What is it?
This is the sixth generation of Volkswagen Polo, if you can believe it – it’ll be knocking on for 50 if it’s still around in 2025. Yikes. This version was launched back in 2017 – making it fairly old by car industry standards – and facelifted in 2021 with some of the latest mod cons, including updated infotainment and LED lights.
It even gets that weird full-width DRL treatment that Volkswagen is a bit obsessed with – polarises opinion, that, but you don’t have to look at it when you’re in the car at least.
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Basically a baby Golf, isn’t it?
That seems to be how the Polo has evolved – it’s all very sensible and conservative in there, and the car has all the sophistication and refined road manners of its larger sibling. It just has a bit less space.
Having said that, the Golf has lost its way a little in its eighth-generation guise, so the Polo might actually have more to recommend it these days. Just bear in mind that this is an unrepentant combustion only zone, with the barest of bare minimum done to appease the natural world. There’s no electric or hybrid option, but the small petrol engines do come with a stop/start system that takes the edge off fuel consumption by cutting out the engine while you’re sitting at the lights.
What trims are available?
There are four trim levels: Life, Style, R-Line and GTI. The Life kicks off proceedings at £19,505 and the range has what Volkswagen calls a ‘simple Y structure’, which just means that you can go for the identically priced Style (the comfort-oriented one) or R-Line (slightly sportier) models before cracking on towards the £28,540 range-topping GTI.
What’s it like inside?
After its almost half a century on sale the Polo has grown to the point where it’s actually not far off the size of an early Noughties Golf. It’s comfortable up front and there’s decent space in the back to carry two people. The 333 litres of bootspace are only 50 litres off the current Golf and on par with the MkIV/MkV era.
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The interior decor is a little dour: the Skoda Fabia does a nicer job with the same basic underpinnings and the Peugeot 208 is much more stylish. If you go for the entry level Life spec car then you get an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that offers Apple and Android connectivity along with an 8.0 digital instrument panel (which grows to a fancier 10.25in version on fancier trims). On all cars you do get two front and two rear USB-C sockets, electric folding heated door mirrors and auto wipers as standard, which is nice.
And does it come with actual buttons?
Well, there’s good and bad news here. The Polo’s touchscreen is flanked by touch sensitive buttons on either side and knobs for the volume and zoom controls. The graphics are good, the touchscreen is responsive and it’s easy to navigate your way around, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported as standard. This set-up doesn’t get satnav in Life trim, but it does on the other cars. An optional extra on Style and R-Line cars is a 9.2in version of the infotainment in the same space that goes fully touch-controlled and isn’t as useful.
READ MOREVW Polo GTI review: why doesn’t the mini-GTI hit the mark?
The climate controls are also entirely separate, sitting lower down the dash – thankfully different to other Volkswagen Group cars that bury the aircon in unintuitive menus. The Life-spec car gets easy to use buttons and twisty knobs, but above that these are replaced by a horrid little touch button panel that’s quite frustrating to use. So we’d recommend not upgrading the aircon.
What about powertrains?
There are two petrol engines available in the Polo, a 1.0-litre 3cyl unit that does all the heavy lifting in three states of tune and a more powerful 2.0-litre 4cyl bad boy that powers the GTI.
The wheezy, entry-level 1.0 is naturally aspirated and produces 79bhp – that only comes with a five-speed manual in Life spec. The turbocharged 93bhp option adds an optional seven-speed DSG automatic that costs around £1.4k more and is available in every trim apart from the GTI.
Then there’s a perky 108bhp version of the engine that can only be had in the R-Line car, while the GTI’s 2.0-litre develops 204bhp. The latter two are DSG only.
We like the 93bhp version best for its blend of 3cyl fizz and economy (54.3mpg and 118g/km CO2 emissions), but have a look at the Buying tab to check out the full details.
How about rivals?
There are increasingly fewer rivals around for the Polo in what is a tough end of the market to make any money, but it’s still very competitive. The long-time bestseller, Ford’s Fiesta, finishes production mid-2023, but you’ve still got the likes of the Peugeot 208, Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio and the Polo’s VW Group cousin, the Skoda Fabia, to choose from.
The Peugeot and Vauxhall both offer fully electric options, the Renault Clio has an expensive hybrid version and the Fabia is essentially the same as the Polo but cheaper. We’d definitely be tempted in the latter direction if we didn’t fancy going for an EV. A left-field choice that shades out the Polo GTI would be the Hyundai i20N if you’re looking at the performance option.
Our choice from the range
Volkswagen1.0 TSI Life 5dr£18,590
What’s the verdict?
“The VW Polo is a useful, practical all-rounder with a lot to recommend it”
The latest version of the Polo is as good as this supermini has ever been, deftly sidestepping some of the interior mistakes that recent Volkswagen cars have made. It’s a useful, practical all-rounder with a lot to recommend it.
It’s not as fun to drive as a Fiesta, for as long as that car remains with us, and it has awkwardly avoided offering any electrified versions so far. But its petrol engine can be frugal as well as peppy and you don’t have to worry about plugging it in or suffering from range anxiety. Put simply, it’s a sensible choice, and one you’ll likely not regret.
£9,370 – £34,105
£10,835 – £25,200
£15,770 – £26,805
Continue reading: Driving