VW Polo 1.4 (2009) review

Published:14 October 2009

VW Polo SE 1.4 5-door
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

The big news for the new VW Polo was the new 1.2 TSI, with a turbo to push its tiny four-pot to 104bhp. But that’s the range-topper. Volkswagen expects most buyers to opt for the piddling 59bhp naturally aspirated 1.2, closely followed by this better-nourished 84bhp 1.4. In five-door SE spec, the latter is yours for £12,450 – which will only buy you a Fiesta on steel wheels. Does that mean the Polo can shoot to the top of the class?

So, this new VW Polo’s a bargain then?

Well, the equivalent Skoda Fabia falls shy of the £11k mark, which perhaps means that’s the real bargain. However, while the Skoda feels very grown-up, it’s based on the group’s outgoing small-car platform and it can’t match the VW for refinement and finish. The new Polo feels every inch like a shrunken Golf.

The equipment list isn’t bad (air-con, alloys, four electric windows) and all the interior’s upper surfaces are beautifully finished and complimented by chrome highlights for the switchgear and air vents. It’s an extremely classy car that feels upmarket. But it’ll need to be a dynamic storm to wipe out all the competition.

How does it drive?

Not so much a dynamic storm as the calm that ensues. Merely pulling away from a parking space is enough to convince you that this is one extremely smooth, quiet and comfortable supermini. The ride is plush and pliant, the suspension hushed in its actions and the engine is velvety. There’s a decent supply of torque from the 1.4 too, so you don’t need to pile on the revs for progress that’s brisk enough for most circumstances. Keeps the decorum intact.

What if I do pile on the revs?

Give this Polo the full whack on a twisting B-road and the plot begins to unravel, but only slightly. The engine gets coarse and boomy as it winds round the clock, and the ride – gorgeously supple around town – suddenly displays a lack of damping by getting out of control over humps and depressions. In short, the serenity disappears.

You have to be in a tearing hurry for that. VW’s target market is probably rather more demure in its driving, and will be far more interested in the Polo’s immaculate interior, its light controls, logical, high-quality switchgear and easy gearshift. If you’re more into handling, then you’ll be after a Fiesta instead.

The Polo’s a good motorway cruiser, maintaining decent silence and loping along beautifully. And you can have fun in its elsewhere, because it’s quick to change direction and agile with it – just keep it below seven-tenths if the road surface gets lively.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our VW Polo 1.4 first drive

Could it be my only car?

The new Polo has grown a couple of inches over the old, like so many superminis. The result? A competitively spacious car but not a class leader. The boot looks a bit small at first because it has a false floor (to match the level of dropped seatbacks for a through load), and you’ll struggle to get a quartet of six-footers comfortable in the cabin. But it’s practical enough for young families who don’t regularly carry massive loads, and brisk and quiet enough so that they can tackle even long journeys without wishing they’d bought a Golf. Classy enough for you to park it anywhere, too.

Verdict

If any car can challenge the Ford Fiesta for class leadership, this is it. And this spec shows the Polo in an especially positive light: the engine suits the rest of the car (so much better than the coarse and lurchy 1.6 diesel) and it’s not too expensive.

Yet the roundness of those scores is a double-edged sword: solid fours in every category but utterly outstanding in none. This is a great little car, tops for refinement and finish, the class act if acting classy is what you’re after. But the Fiesta has more zing, a bit more character, mainly because it’s a more entertaining drive. Yet an equivalent Fiesta costs a good grand more – bonkers but true. Remember the battle between the Golf Mk4 and the original Ford Focus? It’s being repeated here. I’d sooner drive the Ford, but I’d rather own the VW.


Specs

Price when new: £12,450
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1390cc 16v 4-cyl, 84bhp @ 5000rpm, 97lb ft @ 3800rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 11.9sec 0-62mph, 110mph, 47.9mpg, 139g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1095kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3970/1682/1462

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  • VW Polo SE 1.4 5-door
  • VW Polo SE 1.4 5-door
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