Volkswagen Polo (2009-2017) Expert Review
Volkswagen’s Polo hatchback – which today sits between the smaller Up and the bigger Golf in the company’s model line up – has been on uninterrupted sale since 1975. That makes ‘Polo’ one of the most enduring nameplates in the entire automotive industry. In this review of the mk5 version we tell you everything you need to know to pick out a good one.
- Three-door hatchback
- Five-door hatchback
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
The focus of this used car review is the mk5 version of the Volkswagen Polo, which was replaced by the current model in 2017. It’s been off sale for a number of years already, then, but the capable and dependable Mk5 will always be remembered as a high point in the Polo dynasty.
In 2010 it was named European Car of the Year, finishing ahead of the likes of the deceptively clever Toyota iQ and the characterful Skoda Yeti. Between 2013 and 2016, the heavily-adapted Polo R WRC dominated the World Rally Championship, winning both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles four years in succession.
As you’d expect of a car wearing a VW badge, the Polo feels more grown-up than its diminutive proportions would suggest – in terms of build quality, comfort in town and refinement on the motorway, it really is like a scaled-down Golf. Just don’t expect it to steer and handle with the same sophistication as its bigger brother on a winding road. In fact, for those buyers who expect their small hatchbacks to be fun to drive, a contemporary Ford Fiesta is a far better bet.
Three Things To Know
- A midlife facelift in 2014 included subtly restyled bumpers and a touchscreen infotainment system on all but the most basic versions of the Polo. Support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto was introduced the following year.
- With multiple airbags, ABS and electronic stability control as standard across the range, the Polo is a very safe car. That’s backed up by a five-star Euro NCAP rating, the highest score possible.
- BlueMotion models are the most fuel efficient. These came with aerodynamically-optimised bodywork and wheels, plus fuel-saving powertrain technology. Petrol and diesel versions of the BlueMotion were available.
Which One to Buy
- For tiny fuel bills: any of the BlueMotion models will return exceptional fuel efficiency whether they run on petrol or diesel, but none more so than the 1.4 TDI. This 74bhp diesel model was officially rated at 91.1mpg combined.
- For city driving: the three-cylinder petrol engines (1.0 and 1.2 litres) feel out of their depth on the motorway but they work well in town and emit fewer harmful particulates than diesel versions.
- For motorway driving: the BlueGT is a curious mash-up of the sporty GTI and the very fuel efficient BlueMotion models. It has a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 148bhp, plus cylinder deactivation to reduce fuel consumption when cruising.
- For those in a hurry: the 178bhp Polo GTI was replaced by a faster 189bhp version in 2015. Neither one was a world-class hot hatch, but they do at least give the Polo a useful turn of speed when needed. The limited edition Polo R WRC with 217bhp wasn’t offered in right-hand drive.
Unless you’re considering one of the high performance GTI models, you can expect very good fuel economy from the mk5 Polo. As the car matured, the technology beneath the bonnet improved as well, meaning later cars will generally be significantly more efficient than equivalent early models. As a general rule of thumb, post-facelift versions will benefit from the more up-to-date powertrain technologies.
Even so, early petrol cars – in theory the least fuel efficient of the bunch, GTIs aside – will manage close to 50mpg in real-world mixed driving. That’s not at all bad, but the more modern petrol models (look for TSI badging) will return half as much again. If saving money at the pumps is a priority, narrow in on the diesel models – particularly if you do more miles than most. Even early diesels will manage around 60mpg, while later cars, the BlueMotion models in particular, will return as much as 90mpg.
The GTIs, whether the earlier ‘twincharger’ 1.4 (with both a supercharger and a turbocharger) or the later 1.8-litre turbo version, will inevitably be less fuel efficient. Neither is likely to break the bank, though, with 40mpg a realistic figure for both.
In 2017, the same year the mk5 Polo went off sale, a new road tax system was introduced. All but the last of the line cars, therefore, will be charged based on CO2 emissions. Accordingly, post-facelift diesels won’t incur any charge, while petrols will only cost £20 a year to tax. At £145 for the year, the GTIs are rather more expensive to tax.
Certain pre-facelift petrol models can cost the same or only a little less to tax than the GTIs. Pre-facelift diesels, meanwhile, will cost nothing, or only a nominal amount.
Servicing at a main dealer will cost more than you’d pay for a comparable Ford or Renault (£164 for a minor service and £329 for a major one), but you’ll make savings with independent specialists. Finally, all Polos other than the GTI and BlueGT will be very reasonable to insure, none sitting in a group higher than 15 (out of 50).
The Polo was one of the best-selling cars throughout its time on sale in the UK, which means there are plenty of them about. You shouldn’t expect to travel far to find the right car, therefore, and you can afford to be choosy.
The same advice that applies to any very common car is every bit as relevant here – walk away from examples with incomplete service histories, cosmetic imperfections beyond what you’d expect of a car of a certain age, tatty interiors and so on. Similarly, if buying from a garage, you should expect all four tyres to have plenty of life left in them.
Otherwise, you really only need to concern yourself with potential engine issues and recall work (on the latter point, a responsible dealer will tell you exactly which recalls applied to the car in question and show proof of remedial work where necessary). Look out for the codename EA189 – it describes a family of three-and four-cylinder diesel engines that were implicated in the VW ‘dieselgate’ scandal a few years ago. Ask your dealer if the car you’re considering has one of these engines. As long as the correct recall work has been carried out, you needn’t dismiss the car offhandedly.
Most Polo engines use timing belts that need changing every four years, so look for evidence in the service book that this essential work has been carried out accordingly. The 1.2-litre petrol engine, meanwhile, uses a timing chain. Check that it isn’t rattling loudly at idle.
Finally, diesel cars that spend their life in the city, doing mostly short journeys and rarely venturing onto the motorway, can suffer clogged-up particulate filters. Although these can be cleaned at modest expense by a garage, in some cases a new filter will be needed – a job that can land you a four-figure bill.
The CarGurus Verdict
The mk5 Polo didn’t ever excel itself in reliability surveys, but nor did it perform badly enough to undermine its numerous qualities elsewhere. Its styling was led by Walter de Silva – a car design stalwart who also has various Alfa Romeos and Lamborghinis to his credit – and apart from being handsome (in an understated way) and very well built, the Polo also pulls off that typical VW hatchback trick of feeling like a bigger and more expensive car than it really is.
Nonetheless, it was never anything like as fun to drive as the Ford Fiesta of the time, nor as stylish as something like a MINI. The BlueMotion versions are remarkably fuel efficient, while more powerful models are easy to drive around town and comfortable on the motorway. The sporty GTI hot hatches, however, never scaled the heights necessary to stand out in a very competitive sector.