Volkswagen Polo prototype 2017 first drive

Open gallery Close by Jim Holder 18 April 2017 Follow @Jim_Holder Share

What is it?

There are four words that have been attached to the Polo since it launched in 1975, proving to be both its greatest asset and shortcoming in equal measure: “Like a smaller Volkswagen Golf”.

You might wonder why being a slightly shrunken version of an iconic, high-selling car that stands for grown-up quality, rugged reliability and common sense running costs could possibly be a bad thing – and to a large degree, you’d be right.

2017 Volkswagen Polo officially revealed

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But over time, the Polo has lost out; to the Ford Fiesta, Mini three-door hatch and Mazda 2, whose buyers like a bit more cornering verve and steering feel, and to the Skoda Fabia, whose buyers like to get the same qualities for a little bit less money.

VW accountants haven’t been crying too hard, though, as the Volkswagen Polo remains a dependable seller, no doubt with a profit margin that’s notoriously hard to garner at this price point. Which raises the tantalising prospect of whether anyone at VW dare mess with what has been a successful, if uninspiring formula on this sixth-generation car.

What’s it like?

This test was undertaken in two prototype models in South Africa, during the late stages of testing. That said, we can be pretty confident in the verdict: as with the Seat Ateca vs the T-Roc, Seat has already launched the first MQB A0 platformed supermini with the new Seat Ibiza, and the first verdicts on that car suggest that the Group has got things pretty much bang on.

The test covered the familiar three-cylinder 74bhp 1.0-litre and 94bhp turbocharged TSI units, and there’s scarcely a bad word to say about either; linked to a slick five-speed manual, they provide decent progress. The TSI engine may be the entry-level turbo unit, but it feels particularly well-judged, and neither is unrefined unless you force the revs. 

Other familiar engines will be available; initially, the Polo will be sold with variety of turbo and non-turbo 1.0-litre petrol engines, and higher-powered 2.0-litre petrol and two diesel 1.6-litre units. All offer decent power delivery, refinement and economy in other Group cars.


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There’s a hint of larger road imperfections hitting the cabin, but they are mostly well absorbed. At high speed the Polo is supremely stable, too, and what chance we had to take corners suggested solid and secure, if not sparkling, levels of grip and steering feedback.

Inside, the cabin is well insulated, well made (although in this early form also covered by disguise in parts, hinting that the rumoured T-Roc style coloured dashes might make it here too) and well laid out.

What’s more surprising is just how spacious the new Polo is. Just about the only facts we have about the car are that it is 4053mm long, 1751mm wide, 1446mm high and with a wheelbase of 2564mm (the current car reads: 3972mm, 1682mm, 1543mm, 2470mm). That makes it significantly longer and wider, and if the height difference looks significant on paper, it certainly doesn’t feel it inside in reality. In the back there’s room for two adults, and it feels generously spacious inside and in terms of boot space.

Should I buy one?

A lot hinges on what we make of the new Ford Fiesta and the price premium VW puts over the Ibiza for its badge appeal, but this appears to be a Polo that has the potential to deliver on just about every level bar, perhaps, a fraction of verve in both driver engagement and overall character.

​So, just “like a smaller Volkswagen Golf”, then? Yes, and perhaps even more so than ever before – and with even less emphasis on the word “smaller”.

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