For many years the Polo was Volkswagens smallest model available on the Australian market. Its size has increased commensurately with its popularity over time, meaning that it is now a feasible option for a family car, provided the children are still pre-teens.
Production of the Polo first began in 1998, but it is largely the Mk4 version onwards, dating from 2002, which remains popular on Australian used car forecourts. Early Polos are distinguished by their compact size, while later models can often be confused at first glance with the Golf, so much have they grown and so similar is their styling. This is not a bad thing, however, when you consider the enduring popularity of its larger sibling.
The Mk4 comes in a range of three body styles a three-door hatchback, five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan, though on its introduction it was available in hatchback version only. The sedan model goes by the name of the Polo Classic and has the honour of being the first Chinese-built car to be exported to a right-hand-drive country.
The Polo is classified as a compact car and comes with a transversely mounted engine and front-wheel drive. Typically, each generation of VW model comes in a range of engine options and trims, and the Polo is no exception. While Mk1 models came only with 4-cylinder petrol engines, the Mk models range from a 1.2L petrol to a 1.9L turbo diesel with several variations in between. Early versions used 4-speed manual transmission while later models offer a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. Most models feature disc brakes to the front and drum brakes to the rear, with some more recent models featuring disc brakes all round.
The top-of-the-range Polo on the used car forecourts in terms of its sportiness at least is the GTi, which dates from 2011 onwards. The 1.4L twin-charged direct-injection engine is coupled with a 7-speed DSG transmission driving the front wheels. It gives an impressive 132kW of power a full 55kW more than its nearest rival within the Polo range along with 250Nm of torque, which is not far short of its older sibling, the Golf GTi. Thanks to its lightweight body, the Polo GTi also boasts pretty impressive acceleration, reaching 0-100km/h in just 6.9 seconds, equal to its Golf counterpart. Fuel consumption for this model is a respectable 6.1L/100km combined with lower spec models, of course, faring even better.
Buyers considering the Polo will find a predominance of petrol engines amongst the earlier models, although the diesel has become increasingly popular over the course of the past few years. The 7-speed gearbox is available on models from 2010 onwards, while you will find a 6-speed option on models dating back as far as 2008, with 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic on older models.
Older Polos have much more of an entry-level feel about them than their more recent counterparts, with trim quality and standard equipment being rather basic. Later models fare much better, however, with kit and styling closer to the Golf than ever before, making the Polo a real contender for a buyer in search of a compact car with a quality feel.
The GTi boasts a standard kit equivalent to its Golf counterpart, with sports seats and 17-inch 5-spoke alloys, along with ESP, Hill Start Assist, and 6 airbags, providing a level of safety to match its performance.
Newer Polo models are well set to meet strict safety criteria, achieving a maximum five-star rating in the EuroNCAP crash tests, which are currently even more stringent than our own ANCAP tests. Its rating is down to a combination of optimised body structure, particularly effective combination of belts, airbags, and driver-assist systems. It has firmly earned the Polo the moniker of being the safest compact car in the world.
The Golf provides the Polos main competition from within VW itself. As Australias best light car, the Polo is hard to beat, but those in the market for a car of this size might also consider the Mazda 121 Metro, Mazda 2, Toyota Echo or Ford Fiesta. The Polo also gives those higher up the scale, like the Mercedes A class, Audi A3, and BMW 1, series a real run for their money.