From £14,5107
Diesel Polo offers impressive fuel economy, but a petrol engine is still our motor of choice for this upmarket supermini
Simon Davis
11 August 2018

What is it?

Probably one of the more niche choices in the Volkswagen line-up. With all of the unfavourable press diesel has been getting recently, cars such as this oil-burning Polo supermini are falling out of favour with the general public. So far, 2018 has seen diesel sales as a whole drop by nearly a third compared with the same period last year, says the SMMT.

Nevertheless, there are still those who might find the idea of a small, affordable and economical supermini an appealing one - namely fleet buyers, we’re guessing - or else Volkswagen wouldn’t offer one.

Well, offer two, more specifically. In addition to the numerous petrol-engined variants you can buy, the Polo is also available with a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder diesel, which develops 79bhp in its most basic state of tune and 94bhp in our £19,690 SEL-specification test car.

In addition to the healthy level of kit that comes at this trim level - think 8.0in Discover Navigation infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, all-round parking sensors and plenty of active safety tech - you’ll also get a Polo that’s cheap to tax, and cheap to run. Volkswagen claims it’ll manage 74.3mpg on the combined cycle, while CO2 emissions of 99g/km mean it has a benefit-in-kind rate of 24%.

What's it like?

While there’s not a huge amount here for keener drivers to get excited about, the Polo TDI retains the sure-footed, predictable dynamic qualities of its petrol-powered brethren. The steering is reasonably light and relatively quick, lending the Polo plenty of agility around town, while at motorway speeds it carries with it the same sense of calm you’d find in a larger Volkswagen Group product. It’s not quite as nimble or rewarding as an equivalent Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza, though.

Its strut-type front and torsion beam rear suspension keep lateral roll and vertical travel in check through bends and over undulating surfaces, while its low-speed ride is - for the most part - equally as comfortable and inoffensive. Our only complaint here is that the optional 17in alloys fitted to our test vehicle emphasise imperfections in the road surface to a degree that the standard 16s do not. 

That diesel engine, meanwhile, lends the Polo a fair amount of punch. While its 185lb ft of torque is available from 1500rpm, it doesn’t feel particularly enthusiastic until the revs stray above 2000rpm - at which point the acceleration will arrive in a surge. Refinement isn’t particularly noteworthy, either, with a noticeable grumble both at a standstill and under throttle. Still, once you’re up to speed, things settle down.

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Getting up to speed is an easy process too. The pedals are all sensibly spaced and weighted, while the five-speed manual transmission that comes as standard at this level is positive and short in throw. It’s not going to make you want to engage with it more than you need to, though. The driving position, meanwhile, is spot on thanks to plenty of adjustability in the seats and steering column.

As for the cabin, it carries with it a more upmarket feel than you get from many other contenders in this market segment. Central to this is Volkswagen’s Discover Navigation infotainment system that - thanks to its slick graphics and sharp responsiveness - is about as close to class-leading as you can get. Our test car also featured the Active Info Display, which replaces the Polo’s standard dials with a 10.3in TFT customisable screen that can show the sat nav map in-between the dials, trip information, phone contacts and more. In a similar fashion to the 8.0in screen in the central dash fascia, the Active Info Display is incredibly easy to read and interact with, and certainly worth the £325 asking price.

Interior space, meanwhile, isn’t quite as tight as you may expect it to be in a car in this class. Two adults will be able to sit in the back in reasonable comfort - provided they’re around the six-foot mark - owing to decent leg and head room. Bootspace, meanwhile, comes in at 351 litres with the rear seats in place. By way of comparison, a Seat Ibiza has 355 litres, while a Honda Jazz manages 354.

VW Polo GTI review

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Should I buy one?

Unless you’re absolutely adamant that you’re going to be spending a good deal of time covering a good deal of miles, chances are you’ll be better off going for one of the petrol-powered Polos. In the same SEL specification as our test car, a 1.0-litre, 113bhp petrol model costs £1130 less, emits 7g/km of CO2 more and manages a claimed 60.1mpg economy figure.

Those who opt for the 1.6 TDI, though, should know it’s predicted to fare reasonably well against its rivals as far as depreciation is concerned. Over three years and 36,000 miles, it’s expected to retain 40% of its value. By comparison, the petrol Polo is forecast to hold 43%, while the comparable diesel Ford Fiesta and Seat Ibiza will manage 39% and 32% respectively.

Volkswagen Polo 1.6 TDI specification

Where London Price £19,690 On sale Now Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, diesel Power 94bhp at 2700-4600rpm Torque 185lb ft at 1500-2500rpm Gearbox 5-spd manual Kerb weight 1280kg Top speed 115mph 0-62mph 11.2sec Fuel economy 74.3mpg CO2, tax band 99g/km, 24% Rivals Seat Ibiza, Ford Fiesta, Citroën C3

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405line 13 August 2018

The ultimate (expensive) bore

...falling asleep, sorry cannot fight the urge to nod off...trying..to fight sleep....ah.......

Mini2 12 August 2018

What is this?

Zero mention of actual fuel economy in this first drive - what’s the point? 

Autocar, it would be good if you could pay more attention to those of us who do high mileages - not necessarily fleet - and who are mostly doing motorway driving. A Polo diesel should be on my list but with only 5 gears and 95bhp, it’ll be getting discounted immediately.

When I say high mileage I mean 25k/year and 500 miles/week. And I do wish people would stop treating us as though we’ve landed from Mars (hint to my Skoda dealer!).

Jimbbobw1977 12 August 2018

Really quite a boring car -

Really quite a boring car - and a nearly £20k one at that with a 94bhp 5 speed Diesel engine, and believe me this engine is a course old rough thing in the various cars I’ve driven with it fitted. The amount of nearly new cars you could for the price of this thing is expansive and superior.