GRR

Goodwood Test: Volkswagen Polo 2022 Review

Where have all the small, cheap superminis gone..?
08th June 2022
Henry Biggs

Overview

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Do you remember your first car? Chances are, if you are reading this in Europe, that it was a small, basic hatchback with an engine smaller than some coffees sold by Starbucks and not much in the way of equipment. As a result, it was light, so despite possessing less power than a coffee grinder it was nippy and nimble and, by dint of not having anything more complex on board than a cassette deck, was probably pretty dependable. Or at least fixable by the side of the road.

It was either handed down through the family or bought for cash after going through a succession of owners. It was probably a Micra or a Fiesta or, if you wanted to be a bit posh, a Polo. But, when the latter now comes as standard with adaptive cruise control, does that type of car exist anymore or are today’s superminis simply too tech-laden and expensive to ever end up at the My First Car end of the market?

We like

  • Larger car levels of refinement and tech
  • Excellent fit and finish
  • Eager engine and refined ride

We don't like

  • High asking price
  • Touch sensitive controls are fiddly
  • Odd selection of upmarket tech

Design

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The current Polo is the result of a mid-cycle facelift that brings it in line with the rest of the Volkswagen family’s look, internal combustion and electric models included. Externally this largely amounts to larger head and taillights grafted onto the existing design. It’s been well executed but does leave the Polo with a permanent look of surprise despite the full-length LED strip up front. The sheetmetal is taut, panel gaps are tight and if it weren’t for the large Polo lettering, now moved centrally under the VW boot badge, it could easily be mistaken for its larger brother, the Golf. Speaking of which…

Performance and Handling

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To turn to a cliché for a moment, the VW Polo is indeed larger in every dimension and weighs more than the original VW Golf, a car intended to compete in a different size class. The VW Polo is also safer, more refined and comfortable while delivering performance roughly on a par as the original Golf GTI but twice the fuel economy. Not sure why this always seems to be such a bugbear for road testers since no one is cross shopping cars built nearly five decades apart, but it’s good to get it out of the way.

Then again, the Polo always was the more mature of the superminis and its reputation for rattle-free refinement is still deserved to this day. Its three-cylinder turbocharged 999cc engine does thrum away audibly, but in an eager rather than coarse manner, and proves nippier around town than its 10.8 second 0-62mph time would have you believe. A 116mph top speed from just 95PS (70kW) points to some slippery aero work which pays off in long-legged and quiet motorway cruising, as well as a combined fuel consumption of 54.3mpg.

Clutch, steering, brakes and gearchange are all light, easy and perfectly pleasant if not exactly engaging. And on the subject of gearchanges, the Polo is equipped as standard with a five-speed manual. Hands up who else didn’t realise they still made ‘boxes with so few ratios anymore? The ride and handling balance is firmly on the side of comfort, the Polo does not have the eagerness of a Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza, but the flipside is class-leading refinement.

Interior

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The interior of the Polo is a perfectly pleasant place to be with large areas of glazing and slim pillars offsetting the typical VW dark grey and black colour selection. The materials strike the right balance between style and substance, while standard leather for the gearknob and steering wheel add premium touchpoints. There is enough headroom, leg room and adjustment to suit a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and standard lumbar adjustment on this higher-spec Style trim.

The midlife facelift extends to the interior of the Polo as well with the addition of the ever-excellent Virtual Cockpit instrumentation in front of the driver and an 8.0-inch touchscreen running the usual complement of apps in the centre console. All of which is well integrated and easy to use, until it comes to the heating and ventilation controls. On the base model Polo these are still physical buttons, but on this Style level trim and above these are replaced with a touch sensitive panel which can be hard to use without risking more than a quick glance down. The panel also happens to fall exactly where the driver will rest their fingers while using the touchscreen directly above it, meaning it's possible to inadvertently adjust the temperature while programming the sat-nav.

Technology and Features

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This is where the Polo starts to puzzle us somewhat. The model always built its premium reputation on fit, finish and dependability over and above sector rivals. That has not gone away by any means, but the Polo now also comes as standard with a suite of technology that is downright surprising in the supermini class, if not a little at odds with what these types of cars are supposed to be all about. Let me give you one example; a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine paired with a five-speed gearbox are a perfect combination for a small city car, so why has VW equipped every single Polo with complex adaptive cruise control? And on this Style trim level the addition of LED Matrix headlamps, which are like witchcraft in the way they selectively dim for cars up ahead.

We aren’t complaining about the addition of clever tech that can make journeys safer, smoother and more economical, but for the uses this car will typically be put to, keyless entry, a reversing camera and climate control might be higher on buyers’ wish lists.

Verdict

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It is very easy to like the Polo for the same things it has always offered: refined, dependable, safe and economical transport, albeit it at a small premium over its rivals. But the technology included on our car pushes even the base price beyond £20,000 and as tested it was just over £23,000. What’s more, internal rivals the Skoda Fabia and Seat Ibiza can be had with that same peppy engine for several thousand pounds less, making the Polo the technocrat’s choice.

Specifications

Engine

1.0-litre turbocharged inline-three

Power

95PS (70kW) @ 5,000rpm

Torque

175Nm (129lb ft) @ 1,600rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive

Kerb weight

1,172kg

0-62mph

10.8 seconds

Top speed

116mph

Fuel economy

54.3mpg

CO2 emissions

119g/km

Price

From £113,944

Our score

4 / 5

This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.


  • Top Gear
    3.5 out of 5
  • Autocar
    4.5 out of 5
  • CAR Magazine
    4 out of 5