Just like the Golf, the Volkswagen Polo has been one of the most popular cars from the Wolfsburg stable. It’s become an embodiment of the solidity, sensibility, and practicality that people have been likening the brand and their more substantial cars with, but in a smaller package.
This MK5 version has been around since 2009, but despite its age can still compete handily with younger rivals and in many ways has remained the class leader in terms of sheer quality. It certainly looks quite fresh, which is surprising despite there not being a major facelift but rather incremental updates each year to the visuals and technical bits.
It’s billed as the more grown up, more mature choice in the field. As such the styling is somewhat conservative but still stylish, the ride is comfortable, and overall quality is a notch above the competition, exactly where Volkswagen wants themselves to be.
Speaking of, the Polo goes up against cars like the Renault Clio, Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 208, Mazda2 and the Fabia which is made by Volkswagen’s sister company Skoda. Today’s third-generation Fabia shares many components with the 5th-generation Polo such as engine, transmission and are built on the same MQB platform.
Volkswagen’s approach does seem to have worked. The same appeal that led to the success of their Golf have translated to the buying population seeing the Polo as a smaller, more affordable alternative without sacrificing any of the attributes of the larger cars.
In Australia, the standard Polo comes in two grades, the 66TSI Trendline and 81TSI Comfortline.
“…this version really can be considered a shrunken Golf in concept.” - AutoExpress
It’s not inaccurate to describe the this Polo, even as far back to a couple of its predecessors, as smaller and less expensive Golfs. They are styled quite similarly, with shape that’s very easy to interpret as being a VW even from a distance.
But the Polo, for its resemblance to its larger sibling, does have a distinct personality. It’s a subtle difference, and one that’s definitely not in aesthetics, but the smaller car does seem to have a more playful character to it, even in base design.
In the same way many other Volkswagens appear to be classless, so does the Polo, and therefore it can be parked alongside cars considerably more expensive without looking out of place.
But out of place is what it might look when placed next to a line of its closest rivals. It looks like the librarian of the bunch, really, though one that’s wearing a stylish vest and branded shoes. Overall, Polo’s design looks like an exercise in restraint against the funky attention-grabbing cues some of these other cars employ. But the small VW is just too mature to succumb to such tactics.
There’s also an optional Sports Pack that can be selected for the Comfortline that adds 17-inch wheels, a lowered sports suspension. More than anything, it adds a touch of sporting sophistication to the often plain looking Polo.
Engine and Drivetrain
“From just off idle until just before the redline, this engine is essentially giving everything it’s got.” - The Motor Report
Both tiers of the Volkswagen Polo use the same turbocharged 1.2-litre TSI four-cylinder petrol engine mated either to a 5- or 6-speed manual or a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission.
The entry-level Trendline variant’s powerplant is tuned to produce - as the name alludes to - 66kW of power and 160Nm of torque. Meanwhile, the more expensive Comfortline’s engine generates 81kW and marginally more torque at 175Nm.
It’s a proven smooth motor and quite refined even at higher revs. Off the line, the turbocharged engine can pull the petite Polo along very nicely at urban speeds, especially when paired to the quick-shifting DSG transmission. The dash to 100km/h takes 10.8 seconds in the base car but the extra power in the Comfortline means slightly more accelerative 9.3 seconds.
In either case, a small displacement motor does equate to good fuel economy, but armed with the standard idle stop/star system, consumption for either engine tune stands at an outstanding 4.8-litres/100km (claimed).
“Cloth trim and a round leather-wrapped tilt-and-reach-adjustable steering wheel take pride of place in an interior that really does belie its budget hatch origins.” - CarsGuide
There’s none of that confusion one may experience upon entering a new and unfamiliar car when stepping into a Polo for the first time. If you’ve sampled any current-generation Volkswagen, the layout should feel pretty much identical.
This means that everything is very easy to fathom, from the instrument cluster to the centre stack controls for the HVAC system, to the infotainment - everything is straight forward.
And as with any VW, the Polo is a very well built car for the money and certain has a more upmarket feel than many of its rivals. Keep your eyes forward and you’ll be none the wiser, operating while convinced that this is very nearly a premium interior with nicely padded switchgear and an general sense of solidity.
However, examine the materials more closely, especially the ones in the less ‘high profile’ areas of the cabin, and soon the hard scratchy plastics will fall to hand. Now, this is to be expected and Volkswagen has clever chosen the areas where some cost cutting can exercised and the metal and gloss finishes are nicely peppered around to neatly and effectively spruce things up.
