What stands out?

The Polo looks crisp, clean and elegant, inside and out. It works very well with your smartphone, and its turbocharged engines supply great everyday performance without using much petrol. The Polo squeezes easily into small parking spots but feels like a bigger car on the road – in a good way, with reassuring roadholding. Auto braking is available.

You can also read our review of the very similar car that this Polo replaced in August 2017.

What might bug me?

In a Polo automatic, getting used to the DSG transmission in city driving. (This sort of auto works much like a manual gearbox with robotic control. It changes very smoothly once you are moving, and saves fuel. But it won’t duplicate the fluid, elastic take-up from rest that you feel in conventional and CVT autos.)

If you have chosen a Polo GTI, driving at 80km/h on your space-saver spare wheel, until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre. (Other Polos carry a full-sized steel spare.)

What body styles are there?

Five-door hatch only. The Polo was previously available as a three-door but that option was dropped in 2014.

All Polos drive the front wheels, and are classed as light cars, lower priced.

What features do all Polos have?

Cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, and a reversing camera.

Leather trim on the steering wheel and gearshift lever. A display on the instrument panel that can show your average speed and fuel consumption, among other functions.

A 6.5-inch colour touchscreen for controlling audio, phone and trip computer functions (among other uses). A sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD player, an SD card slot, and Aux and USB inputs.

Support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which work with Apple and Android phones. If you plug your phone in through the USB socket, many of its apps – including mapping and music – are mirrored on the touchscreen display and can be controlled from there.

Headlight height adjustment from inside the cabin. Daytime running lights, which make the car more visible to other road users.

Wheels made from aluminium alloy (which look nice without the pesky plastic trim caps fitted to most steel wheels). A full-width steel spare or (on the Polo GTI) a skinny space-saver spare.

Hill-start assist, which controls the brakes to make it easier for you to take off on uphill slopes.

Six airbags. Electronic stability control, which helps you avoid and control skids. (For more on Polo safety features, please open the Safety section below.)

The Polo is covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo engines in the Polo Urban and Urban+ are the most fuel-efficient, both consuming about 4.8 litres/100km in the official test (urban and country combined).

Like all Polos, these require premium unleaded fuel, which costs more than regular unleaded.

The version in the Urban+ is the more powerful of these two, with about 20 per cent more thrust available in most situations. You can expect the Urban+ to drink slightly more fuel than the Urban in real-world driving if you use that extra performance. But both models are commendably frugal.

In the real world you can expect to average 7.0 litres/100km or better over a mix of city and country driving, a figure few if any cars of this size will better.

The Polo GTI gets a 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo with significantly more power again. While it uses about 20 per cent more fuel than the other Polos, it’s still very economical.

Every Polo engine offers a stop-start function, which saves fuel in the city. The engine shuts down when you stop (at a traffic light, for example), and starts when you release the brake pedal to drive away.

The Polo Urban comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox, whereas the Urban+ and GTI get a six-speed manual. All can be optioned with a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic, which has two computer controlled clutches but operates much like a traditional automatic.

The Polo 66TSI and 81TSI are named for their maximum power outputs in kilowatts: the former can produce 66kW, and the latter 81kW. The engines are similar mechanically but are tuned differently.

(Power outputs and all other Polo and Polo GTi specifications are available from the Cars Covered menu, under the main image on this page.)

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly Polo, the Urban, comes with cloth seat trim, and a monochrome display in the instrument panel. It rolls on 15-inch wheels, and has the less powerful of the 1.2-litre turbo engines.

Spend more for an Urban+ and your seats are trimmed in Alcantara (fake suede) and have heaters. You get the more powerful engine, a colour display on the instrument panel, and buttons on the steering wheel for operating the audio system and your phone. Headlights switch on automatically when it’s dark, and the windscreen wipers operate themselves when it rains. The air-conditioning will maintain a set temperature. Splashes of chrome break up the sombre hues of the cabin. And 16-inch wheels, wrapped in significantly wider and shallower (lower profile) tyres, add some grip on dry roads.

On the safety front, a Driver fatigue monitor in the Urban+ assesses your use of the steering wheel over long journeys, prompting you to take a break if it concludes you might be falling asleep. And a pressure monitor lets you know early if a tyre is going flat.

