The emphasis very much on comfort rather than excitement; lower-powered engines are noisy
Interior feels impressively upmarket for the class, and the smart, well organised dashboard is simplicity itself to use
An impressive crash test rating but curtain airbags cost extra
Interior feels classy and solid but mechanical reliability is just ok
Decent space for passengers and luggage, though some rivals offer more
Three main trims: S is pretty basic but SE and SEL offer increasing levels of goodies
The Volkswagen Polo is very comfortable to ride in and soaks up most road imperfections well which makes it well suited to city driving; larger bumps can make it bounce about it bit, though. It's not particularly fun to drive - certainly not as much as a Ford Fiesta as the steering is inconsistently weighted and the car tends to lean quite a bit on bends. For petrol fans, the standard 1.2-litre engines are pretty weedy but the 1.4, the 1.2 turbo and the 1.4 turbo (which saves fuel by shutting off half its cylinders when their power isn't needed) are increasingly stronger and quicker; the engine in the GTI makes the car downright fast. The diesel engine range comprises a 1.2-litre and a 1.6 but the emphasis for these is firmly on economy rather than performance and they're noisy, too, as are the basic 1.2 petrols. With the rest of the petrol cars the Polo is pretty quiet.
Few cars of this type can match the quality and smart, ergonomic design of the Polo's cabin. Upmarket materials abound, and all of the controls are easy to find and use thanks to a simple layout and clear labelling. Visibility is excellent and there's enough seat adjustment for any driver to get comfortable. Four adults will fit inside without a fuss, so it's roomy enough for a small family, although some rival superminis offer slightly more space in the back seats. The rear seats can be folded, and in some models the boot floor lifts up to create more luggage space but it's a good size in any case. Basic 'S' models are exactly that, but Match trim includes alloy wheels, air-conditioning, remote central locking and four electric windows, while SEL simply adds a few niceties. R-Line gets sporty details while GTIs also get a semi-automatic gearbox.
The Polo feels like a premium quality product, although respondents from the latest JD Power ownership satisfaction survey awarded it a merely 'average' score for mechanical reliability. All Polos get stability control and four airbags up front but you have to pay extra for curtain airbags for the rear occupants; none the less the Polo achieved the full five stars in Euro NCAP's crash tests, including 90% for adult safety and 86% for children.
You can't go far wrong with a VW Polo: choose the right engine and it's generally very good to drive, while its classy image means you'll have no trouble selling it for a very good price. Running costs are very reasonable, too, especially if you make the necessary compromises on refinement and fun for the diesel engines.