From £14,5109
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?
11 January 2018

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 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. 


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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 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.

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 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.

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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.

Indeed, the brand’s second-biggest hit after the 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 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

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11 January 2018
You'd have to be utterly bereft of any creativity, individuality or style. And a sad craven brand snob.

16 August 2018

Bit late to this party but just say my piece. I need a second car for work and the school run, hired through work. I live in a village surrounded by narrow roads and switch-backs. Being hire cars, smaller cars are cheaper. I tested a Fiesta, Polo and Ibiza. The Fiesta was a hoot to drive, but after 200 miles you would have to carry me to my meeting on a stretcher, the Ibiza is just cheap and nasty (sorry) and the polo was big enough, just, and by far the most civilised. Value for money - no, but for me the best choice. If it was my money bought privately I could have a pre-registered Mondeo for less, but I would have real problems getting out of the village without hitting something (a wall probably). For info, my other car is an Ateca, so big fan of Seat, but you get what you pay for and the Ibiza is cheap.

11 January 2018

£19.5k for a 1 litre 3 cyclinder supermini. The world's gone mad! 

12 January 2018

As said above £19.5K for a 3 cylinder supermini is daft. Just wait until VAG rebadge the Polo as the Audi A1 - £30K for a 3 cylinder supermini. Then the world will be truly insane. 

12 January 2018

20 years ago a Mk 3 Golf with 60 bhp and little equipment beyond power steering and a radio cassette player cost about £11k. This strikes me as rather better value.

12 January 2018

For a (relative) touch of sanity buy the SEAT or Skoda version instead. 

12 January 2018

The Polo being a VAG clone follows suit that it matches the 5 speed manual with the 95 TSI and six speed with the 115 TSI same as Ibiza, Golf, T-Roc, Arona, Ateca, Q3, A3 and so on that all use the same engine and gearbox variant...

12 January 2018

Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost 100 Titanium 5dr Auto is £18,600 is way slower, you don't get electric rear window + other bling a decent sat nav and a decent DSG gearbox.

If you could get a 125 Auto Titanium with the extras the price would be about the same. But to be honest I'll avoid both of them and go for a Suzuki or Citroen  


12 January 2018

I know a few owners that have had £4k to £6k dsg repairs just out of warranty, but still low mileages. The lower one was in the trade and use dhis own labour.

12 January 2018
Ski Kid wrote:

I know a few owners that have had £4k to £6k dsg repairs just out of warranty, but still low mileages. The lower one was in the trade and use dhis own labour.

I feel I know them too as you've mentioned them and your families VAG issues so many times. Your son's SEAT low mpg figure, your Diesel Golf's 15mpg average etc  


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