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Still like a smaller Golf? Well, yes, but now even more so - and if that's what you want, it's all the better for it

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Polo

The fifth-generation Volkswagen Polo has junior Golf looks, but is that enough?

Jim Holder
18 April 2017

What is it?

There are four words that have been attached to the Polo since it launched in 1975, proving to be both its greatest asset and shortcoming in equal measure: “Like a smaller Golf.

You might wonder why being a slightly shrunken version of an iconic, high-selling car that stands for grown-up quality, rugged reliability and common sense running costs could possibly be a bad thing - and to a large degree, you’d be right.

But over time, the Polo has lost out; to the Ford Fiesta, Mini three-door hatch and Mazda 2, whose buyers like a bit more cornering verve and steering feel, and to the Skoda Fabia, whose buyers like to get the same qualities for a little bit less money.

VW accountants haven’t been crying too hard, though, as the Polo remains a dependable seller, no doubt with a profit margin that’s notoriously hard to garner at this price point. Which raises the tantalising prospect of whether anyone at VW dare mess with what has been a successful, if uninspiring formula on this sixth-generation car.

What's it like?

This test was undertaken in two prototype models in South Africa, during the late stages of testing. That said, we can be pretty confident in the verdict: as with the Ateca vs the T-Roc, Seat has already launched the first MQB A0 platformed supermini with the new Ibiza, and the first verdicts on that car suggest that the Group has got things pretty much bang on.

The test covered the familiar three-cylinder 74bhp 1.0-litre and 94bhp turbocharged TSI units, and there’s scarcely a bad word to say about either; linked to a slick five-speed manual, they provide decent progress. The TSI engine may be the entry-level turbo unit, but it feels particularly well-judged, and neither is unrefined unless you force the revs. 

Other familiar engines will be available; initially, the Polo will be sold with variety of turbo and non-turbo 1.0-litre petrol engines, and higher-powered 2.0-litre petrol and two diesel 1.6-litre units. All offer decent power delivery, refinement and economy in other Group cars.

There’s a hint of larger road imperfections hitting the cabin, but they are mostly well absorbed. At high speed the Polo is supremely stable, too, and what chance we had to take corners suggested solid and secure, if not sparkling, levels of grip and steering feedback.

Inside, the cabin is well insulated, well made (although in this early form also covered by disguise in parts, hinting that the rumoured T-Roc style coloured dashes might make it here too) and well laid out.

What’s more surprising is just how spacious the new Polo is. Just about the only facts we have about the car are that it is 4053mm long, 1751mm wide, 1446mm high and with a wheelbase of 2564mm (the current car reads: 3972mm, 1682mm, 1543mm, 2470mm). That makes it significantly longer and wider, and if the height difference looks significant on paper, it certainly doesn’t feel it inside in reality. In the back there’s room for two adults, and it feels generously spacious inside and in terms of boot space.

Should I buy one?

A lot hinges on what we make of the new Ford Fiesta and the price premium VW puts over the Ibiza for its badge appeal, but this appears to be a Polo that has the potential to deliver on just about every level bar, perhaps, a fraction of verve in both driver engagement and overall character.

​So, just “like a smaller Golf”, then? Yes, and perhaps even more so than ever before - and with even less emphasis on the word “smaller”.

Should VW apologise for doing what it does best, better than ever? Nope. And should it fear a customer backlash? I doubt it. While an Autocar reader may want to wait to find out how the new Fiesta is received, there’s no doubt this Polo will likely be the perfect choice for many supermini buyers, and with this range of talents will likely sit on many more shortlists than ever before.

Volkswagen Polo

Price tbc; Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 74bhp, revs tbc; Torque tbc; Gearbox Five-speed manual; Kerb weight tbc; 0-60mph tbc; Top speed tbc; Economy tbc; CO2/tax band tbc; Rivals Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza.

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Comments
15

19 April 2017
A range of petrol and diesel engines? Really - where's the hybrid? VW has learned nothing.

19 April 2017
soldi wrote:

A range of petrol and diesel engines? Really - where's the hybrid? VW has learned nothing.

Sure they have. They've learned there isn't much of a market for hybrids at this end of the market. Try buying a Fiesta, Micra or Corsa hybrid.

19 April 2017
Isn't a Longer and wider Polo called a Golf?

There's no need to be bigger.

I predict the next UP will be an UP+!

19 April 2017
because the current Polo is pretty cramped. Go see how spacious the new Fabia is to see what I mean. The Up! has way more drivers' leg room than the Polo (bizarrely).

19 April 2017
The new Polo is substantially larger than the Golf 1 then.

19 April 2017
The current car is not 1543mm tall, nowhere near. That is small crossover territory. The new car doesn't feel significantly lower because it isn't.

19 April 2017
4m used to be the standard for Tipo and Escort; the Polo, Unoand Fiesta used to be 3.70 nudging towards 3.80. 4.50 used to be large family / exec cars like a Thema. Compare that with today's standards.

19 April 2017
the streets, garages, parking bays, are unlikely to be getting any bigger. But that's ok as long as we can blame it on the SUVs.

19 April 2017
Even under all that disguise, you can tell that this car is really, really boring. Almost as boring as the Golf. This is why it's losing sales to the Mini and new Mazda 2.

19 April 2017
Another VAG funded article by any chance? Pretty much the same as what What Car says and further more this line...

1.6-litre units. All offer decent power delivery, refinement and economy in other Group cars.

The 1.6 doesn't offer decent refinement nor power really at all.

It was terrible noise and vibration and economy in an Audi A1 we had

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