The front seats are padded nicely and offers plenty of adjustment for any preference of seating position, luckily the steering wheel can also be adjusted for both height and reach. Though, because the Polo is quite a narrow car, rear passenger space is a little pokey.
Two passengers in the second row should be just fine, with enough head and legroom. The third passenger will be the one to complain as the car isn’t really wide enough to accommodate three adults sitting abreast. It’s made worse by the sizeable hump in the floor, too.
The boot is a useful 280-litres with the seats upright, though can rise to 952-litres with the rear bench folded, which they are able to do so to make for a nicely flat expanded cargo area. The load lip is also quite small and the boot isn’t very far off the ground either, which makes for easy loading.
Behind The Wheel
“Unlike the Ford Fiesta, the Polo isn’t a car that encourages you to throw it into corners. The steering is a bit too light and lacks any feedback to be truly rewarding,” - Telegraph Cars
Expecting the Polo to be ‘fun’ hatch isn’t unreasonable but the reality is Volkswagen is very happy to let cars like the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 fill that role. That said, the Polo’s softer setup and more pliant demeanour on the road is congruent with the impression one gets when actually sitting behind the wheel.
All-round visibility is very good indeed, the steering is light, it’s agile around town, and the car feels quite stable at speed with barely any wind noise - it makes for stress-free motoring, getting you to your destination in comfort and utmost ease.
This, of course, comes at the expense of an entertaining chassis. Grip levels are generally high but body roll is more evident in the Polo if it is turned into a corner enthusiastically, discouraging spirited bouts but favouring calm drivers.
The upshot is that road imperfections do not rattle in spite of its size and the odd bump or pothole won’t be so severely felt to those inside.
Safety and Technology
“The large infotainment touchscreen is easy to use and adds colour and vibrancy to a cabin that has previously been described by some as grey and bland.” - CarAdvice
ANCAP has given its maximum 5-star safety rating to the Volkswagen Polo. It comes standard with six airbags and even a reversing camera. There’s also stability control, daytime running lights, and hill-start assist.
There are even more tech goodies, though they are reserved for the higher-end Comfortline model and only as an optional extra at that. The ‘Driving Comfort Pack’ adds Adaptive Cruise Control, City Emergency Brake (AEB), automatic climate control, automatic rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, tyre pressure sensors, and an upgraded Discover Media infotainment system with satellite navigation.
As standard, though, there’s a 6.5-inch central display that houses the Composition Media infotainment unit. There’s Bluetooth and auxiliary audio inputs in addition to support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto while audio is piped through a 6 speaker array.
Volkswagen Australia will even sell you a Polo Beats Edition that’s aimed at audio enthusiasts. Of course, Beats Audio supplies an even louder stereo here, arranged over 7 speakers that outputs 300Watts worth of whatever music floats your boat.
The Polo is has really perfected what it sets out to do, which really is to be a smaller Golf without the typical compromises that might entail. It’s comfortable and well built, stable at high speed but nippy around town, though it really ought to be more spacious for rear passengers.
It’s also safe and comes with a nicely specified list of tech and convenience features, wrapped in a body that’s could stand to be a little less plain, but does project a mature conservatism that’s somewhat missing in its rivals.
No, it’s not as fun to drive the other cars out there nor is it particularly cheap, all things considered, but neither is the Golf. But it’s a quality car from a quality manufacturer with a strong engine and a nice interior. Mastering these basic ingredients often mean compromise in other areas, especially in this price bracket, but the Volkswagen has it down to a science.
AutoExpress - 5/5 - “The Volkswagen Polo is a grown-up, sensible supermini. A refined drive and solid residuals mean it's a perennial favourite.”
CarsGuide - 4/5 - “In a category where 'cheap and tinny' were the watchwords not all that long ago, the Polo presents as a quality car with an affordable price tag.”
Telegraph Cars - 8/10 - “It might not be as much fun to drive as a Ford Fiesta, but the Volkswagen Polo proves that grown-up cars can come in small and relatively affordable packages.”
The Motor Report - 4/5 - “The 2016 Volkswagen Polo remains an outstanding light hatchback. We wouldn’t bother with the sports package, or the automatic transmission, and if you do away with those you have a superb sub-$20k (on-road) option.”
CarAdvice - 8/10 - “Impressive powertrain; confidence-inspiring dynamics; comfortable interior; modern infotainment system; value of driving comfort package; a great all-rounder”
Drive.com.au 6/10 - “Like its predecessor, the updated Polo is an impressive little city car. The fact it achieves this without relying on having the biggest collection of toys, the most powerful engine or the cheapest price tag makes it feel like a more mature choice than some of its rivals.”