Volkswagen Polo Hatchback (2017 -) Driving & Performance

Review by CJ Hubbard
4.3
While the cheeky Ford Fiesta may be the most popular kid in the supermini class, secretly everyone wants to be like the Volkswagen Polo – smart, sassy and just that bit more sophisticated. Now here in all-new, sixth-generation guise, the Polo is pilling even more pressure onto rivals – which also include the Vauxhall Corsa, Nissan Micra and Mazda 2 – by combining some of the sharpest looks in the sector with an outstanding interior.

3.9 out of 5

Performance

  • UK engine choice still to be confirmed
  • 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrols set to dominate
  • 1.6-litre TDI turbodiesels not worth the cost

European buyers will be offered the choice of up to nine engines in the Mk6 Polo: five regular petrol engines and two diesels, plus a high-performance 2.0-litre turbo petrol GTI and eco-friendly 1.0-litre TGI motor that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG).

At the time of writing (late August 2017), the line-up for the UK is less clear cut, with VW unwilling to confirm which engines it will offer here until pricing and trim levels are officially finalised (expected in October 2017).

However, the UK is certainly likely to get both 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrol models – and these we have now driven.

What’s the VW Polo 1.0-litre TSI like to drive?

The lower-power version has a healthy 95hp and 175Nm of torque, is capable of 0-62mph in 10.8sec and a theoretical top speed of 116mph, and comes with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard. Its more powerful brother offers 115hp and a six-speed manual transmission, but only the same amount of torque, and VW has so far declined to provide any performance figures for it.

We’d expect the 115hp to be quicker on paper – and even if it’s not by much, it may well still be worth considering if you can stretch to the additional cost. For out on the road, the extra 20hp really does make a difference, delivering a more sprightly experience.

That’s not to say the 95hp model feels like a sluggard, but by comparison it does seem a little flat.

Both 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 both engines. We’ve only tried it with 115hp so far, but it suits that model very well, with snappy paddleshifting helping to further enliven the driving experience.

Is the VW Polo diesel worth buying?

The UK is also likely to be offered the option of at least one of the diesel engines. Both of these are 1.6-litre TDI turbo units, with either 80hp or 95hp, an identical 250Nm of torque and a standard five-speed manual transmission.

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.

What about the GTI and other Polo engines?

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. Official performance figures are yet to be confirmed, and we will be driving it at a later date.

Also of note is a 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol with 150hp, 250Nm and active cylinder deactivation 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. But it isn’t available at launch and we’re yet to drive this combination.

There is sadly no market for the Polo TGI with its 1.0-litre compressed natural gas engine in the UK, so it won’t be offered here.

3.8 out of 5

Handling

  • 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 barreling around on your tip toes, as you might find with some rival small cars.

For many drivers, the Polo’s measured responses will likely instill a great sense of security as a result – the steering is light, and the car is 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 that exciting to drive.

Hopefully the later arrival of the 150hp 1.5 TSI and 200hp 2.0-litre GTI will bring some extra vim to the Polo experience.

For information about the optional Sport Select adaptive suspension, see the Comfort section below.