Volkswagen Polo review
The Volkswagen Polo is a classy small hatchback that’s packed with tech and has a surprising amount of room for passengers and luggage
- High-tech cabin
- Spacious boot and rear seats for a small car
- Cheapest engine option is slow and inefficient
- More expensive than rivals
- Five-speed gearbox on manual cars
Should I buy a Volkswagen Polo?
If you’re after a small car that feels upmarket, has plenty of back-seat space and won’t leave you wanting in the technology department, then the VW Polo is a really solid choice. For a car that’s meant to be the Golf’s smaller, more affordable sibling, it feels just as stable, comfy and sturdy from behind the wheel, and it won’t leave you feeling short-changed.
Sure, the Polo isn’t quite as fun to drive as a Ford Fiesta, but it makes up for that with a smarter interior and technology such as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Factor in the Polo’s roomy back seats, usefully large boot and comfortable ride and you’ve got a small car that punches well above its weight.
Interior and technology
Considering the VW Polo is a small hatchback, it feels pretty posh inside – though you may expect that given it costs more than most rivals. The interior feels solidly put together, and apart from some cheap plastics on the doors, you could fool yourself into thinking you’re in a more expensive car. Despite this sense of material quality, the cabin design is a bit grey and angular, so consider a Peugeot 208 if you want a bit more visual flair in your life.
Since the Polo was updated in 2021, all models get a bright digital dashboard screen instead of traditional dials. You’ll get an eight-inch one in entry-level Life versions of the Polo, and a bigger 10-inch one in R-Line models and above. Regardless of the size, the digital dashboard really makes the Polo feel modern inside, and coupled with the standard-fit eight-inch infotainment screen with its wireless smartphone mirroring, you’d be hard-pressed to find another small car with such a big-car feel.
The Polo stands out from most of its rivals because the back-seat space is perfectly decent, even for tall adults. Our 6’3” test subject fit comfortably behind his own driving position without his knees even touching the back of the driver’s seat. Headroom is also sufficient, though the middle seat is reasonably narrow and not a comfy place to sit for any length of time.
The Polo’s boot space is impressive for a small car – you get 351 litres of space which is only 30 litres shy of the Golf’s, and it has some clever features including a height-adjustable boot floor that locks up at an angle when you lift it to access the underfloor storage. If you want a small car with a bigger boot, however, check out the Skoda Fabia… which is essentially a VW Polo when you peel back the skin.
Engines and performance
The biggest flaw in the Polo’s makeup is the entry-level, non-turbocharged 80hp 1.0-litre MPI petrol engine. It has to be worked hard to get up to 70mph, and it doesn’t settle down to a nice quiet cruise on the motorway. Annoyingly, all manual Polo models get a five-speed gearbox – we’d love a six-speed for lower revs at a motorway cruise. Regardless, you’re much better off choosing one of the turbocharged engines – the 1.0-litre TSI with 95hp or 110hp. The latter is available with a smooth-shifting dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
At the top of the Polo ladder is the Polo GTI – a 200hp, 2.0-litre petrol hot hatch that’s impressively quick, but expensive to buy and insure.
Driving and comfort
It may be one of the babies of the Volkswagen range (the VW Up is even smaller), but the Polo feels stable and comfortable at motorway speeds, with none of the ‘wobble’ you used to feel in small hatchbacks at the slightest gust of wind. It’s also quiet at a cruise, and is grippy enough to make 60mph backroads reasonably fun, though you won’t be grinning as much as in a Ford Fiesta.
We’ve no complaints about comfort either – the Polo’s suspension smooths out most bumps well enough, and the seats and steering wheel have a large range of adjustment so you’ll get comfy no matter your build.