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WHAT CAR? Awards 2020

Added: 12 February 2020

BEST SMALL CAR 2020

The Volkswagen Polo has always been the Golf’s smaller brother but, with this latest generation, the gap between the two models is narrower than ever.

That's because the Polo has grown up considerably over the years, both in terms of its size and its driving manners. Add to that a range of fuel-efficient engines and a modern, classy interior, and it's hardly surprising that it's such a huge seller.

The Polo finds itself in a very tough class with some seriously accomplished rivals, though – including the even bigger-selling Ford Fiesta, the sporty Seat Ibiza and the comfort-focused Peugeot 208. In this review, we'll tell you how the Polo stacks up against those alternatives in all the key areas, and we'll also fill you in on which engines and trim levels make the most sense.

If you decide the Volkswagen Polo is the car for you, make sure you check out the latest deals our at our New Car Buying pages. Sizeable discounts are usually available no matter how you're buying – and you won't even need to do any haggling.

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

With 94bhp, the entry-level 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (badged TSI 95) might appear to be bit weedy, but it’s actually the pick of the range. It really shines around town, where the boost from its turbocharger pulls you strongly from low revs, and it also has the legs to sit comfortably at fast motorway speeds. In fact, it makes the more powerful 1.0 TSI 115 seem a luxury rather than a necessity.

The cheapest engine in the Polo range is the 1.0 80 Evo. However, this engine doesn't employ a turbocharger, so it needs working hard to get the best from it – and, even then, its acceleration is far more pedestrian than that of the TSI versions. It's only worth considering if you mostly drive in town.

The 1.6 TDI diesel is best avoided; it feels a bit flat at low revs, so it isn't worth the hefty premium over the petrols. Meanwhile, if you want hot hatch performance from your Polo, you can read about the GTI version in our separate review.

Suspension and ride comfort

The Polo is unquestionably one of the smoothest-riding cars in the class. Around town, it deals with pockmarked roads better than the Seat Ibiza and Ford Fiesta, and even if you happen across a particularly nasty crater, the Polo stays surprisingly composed.

It’s a similar story when you venture onto the motorway. The Polo remains calm, with only a tiny amount of the fidgeting over small imperfections – something pretty much all small cars are prone to. Put simply, only the most comfort-orientated versions of the Peugeot 208 offer a noticeably smoother ride.

Handling

If you really enjoy driving and want something fun and agile, you'd be better off looking at the Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza or Renault Clio.

However, the Polo is still very competent through the corners. Thanks to balanced handling, plenty of grip and well-weighted steering, you can thread it confidently through a series of bends – even at quite fast speeds. In short, if you simply want something surefooted and easy to drive, you’ll be quite happy.

Noise and vibration

Although the Polo's petrol engines make themselves heard when you're accelerating, you don't feel much engine vibration filtering up through the pedals or the steering wheel. The 1.6 TDI is another kettle of fish, though; the sole diesel engine in the line-up is decidedly agricultural.

But whichever engine you choose, you won't hear much from it at a steady 70mph cruise. The Polo also does a better job than most rivals, even the Peugeot 208, at suppressing wind and road noise on the motorway.

Better still, the manual gearbox is slick and the Polo is easy to drive smoothly. The optional seven-speed automatic (DSG) gearbox is mostly smooth, too, although it does tend to make the car lurch forwards or backwards when you're parking.

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