For about $1800 you can add a Driver assistance package to your Polo Urban+, which brings you satellite navigation, front and rear parking sensors, Adaptive cruise control (which can reduce your set cruising speed to match slower cars ahead on the highway, resuming automatically when the way is clear), and autonomous emergency braking.

Spend more again for the Polo GTI and you return to cloth trim but get most other features of the Urban+ and some modifications aimed at improving performance, most notably the much stronger, 1.8-litre engine. Sport Select suspension permits you to stiffen the car’s ride from the driver’s seat (a button switches between two damper settings). There are 17-inch alloy wheels (with tyres of the same width as on the Urban+ but slightly shallower). An electronic differential lock improves control and drive for hard cornering.

Inside, metal pedals add a hint of race car pizzazz, as do the gear shift paddles on the steering wheel in auto GTIs. The patterned seats are more heavily bolstered, to hold you in place better for fast cornering. External changes include unique bumpers, and side skirts.

The Polo GTI too can be optioned with a Driver assistance package, which includes parking sensors front and rear, and satellite navigation (but not Adaptive cruise control or auto braking). There’s also a Luxury package, which brings you a powered glass sunroof, more supple seats with Alcantara trim, and more efficient, all-LED headlamps.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The lower profile tyres on the Polo Urban+ and GTI will be bumper to ride on around town than those on the Urban, which have deeper (and therefore more cushioning) sidewalls.

The GTI is the only Polo model not to get a full-width spare tyre. It has a skinnier space-saver spare, with a recommended maximum speed when fitted of 80km/h.

The Polo GTI is also not available with the radar cruise control and auto-braking that is optional on the Polo Urban+.

White, red and blue are the only standard colours on a Polo, with others costing extra.

How comfortable is the Polo?

All Polos share the same basic interior layout, but the Urban gets less of the brighter metal finishes that spice up the Urban+ and GTI. As a result it looks dark and drab. But it’s beautifully put together.

You can adjust the steering wheel for reach and height, and you can adjust the driver’s seat for height also. Both front seats blend comfort with side-support very effectively, holding you in place nicely through corners.

The main controls are well positioned high on the dash (near your line of sight). The main instruments are legible and clear.

The Urban and Urban+ ride in a supple but very well controlled manner, so if you hit a big bump they recover quickly. Where many cars of this size sound noisy and feel tinny, the Polo is surprisingly quiet. You’ll get some tyre noise, but not much.

Steering is nicely weighted, with a consistent feel throughout its arc. In general, the car feels very stable, but compact and agile.

In the GTI, comfort improved when Sport Select ride adjustment arrived about August 2016, allowing you to choose softer or firmer suspension damping to suit the conditions and your mood.

While the Polo Urban doesn’t have much power, it is very responsive and relaxing in everyday driving. The Urban+ steps it up a notch, with more oomph in all situations and more grip in corners.

The GTI has plenty of punch and a rorty sound.

The GTI’s manual gearbox feels light and easy to operate, while the seven-speed auto is very smooth and quick in its shifts once moving. However, the way the auto on all Polos engages from rest can be clunky, especially if you are on and off the throttle regularly in slow speed driving.

What about safety in a Volkswagen Polo?

Every Polo comes with anti-lock brakes, stability control, six airbags, daytime running lights, and a reversing camera. The rain-sensing wipers on the GTI and optional auto headlamps on some models add peace of mind.

There are airbags ahead of the driver and front passenger, and another outside each front occupant that protect at chest level from side crashes. Curtain airbags extend down each side of the car at head level, protecting front and rear occupants.

The Polo Urban+ and GTI also have auto headlamps and windscreen wipers, and a driver fatigue alert.

Optional on the Polo Urban+ (only) is a Driver assistance package that brings Adaptive cruise control and auto emergency braking.

Volkswagen calls this auto braking system Front Assist with City Emergency Brake, and it operates at city and highway speeds. A radar-type sensor scans the roadway ahead for obstacles, and the system will warn you of an impending collision (typically with a car ahead that has slowed suddenly). If you ignore the warning, at speeds under 30km/h it will initiate an emergency stop automatically. At higher speeds, it will add to the audio-visual warning by pulsing the brakes, encouraging you to brake yourself. If you ignore the pulse it will brake automatically – although not at maximum pressure.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rated the Polo at its maximum five stars for safety, in August 2014.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

The Polo is among the very best of city cars to drive. The suspension’s excellent control comes into its own on challenging, twisty roads. Teamed with good cornering grip, it makes for a car that is great fun, and that, in many good ways, feels like a bigger and more expensive vehicle.

