Review: Volkswagen Polo Beats TSI

The new Polo features a stripe on the bonnet and roof
The new Polo features a stripe on the bonnet and roof
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Polo is the car that’s made a mint for Volkswagen. It is almost as much a default choice as its bigger kin, the Golf. A Polo is a safe pick if you choose on image and acceptance. It suits the bright young things and the ever-young old things. Like the Golf, it has grown bigger and become better.

Polos arrived in 1975 – the same era as the Golf. Today’s Polo is now larger than the original mid-70s Golf. This may suit the enlarging population which is also attracted by downsizing. Bigger people like bigger cars. I haven’t grown. The latest Polo would see me out, subject to a late-onset spurt of growth… I’ve waited so long.

I did have the Mark 3 (1994-2002) for a while, a cast-off from its previous one-woman owner. Then, as now, the Polo shared underpinnings with the Seat Ibiza. Skoda’s Fabia joined the party. All three are good.

We are now on the sixth all-new Polo. It is a smarter-looking five-door hatchback. Stand it next to the previous Polo, as I did, and you’ll see distinctly sharper body lines, more shaping in the bonnet, a refreshed control centre with the latest information technology in a slightly larger cabin and protected by anti-crash measures such as emergency braking.

There are more colours, including a palette of options for the dashboard. My demo car had a red dash panel. It also had a red stripe on a wider matt black stripe on the glossy black body. This curious combination went up the bonnet and along the roof, where it ended. Anyway, I wouldn’t choose black. In dirty weather it quickly looks filthy. I saw one in a golden bronze paint, which enhanced the new body styling.

The core engines are the VW Group one-litre, three-cylinder petrol engines, ranging from 64bhp to a turbocharged 113.4bhp. There is diesel for those who still see a clean future in the fuel which, don’t forget, Volkswagen’s emissions fiddling helped bring to its knees. If you hire on a familiar three-year contract there’s unlikely to be any serious hitch in that time for the latest diesel cars. Larger petrol engines peak with the 197bhp 2-litre turbo DSG at £22,640. The Polo entry price is £13,855 for the 64bhp S – so a Polo is not a budget buy. Dacia will sell you a larger, serviceable car for a lot less.

My test car had the 93.7bhp (95ps) one-litre petrol turbo engine, five-speed manual gearbox in “beats” specification, from £16,785. The beats bit means a multi-speaker audio installation, with a cute “b” logo on the door pillar and bespoke beats doorsills.

Polos now have an eight-inch touchscreen, digital radio, Bluetooth, CD player and – a first – stop-start ignition with a manual handbrake.

The handbrake was one of the issues with my test car. It needed maximum effort to hold the car on a typical slope. The clutch “burnt” easily. To add to the “Friday” feel of this car, the engine was coarser at low revs than others tried in the Golf, Ibiza and Fabia.

This was all a disappointment because I’d been expecting to love the Polo. (Volkswagen later had the car checked and said the handbrake and clutch and engine were working properly. Ergo, I wasn’t!).

Once under way and cruising it behaved. A six-speed gearbox would have been more fun but is not offered with this engine. The five-speeder cruised easily at 70mph in fifth at 2,500rpm – so hardly thrashing noisily. Volkswagen officially rates it at 62.8mpg and just 103g in combined mixed driving. The best I saw on the trip computer was the high 50s on an unstressed 180-mile motorway round trip with some city navigation. My regular simulated commuter route showed 50mpg. This is what VW claims for urban consumption. Its extra-urban figure is 72.6mpg, which looks out of reach in my hands.

Fans of the seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox can have it with this engine from £17,280 for the SE.

And then there was snow. The main road from home was blocked for several hours. I know trucks must deliver but when they crash they take ages to shift. So long, that the idiot driving this Polo took to the back roads. All was going well until the snow drift. Where I stayed for an hour or so until a farmer on his rounds towed me out with his 4x4 tractor and then proceeded into the white hell.

Verdict: It has just been voted world city car of the year.