Volkswagen Polo Review (2015 - August 2017)

The Volkswagen Polo city car looks elegant, parks easily, and is great to drive. In GTI form, it is speedy too. This review covers Polos on sale before August 2017.

Volkswagen Polo GTI 2015 Drive Main Jpg
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Engines
  •   Roadholding
  •   Phone integration
Not so much
  •   Bland cabin
  •   Inconsistent auto transmission

What stands out?

The Polo looks crisp, clean and elegant, inside and out, and its three 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. This review covers Polos on sale from 2015 until August-2017.

What might bug me?

Your struggles to take off from rest smoothly: the DSG automatic transmission can be grabby 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 versions have?

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

A 6.5-inch colour touchscreen for controlling audio, phone and trip computer functions (among other uses). An MP3 compatible 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.

Daytime running lights, which make the car more visible to other road users.

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

Electronic stability control, which can help control a skid. All new cars must have this feature.

Six airbags: two in front of each front occupant; side airbags to protect the bodies of those up front; and side curtain airbags down each side to protect heads front and rear in a side crash.

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 66TSI and 81TSI 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 81TSI is the more powerful of these two, with about 20 per cent more thrust available in most situations. You can expect the 81TSI to drink slightly more fuel than the 66 in real-world driving if you use that extra performance. But both models are commendably frugal.

A Polo 66TSI Trendline averaged 6.8 litres/100km in real-world comparison testing for the March 2015 edition of Wheels magazine, using slightly less fuel than the accompanying Mazda2 and Honda Jazz, and less than any of the other six light cars reviewed.

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 66TSI comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox, whereas the 81TSI 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 Volkswagen Polo 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 66TSI Trendline, rolls on 15-inch steel wheels and is powered by the 66kW engine.

Spend more for an 81TSI Comfortline and you get wheels made from an aluminium alloy, which look nicer, and the more powerful engine. You also get a trip computer (for monitoring fuel use), a folding arm rest between the front seats, and buttons on the steering wheel for operating the audio system and your phone. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather, and splashes of chrome break up the sombre hues of the cabin.

You get an opportunity to add two option packs to your 81TSI.

The Driver Comfort Package brings you satellite navigation, a fatigue detection system (which warns if the driver shows signs of falling asleep), and windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains. The cruise control slows you automatically for a slower vehicle ahead. And a partial emergency braking system can automatically apply the brakes at speeds under 30km/h to avoid an obstacle – usually another vehicle that has stopped suddenly.

The Sport Package includes bigger, 17-inch wheels, and stiffer, lower suspension. These changes give the car a racier look, and sharpen the handling slightly.

Spend more again for the Polo GTI and you get modifications aimed at improving performance, most notably the much stronger, 1.8-litre engine. There are 17-inch alloy wheels with wider tyres, which add grip. An electronic differential lock aims to improve acceleration by limiting wheelspin. Metal pedals add a hint of race car pizzazz to the cabin, as do the gear shift paddles on the steering wheel. Visual changes include a unique pattern on the cloth seats, unique bumpers, side skirts, and black roof lining (other models have a pale finish).

The GTI also gets front foglights with a cornering function (they shine into corners automatically when turning), automatic windscreen wipers, and automatic air-conditioning (which maintains a pre-set temperature). And a pressure monitor lets you know early if a tyre is going flat.

The Polo GTI can be optioned with a Driver Assistance Package, which includes parking sensors front and rear, and a fatigue detection system. There’s also a Luxury Package, which brings you a sunroof, more supple seats with Alcantara (suede-like) trim, and more efficient, LED headlamps.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The lower profile tyres and firmer suspension on the Polo GTI make its ride noticeably bumpier.

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

The GTI is also not available with the radar cruise control system that is optional on the 81TSI, which brings auto emergency braking.

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

How comfortable is it?

All Polos share the same basic interior layout, but the 66TSI gets less of the brighter metal finishes that spice up the 81TSI 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 66TSI and 81TSI 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.

The GTI is noticeably bumpier to ride in, but not to the point of being uncomfortable. The trade-off is sharper steering and more secure cornering.

While the 66TSI doesn’t have much power, it is very responsive and relaxing in everyday driving. The 88TSI steps it up a notch, with more oomph in all situations.

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. It’s not consistent and can be jerky.

What about safety?

The Polo gets a safety rating of Excellent, thanks to the comprehensive airbag coverage, daytime running lights, and standard reversing camera. The rain-sensing wipers on the GTI and optional auto headlamps on some models add peace of mind.

The safety credentials of the 81TSI would increase if you optioned the automatic emergency braking system, which helps avoid low-speed crashes. The system is available only on the 81TSI, as part of the Driver Comfort Package.

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?

Of all city cars, the Polo is among the best 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 many 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 grip (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.

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.

The 81TSI gets rear seatback pockets, to look after odds and ends. The GTI betters that, with drawers under the front seats.

Where is it made?

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 low-speed auto braking is available only on one model. This is standard on any Mazda2, 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 Polo GTI represents great buying. It has plenty of equipment and is fantastic to drive, with surprisingly good performance.

When did Volkswagen update this Polo?

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 GTI was not changed.
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Engines
  •   Roadholding
  •   Phone integration
Not so much
  •   Bland cabin
  •   Inconsistent auto transmission


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