Just testing: Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI SEL 115hp

VW’s supermini has the smarts on the competition, but quality comes at a price

By Tim Gibson

When the Volkswagen Polo arrived on my driveway, I felt a surge of interest. Of all the cars I’ve tested over the years, the one that lives longest in my memory is the 1.9 TDI Polo I drove for a week some time in the late 1990s. It was nippy, fantastically economical, and had a reassuring big-car feel that belied its diminutive proportions.

Oddly, I hadn’t driven a Polo in anger since then, so I was excited to see if the Mark 7 would live up to its stylish antecedent.

Within a second of settling myself behind the multifunction steering wheel, I was convinced that it does. The new Polo retains all those hallmarks of VW build quality that the manufacturer’s admirers have come to expect: a solid clunk when the doors are closed, beautifully crafted switchgear that feels as if it could withstand a nuclear attack, and clever engines that deliver performance and economy in equal measure.

Though let’s be clear. No one takes the official fuel economy figures published by car makers literally any more. So when you read that the 1.0-litre turbo-charged petrol engine on this model returns 60.1mpg on the combined cycle, you know to take it with a pinch of salt.

But then you drive the car, as I did, for a run that includes a good stretch of motorway and smooth A-road and you realise that the figure is pretty accurate, after all. According to my maths at fill-up, I got just less than 60mpg out of the Polo. Given the ever-growing price difference between petrol and diesel (10p a litre when I topped up), that makes it a pretty economical option in this class of car.

It goes like the wind, too. Once you get the turbo spinning, every one of the engine’s 115 horses is unleashed in emphatic fashion. And because the car handles like a go-kart, you can have an awful lot of fun on winding country roads.

On faster routes, the Polo still has that big-car feel I so relished in its predecessor. I’m used to driving a Volvo, and the little Volkswagen didn’t feel in any way outclassed by the big Swede. I felt extremely secure as I travelled alongside large lorries on the M5, and safety features such as autonomous emergency braking bring further peace of mind to driver and passengers alike.

Add that to the generous specification on this SEL model, including touch-screen sat nav, leather-trimmed steering wheel and adaptive cruise control (a £600 option, but worth every penny), and you have a recipe for a winning package.

While the £18,695 on-the-road price may seem a little steep in comparison to similarly specced competitors from the likes of Ford, Hyundai and Vauxhall, it is worth remembering that Volkswagens depreciate at a glacial pace. The result is fantastic deals on private contract hire or personal contract purchase. So you can have this high-spec VeeDub on your drive for a very reasonable monthly cost.

Of course, you’ll need to be able to live with a car that remains fairly dinky, despite that lovely feeling of strength and durability. And when you consider that you could move up a class of car by choosing a less premium manufacturer, you may be tempted to seek a bit more bang for your buck elsewhere.

If you feel that way, here’s my advice: ask yourself whether you really need the extra space. If you know that life will be a mass of irritations by trying to squeeze yourself into a car that isn’t really big enough, then go with the higher-value option. But if you know that space for two or three people and their gear is all you need, then treat yourself with the Polo.

As with that version of the model I drove in the 1990s, this VW really is a class apart. Which just goes to show: quality costs. But boy is it worth it.

On test

  • Volkswagen Polo 1.0TSI SEL 6-speed manual
  • 115PS
  • 1mpg on combined cycle (official figure)
  • 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds
  • 107g/km CO2 emissions
  • Price: £18,695, plus £600 for adaptive cruise control (but look for brilliant deals of PCH and PCP)

Tim Gibson has written about cars for 25 years. His work regularly appears in The Daily Telegraph and other national media.

Published: 29 March 2019

© Copyright Just Recruitment 2019

If you liked this article you may like to read – Just testing: Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport 2.0 (170PS) Turbo D Elite Nav

You may also like to read – Just testing: Vauxhall Astra 1.4T 150PS Elite Nav

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