The Polo’s brakes, too, feel strong and responsive by comparison with many other light cars. That is partly because all four wheels have disc brakes, whereas some alternatives use cheaper and inferior drum brakes at the rear.

The Polo GTI is a genuine hot hatch, with excellent acceleration. But while it’s feisty when you want that, it’s very easy to drive more sedately, with effortless pull most of the time.

The GTI’s 17-inch tyres have excellent grip, while the XDL differential lock apportions power to the front wheel with the most traction (by gently braking the less weighted, inside front wheel in a corner). This also helps pull the car into the turn during fast cornering.

Suspension on the GTI can be adjusted from inside the car for either more comfort or more responsive handling, at the push of a button. The Sport Select system which allows that also adjusts the weight of the steering, the sensitivity of the throttle and the sound of the exhaust.

The arrival of Sport Select adjustable suspension about August 2016 also enhanced cornering prowess, compared with previous Polo GTIs. “It’s clear this revised GTI is a much sharper tool,” Motor magazine opined, naming the car as the best value performance drive of 2016.

How is life in the rear seats?

Leg room in the rear of a Polo is tight, especially if those up front have their seats slid well back. Head room is better, with decent space for adults.

The rear windows are quite low, which allows small people a good view out the side.

There are no air vents for rear passengers.

How is it for carrying stuff?

It’s a city hatchback, so space generally is at a premium. But some thought has gone into where you put luggage.

The Polo gets a clever split boot floor, for example. You can store valuables or soft items in a separate compartment under the main floor, or you can lower the main floor to create a bigger space. Either way it’s still a small boot, but it will easily accommodate a few soft bags.

There’s also a 60/40 folding rear seatback. If you flip the seat bases up before folding, you get an extended cargo space with a flat floor.

Where does Volkswagen make the Polo?

The Polo is manufactured in South Africa.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Not much: the Polo has most light cars covered. However, its optional auto emergency braking is available only on the Urban+. Auto braking is standard on any Mazda2, and optional on any Toyota Yaris, for example.

The Honda Jazz, with its clever rear seats, is better for carting around lots of gear.

Other light cars you might consider include the Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia, Kia Rio, Peugeot 208, Hyundai Accent, and Renault Clio.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The revisions of August 2017 have reinforced the distinctions between the three Polo models: Urban for runabout duties, Urban+ if you also expect to get out of town in your Polo (and can stretch to it), and the GTI for those seeking a relatively low-cost sporting drive.

With a new-generation Polo waiting in the wings, Volkswagen has added features without raising nominal prices – and more so for the Urban+. However, the Polo GTI remains the pick of the bunch for what it offers enthusiasts.

Are there plans to update the Polo soon?

The current Polo arrived in 2010 and received an update late in 2014. A minor update in mid-2015 brought the bigger (6.5-inch) touchscreen interface on all models, improved smartphone connectivity, and a standard reversing camera.

In August 2017 Volkswagen renamed the two less costly Polos, the 66TSI Trendline and 81TSI Comfortline, calling them the Polo Urban and Urban+ respectively. It also adjusted equipment on both Polos, fitting alloy wheels to the Urban, and auto wipers and headlights to the Urban+ (among other changes).

The all-new, and bigger, Polo 6 arrived in March 2018 with prices starting at $17,990. Model names revert to the usual VW nomenclature and include the Polo 75TSI Trendline, 85TSI Comfortline and a special Launch Edition. All three are powered by new three-cylinder turbo petrol engines, which provide more power and torque without conceding fuel efficiency.

The all-new Polo GTI is expected in August 2018 priced at $30,990, with a powerful 2.0-litre engine, which Volkswagen says is more powerful and torquier than previous generation Mk5 Golf GTI. The engine will be mated to a dual-clutch automatic transmission, with no plans to bring a manual gearbox for now.

We will publish a separate review for the all-new Polo 6 once our reviewers get a chance to test the range.