What is it?
The new Volkswagen Polo is the sixth generation of the big-selling supermini.
More space, more efficiency, more technology
The new Volkswagen Polo is a thorough evolution of an already impressive package. The sixth-generation car does everything its predecessor did, but better.
Buyers of the new Polo will find more space, no less quality, enough technology and an exemplary safety package. And out on the road, the car performs in an effortless manner that makes it very easy to live with.
The Polo might not have quite the handling prowess of its direct rival, the best-selling Ford Fiesta. But the VW matches its rivals in many areas and exceeds them in many others.
The Volkswagen Polo is a prime example of what the German brand does so well. Now entering its sixth generation, the supermini has steadily increased its sales on a basic recipe of reliability and safety.
While emissions scandals and their fallout over the past couple of years have turned VW into the badge that some love to hate, the fact remains that its cars still sell in great numbers – last year sales were up 0.7%, which doesn’t sound a lot until one considers the market as a whole slipped almost 6%. And almost unnoticed, VW’s 208,000-plus registrations moved the brand ahead of Vauxhall to become the UK’s second biggest car badge after Ford.
The Polo is a massive part of that. With close to 48,000 finding homes with UK buyers in 2017, it’s Volkswagen’s second-biggest seller, though some way behind the Golf. And the Polo holds seventh in the UK’s ten best-selling cars.
In terms of superminis, only the Ford Fiesta – Britain’s most popular car of all – and the Vauxhall Corsa beat the Volkswagen. When it first launched way back in 1975, the little Polo sat in the shadow of cars such as the Renault Clio and Peugeot 205, but it has steadily overtaken them, basically because it is so damned dependable…
So this latest version of the Polo was always going to be a case of evolution rather than reinvention. From the outside, it will immediately be recognisable as a Polo, though there has been a subtle styling makeover – the creases are more distinct, the proportions a little more muscular and LED lights are standard now. The big improvements, however, are in more practical areas.
Buying and owning a Volkswagen Polo
The new Volkswagen Polo is built on the same platform, dubbed MQB 0, as the much-praised Ibiza from sister brand SEAT. These versatile underpinnings offer a whole host of practical improvements, producing a car that is longer and wider than its predecessor.
Shorter overhangs mean an extended wheelbase and therefore more interior space, while the roofline is slightly lower, yet with more headroom within. And like just about all of its rivals, the new Polo comes in five-door form only, Ford and Vauxhall the only major brands persisting with three-door superminis.
Following the example of its predecessors, the new Volkswagen Polo offers a wide choice of engines. The complete launch range stretches across five petrol options from 65 to 200hp, and a pair of diesels with 80 or 95hp. However, we won’t see the 200hp petrol engine, destined for the Polo GTI variant, until later in 2018.
Volkswagen expects more than nine out of ten Polos to be petrol powered, and most popular will be the 1.0-litre three-cylinder units, with the best seller of all predicted to be the 95hp version – 65 and 115hp choices are also available.
In terms of transmissions, five-speed manual gearboxes are standard. A six-speed version is available on the larger petrol engines, as is a six or seven-speed automatic depending on model.
Buyers will have much to choose from in terms of equipment too. Once the two GT variants join the range there will be some seven trim levels, ranging from the 1.0-litre 65hp S model at £13,855 up to the 2.0-litre automatic GTI+ at £22,640.
Common to all Polos is an improved safety package – with the result that not only did the new car gain a top five-star safety rating in its Euro NCAP safety tests, it was named the best in its class for 2017. Safety technology fitted to all new Polos includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, as well as more airbags including a front and rear curtain system.
This safety prowess has an effect in other areas too – the entry-level Polo can now attract basement Group one insurance, which is good news in particular for younger buyers.
Inside the Volkswagen Polo
On stepping inside the Polo the first impression is of a lot of space – a 9cm extension to the wheelbase means plenty of room in the back, and this is certainly one of the few superminis in which four adults can travel long distances in comfort.
Perhaps most impressive is the boot. Space is up by some 25%, to 351 litres. Not only is that a whole lot more than the Polo’s direct rivals, it’s 35 litres more than Britain’s best-selling car, the Ford Focus, from the next class up…
For years journalists have got away with describing Volkswagen interiors as “typical VW interiors” because they all looked the same. The brand is making more effort now, however. The practicality remains, extending to a major reworking of the centre console, moving the air vents downwards to place the infotainment touchscreen on the same axis as the driver’s instrument panel.
In a prime example of the march of technology, the ‘Active Info display’ – basically the digital dashboard that we were wowing over on upmarket Audis not so long ago, is now offered as an option. It costs £325 or £475 depending on model, on all but the entry-level S grade, and VW claims it as a first in the supermini segment.
As is increasingly the case in today’s market a host of connectivity and infotainment tech is also available. Entry-level cars get an eight-inch touchscreen system including DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and a CD player (how nostalgic…) while SE and above includes the ‘Car-Net App Connect’ system with full smartphone compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The cockpit scores on practicality and mostly on quality. There is a little obvious plastic about, but not a lot, and whereas previous VW interiors have been renowned for their blackness, now you can brighten yours up with flashes of ‘Reef Blue’, ‘Energetic Orange’ or ‘Silver Silk’ – though only on certain models.
Driving the Volkswagen Polo
During the launch event, The Car Expert tried both the expected best-selling 95hp 1.0-litre petrol version with manual gearbox and its larger 115hp sister with the automatic transmission.
The Polo’s success has been built on being a very easy car to live with and this sixth generation is no different. It’s virtually effortless to drive, whether negotiating choked town centres or out on the motorway. Ride comfort is excellent throughout, with cabin occupants cosseted and enjoying relaxed progress.
By relaxed we don’t mean slow. The 95hp model reaches 62mph from rest in a little over 10 seconds, well up with its rivals, and does it with no hint of hurrying along. Cruising along at speed limits it remains highly refined.
Point the Polo at a challenging series of B-road bends and you perhaps won’t enjoy quite the satisfying performance of its Ford rival, but you will also feel totally in control and never flustered – basically, it does everything it needs to, very well indeed.
On the basis of the test drive, we see no reason why the average supermini buyer would need any more than the 95hp variant – it has a useful extra amount of go over the base-level 65hp version.
However there is something to be said for the 115hp model should one plan a lot of motorway driving – which with this supermini one really can. The extra power and the so-slick DSG automatic gearbox makes for rapid munching of motorway miles with ease.
The Volkswagen design team were clearly given a simple brief when creating the sixth-generation model – don’t muck it up. They have both succeeded and gone beyond the brief, as this new model does everything its predecessor did, but better. Anyone looking for a quality supermini that they want to get into, enjoy driving and not have to think about, should certainly check out the Volkswagen Polo.