What is it?
The facelifted Volkswagen Polo – which we first drove on international soil last year – featured a major overhaul of the car’s engines. Out went the ageing 1.4-litre petrol motor and in its place came a new three cylinder 1.0-litre unit. We’ve already driven that engine in entry-level 59bhp form, so now it’s time to try the same powerplant in range-topping 108bhp guise.
To go with the range-topping engine we have a range-topping trim level, in the form of R-Line specification. At £17,590 this Polo is far from the cheap and cheerful stereotype its diminutive dimensions may suggest, but R-Line cars do come with luxuries including front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, sports seats and a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system.
On paper, a semi-luxurious small car with a small engine appears to make sense, especially when it emits just 99g/km of CO2 and can return over 65mpg. We like the way the Polo looks, too, even next to stylish rivals like the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa. Especially pleasing is its five-door packaging, with doors that allow easy access even in the tightest of parking spaces.
What’s it like?
When we first drove the facelifted Polo, we conceded that while this 1.0-litre engine in 59bhp form felt fine, it wasn’t overtly impressive. In 108bhp form, however, it becomes that. This is a surprisingly powerful, refined and quiet engine. Indeed, at idle it’s so quiet that you’d be forgiven for momentarily panicking over whether the engine is on at all.
The three-cylinder petrol motor excels around town, even if its revs have to be kept relatively high in order to make smooth progress. The gearchange points suggested by the car to make as economical as possible are somewhat optimistic – it’d have you shifting into sixth at 35mph only to then struggle to accelerate.
On the motorway the Polo remains quiet, and the addition of a sixth gear means the 1.0-litre engine doesn’t sound strained. It’s also stable, with none of the fidgeting that smaller cars can experience at cruising speeds. In fact, the Polo’s handling in general is worthy of praise. Its steering is light but well weighted and its tight turning circle ensures navigating busy back streets is easy.
There are a few drawbacks, but despite its extra power don’t expect this Polo to scream away from a standing start. The 0-62mph sprint may ‘only’ take 9.3sec, but you’ll have to work the engine hard to achieve that. Peak power arrives between 5000-5500rpm, which is where you’ll need to be. Otherwise the Polo can quickly feel bogged down.
Transmission options on this car include a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox or a six-speed manual, and it was the latter that was fitted to our test car. It’s standard VW fare and functions well.
This being an R-Line car, the interior is comfortable and loaded with kit. Volkswagen did a great job in updating the Polo’s cabin with this facelift to improve the perceived quality and the result is a cabin that feels truly premium. The driving position is as good as ever, too, and despite its size the Polo does offer a practical enough boot, at 280 litres (only a smidgeon behind the Fiesta’s 290 litres).
Should I buy one?
It’s easy to see why you would think of buying this Polo: it’s generously equipped and works well with this 1.0-litre engine. As an urban runabout that can easily tackle the occasional motorway journey, it’s one of the better small hatchbacks on sale today.
It is a pricey option, though, especially in R-Line form and especially when you remember that prices for the Polo start at £11,300. Remember, too, that a 1.0-litre Fiesta in Titanium trim comes in at £15,795. If value for money is top of your agenda, then lesser trim levels and power outputs would be worth considering.
Volkswagen Polo R-Line 1.0 110
Price £17,590; Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 108bhp at 5000-5500rpm; Torque 147lb ft at 2000-3500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1135kg; 0-62mph 9.3sec; Top speed 122mph; Economy 65.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 99g/km, 14%
What is it?