Volkswagen's improved Polo is a car that should be at its best with an economical diesel engine installed. Jonathan Crouch checks out the 1.4 TDI.
Ten Second Review
No surprises that the improved fifth generation Polo is an extremely competent supermini and probably the most sophisticated feeling car in its class. Well-built, practical and very economical with the 1.4 TDI common-rail diesel installed, it's only lacking a little more excitement.
Some small cars are intentionally packed full of quirkiness, effervescence and joie de vivre: the Volkswagen Polo intentionally isn't. This is a car that built its name on being overwhelmingly competent in a highly efficient, very focused and intensely German kind of a way. Specify it with the 1.4-litre TDI common-rail diesel engine and it just gets even more brutally sensible. If you're after a supermini that transcends the whims of fashion and just gets on with the job, this could be it.
The 1.4-litre TDI engine is used extensively across Volkswagen's model range and those of other Volkswagen Group brands. It's a thoroughly modern unit with common-rail fuel injection and Piezo actuators which allow highly pressurised diesel to be fired into the cylinders at precise intervals and in the exact quantities required. The result is extremely efficient combustion with maximum power extracted and minimal wastage. There are two power options to consider, the 1.4-litre TDI being offered in 75 and 90PS guises. The former can get the Polo to 62mph in 12.9s on the way to 108mph. That isn't particularly quick for a 1.4-litre diesel supermini but urban driving won't highlight the lack of pace as the Polo cruses around on its wave of torque. The 90PS version of the engine is usefully more sprightly with a 10.9s sprint and a 114mph maximum speed.
Design and Build
So low key is the Polo's styling that the updates to this latest car will be lost on many customers. Exterior changes are ultra-subtle, with sharper creases on the redesigned front bumper and grille and the addition of a chrome line that separates the front fog lights. Optional LED headlamps are a first in the supermini sector and have a distinctive light signature. Move round to the back and you'll spot revised tail lights and a smarter rear bumper, while Volkswagen has introduced no fewer than five fresh designs for the alloy wheels. The Golf-lite styling theme has been retained and the Polo remains a sharp looker. Drop inside and the instrument panel has been redesigned, as has the steering wheel design. The centre console has also been given a mild makeover with heating and ventilation controls now easier to operate. Soft touch plastics and subtle aluminium detailing are the order of the day but the cabin is notably less austere than before. There's a 280-litre boot which increases to 952-litres when the rear seats are folded down.
Market and Model
The 1.4-litre TDI engine is available in three and five-door bodystyles with a choice of SE, SE Design or SEL trim levels. All variants get features like a bigger touch screen, 15-inch alloy wheels and manual air conditioning, while five-door models get electric rear windows. The SE Design model focuses on cosmetics, with 16-inch wheels, a black gloss radiator grille, dark-tints for the tail lights and rear windows, plus ritzier fabrics and illuminations inside.
Cost of Ownership
Lower prices and higher equipment levels elsewhere might be enough to turn the heads of some buyers away from the Polo. Take the longer view, however, and Volkswagen's supermini shapes up very well on the balance sheet. Class-leading residual values, modest insurance costs and this highly efficient 1.4 TDI engine mean that once the initial purchase is out of the way, the Polo is a very cost-effective choice. Combined cycle fuel economy is the same whether you opt for the 75 or the 90PS version and at 83.1mpg, owners will be strangers at their local filling station. CO2 emissions of 88g/km are similarly strong and will bring useful tax advantages. Insurance groups range between 12 and 14.
Excitement isn't what the Volkswagen Polo is all about. Buyers know basically what they're going to get and that's understated but classy design, peerless build quality and solid engineering. The 1.4-litre TDI diesel engine takes the latest Polo even further down this familiar road, specialising in economy and refinement rather than performance, and suits the car well as a result. It's a package that should be enough to keep the Polo in its default position near the top of the supermini sales charts.