The VW Polo is a small hatchback that gives buyers who want a compact but upmarket supermini a more premium alternative to the Ford Fiesta – the UK’s bestselling car. Slotting below the hugely popular VW Golf, the Polo shares its big brother’s sharp but inoffensive styling and solid interior.
With its high quality feel the Polo competes against top selling models like the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio, but also more premium machines like the Audi A1 and Mini One along with the closely related Seat Ibiza.
Where the Polo immediately beats rivals is in 1.4 TDI 90 form is due to its combination of a highly impressive 83.1mpg claimed fuel economy figure and sprightly performance.
The Polo is VW’s second smallest hatchback and ditches the endless personalisation options found on other small cars and instead provides the impression of being a much larger car with its high quality interior and slick design. All models offer a good blend of economy and performance; even the least frugal version is claimed to be capable of 58.9mpg.
Several low-powered 1.0-litre petrol models are available, along with two turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol verisons and a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol. There are also two 1.4-litre BlueMotion diesel versions – one with 74bhp and the 89bhp model tested here.
As a supermini the Polo is likely to spend most of its life trundling around town, and it is very easy to drive, with an easily balanced clutch and a slick gearbox along with well-weighted pedals and direct steering.
The Polo’s 1.4 TDI 90’s engine is obviously a diesel when accelerating, but it quietens down admirably when cruising both around town and on the motorway. Despite its small size this motor offers plenty of punch, pulling strongly from low engine speeds, though it does run out of puff if you work it hard.
With quite firm suspension the Polo handles corners well, with little body roll, though the payoff is that you do feel bumps in the cabin and the car never completely isolates you from the road surface. However, responsive steering, which gives you confidence in the level of grip remaining and the slick gear change make this an enjoyable supermini to drive.
One irritation is that long gearing means that the car can struggle to negotiate tight corners in second gear, sometimes forcing you to shift down to first gear, where other models would cope in second.
The Polo has a high quality interior that doesn’t attempt to be stylish and colourful like some other small cars, but majors on clear controls and ease of use. It also has a conventional handbrake, unlike many new cars that have now moved across to electric handbrake buttons, which many drivers will find more intuitive.
The car lives up to its premium billing with all the controls feeling sturdy and built to last. While most of the controls are easy to get used to, the media system does require you to predominantly use the touchscreen, which can be a distraction when driving.
Visibility is reasonable for a small hatchback, though judging where the front of the car is takes a little guesswork. Our model had front and rear parking sensors, which many drivers will find useful. With sloping rear pillars you do occasionally have to look around the front pillars when turning out of junctions too.
We found the seats comfortable, with both good back and side support. The main issue over comfort is the firm ride on the model we tested with 16-inch alloy wheels.
The car is relatively practical for a supermini, though the tallest drivers may feel cramped, as the seat doesn’t move back far enough.
Space front and rear for average height adults though, is adequate and the rear seats are comfortable. The middle seat is a little cramped with limited headroom, however, and the transmission tunnel cuts down on legroom. Move the front seats all the way back though and legroom for rear passengers is drastically reduced.
On the other hand boot size is generous. You have a useful, flat boot floor and a further sizeable storage area underneath. The car also gets a spare wheel under this too, rather than just a tyre repair kit as found in some rivals.
With cars growing significantly in size over the last few decades, the Polo supermini is all the car that many families will need – and the 1.4 TDI 90 SEL version makes a lot of sense for those who want the most economical version and a long list of standard equipment.
If you don’t need space for tall passengers there’s more than enough room inside and in the boot and the 1.4-litre diesel engine is both sprightly and economical. We found this motor more than refined in normal driving too.
However, as the 1.4 TDI 90 is only available in top-of-the-range SEL trim it’s not a cheap purchase. Drivers who don’t cover a huge amount of miles may be better off going for the £510 cheaper 1.2 TSI 110 petrol if they want a high-spec Polo.
If you don’t need or want a top-spec model though, the 1.2 TSI 90 petrol offers similar performance to the 1.4 diesel and is available from £14,210. We’d hazard a guess that the TSI 90 would be the better value option for motorists who don’t spend their days trawling up and down motorways.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Volkswagen Polo in our classifieds here.
VW Polo 1.4 TDI 90 SEL
List price: £16,750
Engine: 1.4-litre, three cylinder diesel
Top speed: 114mph
0-62mph: 10.9 seconds
Fuel economy: 70.6mpg (urban), 91.1mpg (extra-urban) 83.1mpg (combined)
Emissions: 88g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five-stars
September 12, 2014