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What is the Volkswagen Polo?

Create a blueprint of the perfect supermini and the chances are you’ll end up with something resembling the Volkswagen Polo. Across four decades, it has provided safe and reliable transport for the masses, with a rock-solid image making it as at home parked outside a student’s accommodation as outside a pensioner’s flat.

It has seen off many competitors, with buyers happy to pay a premium to own a Polo. Rivals range from volume models such as the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, to premium models like the Audi A1 and MINI Hatch.

At-a-glance 2019 Volkswagen Polo specs

  • Top-speed: 102-148mph
  • 0-62mph: 6.7-16.1 seconds
  • Fuel economy: 38.7-57.6mpg
  • Emissions: 97-141g/km
  • Boot space: 305-1079 litres

Which versions of the Volkswagen Polo are available?

While in the past you could buy estate, saloon and three-door versions of the Volkswagen Polo, today there’s just the five-door hatchback. The engine range is limited to four outputs of a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit, a single 1.6-litre turbodiesel and the 2.0-litre petrol found in the Polo GTI.

The non-turbocharged 1.0-litre variants are available with 65hp and 80hp outputs and are best avoided, as is the diesel. Instead, opt for the peppy 1.0-litre turbo in either 95hp or 115hp guises to enjoy a terrific blend of performance and economy. A five-speed manual gearbox is fitted to the diesel and lower-powered 1.0-litre cars, with the other versions offered with a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic.

Trim levels include S, SE, Beats, R-Line, SEL, GTI and GTI Plus.

What is the Volkswagen Polo GTI?

The Polo GTI certainly looks the part, with its 17-inch alloy wheels, lowered suspension, LED tinted rear light clusters and classic GTI styling. One could argue that the overall look is rather subtle – maybe bordering on dull – but Volkswagen’s GTIs have always preferred to let their dynamics do the talking.

This latest version is powered by 2.0-litre turbocharged engine developing 200hp, enough to sprint to 62mph in 6.7 seconds before hitting a top speed of 148mph. The Ford Fiesta ST remains the default choice in the segment, but the Polo GTI is perfectly acceptable if you’re after something a little more grown-up.

Volkswagen Polo styling and engineering

Perhaps more than ever, the Volkswagen Polo looks like a mini-Golf. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on how you feel about the Golf, but the new Polo is certainly a huge step up from the previous models. Subjectively, we reckon the platform-sharing Seat Ibiza just edges it in the styling department, but the Polo has the benefit of a nicer cabin, a better image and a wide range of customisation options.

As if to counter the more mature stance, Volkswagen has rolled out a fresh palette of exterior colours and interior add-ons. As you’d expect, the cabin offers class-leading quality and the latest infotainment system.

How does the Volkswagen Polo drive?

The Polo has never been the sharpest supermini – the Ford Fiesta remains the class leader here – but Volkswagen led us to believe that this sixth-generation model would introduce some joie de vivre. Sadly, it still falls short of the Fiesta, with the Polo retaining its ‘big car’ feel and mature characteristics. But, with 14 million sales under its belt, you can’t really blame Volkswagen for not messing with a winning formula. Just don’t expect anything other than vague steering, an unsatisfactory manual gearbox and handling that lacks sparkle.

How much does the Volkswagen Polo cost?

We live in strange times. Today, an entry-level Volkswagen Polo costs around £1,500 less than a basic Ford Fiesta and £1,000 less than the Seat Ibiza. Granted, the entry-level Polo S is powered by an asthmatic 65hp engine and offers almost nothing in the way of tech and gadgets, but you still get the same build quality and rock-solid image. That said, you’ll pay significantly more for some must-have options and accessories, pushing the price of the superior trim levels deep into family hatchback territory.

Discover what Polo drivers think of their VWs with our user-generated owners’ reviews.

Volkswagen Polo Model History

Current generation Volkswagen Polo

2017 – Sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo launched. All-new versus its predecessor, it’s based on a new platform, comes packed with technology, and is larger and roomier, too.

Fifth-generation Volkswagen Polo (2009-2017)

Volkswagen Polo Mk5

By the fifth-generation, Volkswagen had pretty much perfected the Polo recipe, so much so that we found it hard to find fault with the supermini. Sure, the Fiesta was nicer to drive, and the VW was a little on the pricey side, but it scored highly in other areas.

Highlights included a spacious interior, superb build quality, excellent motorway manners and a good choice of efficient engines, including a frugal BlueMotion version. It was also one of the first small cars to achieve a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Fourth-generation Volkswagen Polo (2002-2009)

Volkswagen Polo Mk4

Although the Mk3 was facelifted in 2000, we had to wait until 2002 for an entirely new Polo. With a wide range of engines and body styles, the fourth-generation Polo saw the introduction of the ultra-efficient BlueMotion model.

This green-washed Polo featured engine tweaks, aerodynamic changes and longer gearing to deliver 99g/km of CO2 and 74mpg, which at the time were quite remarkable figures.

The Polo Dune was an early example of a supermini crossover, while the GTI delivered junior hot hatch thrills.

Third-generation Volkswagen Polo (1994-2002)

Volkswagen Golf Mk3

The Mk2 Polo had enjoyed a long production run, but by the mid-90s it was time for a change. To this end, Volkswagen spent a colossal amount of money developing a brand-new platform for the third-generation Polo, creating a supermini that was actually larger and heavier than the Mk1 Golf.

Available in saloon, hatchback and estate varieties, performance was rather modest, but few cars of this size could offer such a compelling blend of solidity, dependability and image. It’s thanks to the Mk3 model that the Polo enjoys such a fine reputation today.

Second-generation Volkswagen Polo (1981-1994)

Volkswagen Polo Mk2

The second-generation Polo was launched in the UK in 1981 and was essentially a re-bodied version of the old car. This time there were three body styles available: a two-door saloon, three-door Coupe and a striking three-door hatch often referred to as the breadvan.

The facelift of 1990 introduced a more generic look, while the supercharged G40 of 1991 was our first taste of a performance Polo. Amazingly, the Mk2 Polo lived through all most the entire 1980s and half of the 1990s.

First-generation Volkswagen Polo (1976-1981)

Volkswagen Polo Mk1

The Volkswagen Polo arrived in the UK in February 1976 and was almost identical to the Audi 50 that had been on sale in continental Europe for a year.

Two versions were available: a pretty three-door hatchback and a more sombre two-door saloon called the Derby – essentially the Derby was a conservative replacement for the Beetle for VW loyalists who found the Polo and Golf far too radical.

The front-wheel drive supermini debuted with a choice of 0.9-litre and 1.1-litre petrol engines.