94bhp, and is coupled solely with a five-speed manual gearbox.

The range starts with S trim (8.0-inch touchscreen, 14-inch alloys, DAB), which is succeeded by SE (15-inch alloys, body-coloured trim), then Beats (16-inch alloys, tinted windows, Beats audio system). Next up is SEL (Discover Navigation system, chrome-plated interior trim, climate control, sports seats) before you reach R-Line, which adds a body kit and such luxuries as stainless steel pedals. 

What's it like?

Inside? Barring some scratchy plastics, it’s incredibly grown up. A bit dour, even, though the vibrant ‘dashboard pack’ inserts available on some trim levels would undoubtedly lighten the mood.

The architecture is difficult to fault, however. A high dashboard has been designed to put a broad central touchscreen on the same plane as the air vents and instruments, and looks smart. On SEL models up, VW’s Audi-inspired ‘Active Info’ display is an option, and for £325 replaces the physical binnacles with a 10.5-inch TFT display – a first for a supermini, and a very slick touch.

It’s a well-considered space; one in which owners of the new Volkswagen Golf will feel at home and only the exceptionally tall will struggle for room while sitting in the rear seats. Those who regularly travel five-up may want to consider a larger car, however.

Sitting some way below the 197bhp 2.0-litre TSI tucked in the Polo GTI is the three-cylinder 1.0-litre TSI driven here. Until a version of VW’s 1.5-litre TSI arrives later on in 2018, it’s the next most powerful petrol model in the range and suits the car extremely well, spinning quietly and lightly up to about 2200rpm, at which point the double-clutch gearbox executes shifts with a lazy precision. Our only real criticism would be that it clatters noisily when reignited by the stop-start system.

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Detuned, less expensive versions of this three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine will sell in greater volumes, but this version lends the Polo a sharp turn of pace once you’re over a slither of initial turbo-lag. That ‘small car, hearty engine’ feeling never really gets old, and is one we’d pay the premium for, though you’d give up little by opting for the 94bhp TSI.

As for transmissions, you would save yourself almost £1500 by opting for the five-speed manual, though in doing so would sacrifice the DSG’s two additional ratios and hamstring the car’s impressive cruising abilities as a consequence.

That would be a shame, because where the new Polo excels itself is on longer journeys. On the motorway, and in this specification, it operates with the insouciance and hush of a larger vehicle, something that’s also down to the quality of the damping, soundproofing and significantly widened tracks. Barring a slight fidget that’s almost inevitable with B-segments cars, the assured ride is so uncanny for something this size it’s actually endearing.

The driving experience is still not as engaging as that of a Fiesta, alas, but neither is the Volkswagen Polo as inert as you’d imagine, finding good grip and responding earnestly.

The steering is light but accurate, and on the wet roads of our test route, body control never felt compromised. And all the while that composure pervades, aided by a level of refinement that is yet to be matched in this segment.

Should I buy one?

It’s easy to ignore, the Polo. Comfortable, safe, practical – all these things – but also bland to behold and, historically, a virtual mute if ever any dialogue between road and driver was attempted. For these reasons we’d have made for the keys of a Ford Fiesta over the previous Polo, and probably those of a Renault Clio before that.

In ethos, the sixth-generation Polo is no different to its predecessors, only Volkswagen has now honed the model’s recognisable characteristics ­– particularly comfort – to a level whereby they are impossible to overlook.

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Indeed, the brand’s second-biggest hit after the Volkswagen Golf has always been among the more mature members of the supermini gaggle, but this iteration is grown up to the extent that it threatens to cut itself adrift of that segment altogether. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to buy a smaller car, and you prize comfort over character, the Polo might be it.

Consider also the Seat Ibiza, though – in FR trim, with the same engine as the Polo tested here. It’s not as plush, and neither does it isolate occupants from the road as well, but it comes well equipped and is a more natural entertainer. It also costs roughly £3000 less. The same is broadly true of Ford’s EcoBoost-equipped Ford Fiesta, though neither matches the Polo for sophistication.

Volkswagen Polo SEL 1.0 115PS DSG

Where Bedfordshire On sale Now Price £19,530 Engine 3cyls, 999cc, turbocharged petrol Power 113bhp at 5000-5500rpm Torque 148lb ft at 2000-3500rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1190kg Top speed 124mph 0-62mph 9.5sec Fuel economy 58.9mpg (combined) CO2 109g/km Rivals Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza, Renault Clio

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
paulmt123 16 January 2018

Too expensive

That's a bit too pricey for a supermini. Expect the low value of the pound is partly to blame but my Leon st 1.4tsi estate in FR trim is only 2k more. And its quicker, higher spec and the next class up. 15 to 16k would be about right. The base engine is 15k so is the turbo really worth 5k. Yes because the base is so slow its barely an option. That engine just about moves the up but in a polo it's gonna be thirsty as you'll have to rev it like mad to get anywhere. The 1.0tsi with 95bhp may be the sweet spot.
maximilian 15 January 2018

All cars are expensive

Apart from the general level of anti-VW sentiment that has become rather tiresome and repetetive, all new cars have become frighteningly expensive. The cost of raw materials, shipping, energy costs etc., have all increased substanitially over recent years and this is now reflected in the prices we pay. The new Fiesta is not much cheaper and given the level of kit and greater levels of refinement it's arguably reasonable. Still expensive I grant you but not excessive.

mfe 13 January 2018


All would be OK if it cost £4500 less!
Marc 13 January 2018

mfe wrote:

mfe wrote:

All would be OK if it cost £4500 less!

Not for VW it wouldn't.

manicm 14 January 2018

mfe wrote:

mfe wrote:

All would be OK if it cost £4500 less!

The same applies to the Fiesta.