Parkers overall rating: 4.3 out of 5 4.3
  • Simple line-up with many outputs from few engines
  • 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrols set to dominate
  • 1.6-litre TDI turbodiesels not worth the cost

You can choose from four regular petrol engines and one diesel in the VW Polo, including the high-performance 2.0-litre turbo petrol GTI. European buyers also get the eco-friendly 1.0-litre TGI motor that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG).

VW offers three power outputs from a 1.0-litre, three cylinder motor and then the standalone 2.0-litre unit used in the GTI. The slowest car is the 80hp version (started life as a 75hp unit), which comes in at 6,200rpm, long after its 95Nm of torque has fizzled out between 3,000-4,300rpm. This car takes 14.9 seconds to crack 0-62mph and tops out at 106mph.

Having tested this engine in 'beats' trim level, we found this engine to be quite lethargic and can leave you exposed if you don't have enough space – especially when trying to join dual carriageways with short slip roads. You'll need to plan far ahead in advance to overtake or get up to speed and weave in with the traffic.

Sticking to low-speed town driving will be best, where you'll get to appreciate the engine without having to be rushed. The engine's sweet spot is in the mid-range where you get to use all the torque - there's nothing to be gained from revving it out, but you feel like you have to do it for the necessity of survival.

Things improve with 95hp version

The next engine features a turbocharger, boosting power to 95hp from 5,000-5,500rpm and 175Nm of torque at 2,000-3,500rpm. It's capable of 0-62mph in 10.8sec and a theoretical top speed of 116mph, and comes with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard. A seven-speed DSG automatic is available with identical performance figures.

Its more powerful brother offers 115hp from 5,000-5,500rpm, 200Nm of torque at 2,000-3,500rpm, and a six-speed manual transmission or optional seven-speed DSG. Either way, expect 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds and a top speed of 124mph. Drivers that plan to do plenty of motorway miles will enjoy the extra poke that the 115hp engine offers over lesser variants. It gets up to speed quickly and provides enough in-gear flexibility for most scenarios. 

All engines have just three cylinders, and produce a characteristic three-cylinder thrum. Power delivery and response is good once you’ve got the turbo working – ideally above 2,000rpm – but if you catch it off-boost it can take a while to get going again. This isn’t helped by the tall gearing in the manual gearbox cars – especially the 95hp model. You can quite often find yourself merrily driving along in third when you should be in fifth as a result.

A seven-speed DSG automatic is optional on the top two engines. We’ve only tried it with 115hp so far, but it suits that model very well, with snappy paddle shifting helping to further enliven the driving experience.

One choice of diesel

There is the choice a 1.6-litre engine - our sample drive suggests while the added torque is welcome, the additional engine noise is not. Only a small fraction of UK buyers are likely to fork out the extra up-front costs to purchase one. In fact, more than 95% of Polo owners are expected to stick with petrol, and we see no reason to try change their minds. In a small car, the potential fuel savings rarely outweigh the initial cost penalty.

Boasting 95hp between 2,700-4,600rpm, and 185Nm from 1,500-2,250rpm, the 0-62mph time takes 11.2 seconds, with a top speed of 115mph.

What about the GTI?

This generation of Polo GTI is powered by a 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol with 200hp and 320Nm of torque – a modest increase over the 1.8-litre model it replaces. It's capable of completing the 0-62mph sprint in just 6.7 seconds, and comes with a six-speed DSG automatic transmission only. 

Engines no longer available

Badged 1.0-litre Evo, this used to be the entry-level engine, putting out 65hp at 5,100-6,100rpm and 95Nm of torque at 3,000-4,300. Those are modest numbers even for a small car like the Polo and that means a 0-62mph time of 15.5 seconds and a top speed of 102mph. This non-turbocharged engine is actually shared with the much smaller VW Up and it doesn’t even feel particularly quick in that. So equipped, the Polo is acceptable in town but feels very out of its depth joining faster roads or overtaking on the motorway.

Also of note is a 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol with 150hp, 250Nm and active cylinder deactivation - which means it runs on just two out of four cylinders whenever possible to help save fuel. This is one of the highlights of the Mk7.5 Golf range, and should go even better in the smaller, lighter Polo. It went on sale and then was removed from pricelists as part of range updates to comply with WLTP regulations, and is yet to return to sale as of the middle of 2019.

A lower-powered diesel was also available from launch, with 80hp from 2,700-4,800rpm and 170Nm of torque between 1,500-2,500rpm. This resulted in a 0-62mph time of 12.9 seconds and a top speed of 109mph.

How does it handle?

  • Light controls make the Polo easy to drive
  • Modular platform helps deliver a big car feel
  • But its handling never really sparkles

When VW unveiled this generation of Polo it promised the driving experience would be significantly more fun. Sadly we’re not convinced this has been delivered. That’s not to say the Mk6 Polo is bad to drive – far from it – but we didn’t really have any complaints about the last one, either, and there certainly hasn’t been a massive step change improvement that will see it challenging a Ford Fiesta for giggles on your favourite B-road.

What you do get from the Polo is an impressively 'big car' feel for a supermini. The structure is stiffer than it was before, everything it does is well controlled, and there's little sense that you're barrelling around on your tip toes, as you might find with some rival small cars. For many drivers, the Polo's measured responses will likely instil a great sense of security as a result – the steering is light and feels the most direct compared with previous-generation Polos, helping the car be easy to control even when travelling quickly.

However, the steering is also somewhat sloppy and vague, the manual gearshift is rubbery and lacking in precision, and nothing about the way the Polo handles really inspires you to get involved. In other words, it's a very mature experience, but also a rather boring one – though to be fair, the equivalent generation of Fiesta has also moved in the same direction; the Ford is still sweeter than the VW, but it isn't as exciting to drive as it used to be.