The Polo SE is a welcome step forward from the soft curves of old

With a sharper outline and narrow, aggressive headlights, the SE is the best looking version of the Polo to date

Words by Erin Baker, Editorial Director at Auto Trader

VW’s dinky Polo has been with us since the 1970s. It’s still hard to beat that combination of German build quality, decent technology and sharp urban design, as 40 years’ heritage and 1.4 million global sales show.

Style

This is the best-looking version of the Polo to date, with a sharper outline and narrow, aggressive headlights. It’s a welcome step forward from the cutesy round headlights and soft curves of old. We had a fabulous “Energetic Orange” metallic paint job for an extra £570 – well worth it.

Inside, the Titan Black fabric upholstery echoes the more grown-up redesign of the exterior, giving the whole interior a classier feel. The leather-trimmed steering wheel is some of the smoothest leather we’ve experienced in a car, which sounds like a minor point but the steering wheel is the bit of the car you touch the most; it’s your daily handshake, if you like, and a nasty plastic surface soon starts to taint your entire driving experience.

Tech

VW has a clever touchscreen for its infotainment system: as your finger approaches the screen, extra functions spring up, which otherwise remain hidden to give you a clearer view. The DAB radio station graphics are colourful little blocks and the satnav is clear and helpful, which sounds like a given, but sadly isn’t always.

There are two USB points but, joy of joys, the Polo still has a CD player: are we the only people out there who still love a CD?! The audio system could do with a bit more bass and a mellower vibe in our humble opinion, but it’s a matter of taste.

The Polo is also linked up to the Volkswagen Connect app – you slot the VW DataPlug into a port under the steering wheel and the car will send your app data on service intervals, fuel level, mileage, cost of recent journeys, driving style analysis and a 24-hour helpline.

Polo SE

Comfort

Our test car came in the SE trim level (it goes S, SE, Beats, SEL, R-Line, then the more powerful GTI version). Although this is the second cheapest version, it’s got pretty much everything you’d need and is the best-seller: electric windows front and rear, heated and powered wing mirrors, hill-hold control so you don’t slip back on hill starts, stop/start engine function, air-con, automatic headlights and a warning sound if you leave your lights on. Pay more, and you can get all the creature comforts of bigger cars – adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection and more.

The three-door version of the Polo has gone, which is no bad thing: rear doors are far more useful and this small hatch will fit two adults in the back (three will feel cosy).

The surprising aspect is how quiet this car is on the move: you expect light, small cars to be noisy on motorways, because sound-deadening costs money and adds weight, but you could travel long distances in the Polo without getting a headache.

Power

We tested the 1.0-litre petrol version with just 80 horsepower, and a five-speed manual gearbox – power doesn’t get much lower than that unless you switch to a motorbike. While you need to think twice before you pull out to overtake on a steep hill (0-60mph takes a yawn-inducing 15.4 seconds), it’s plenty for daily journeys round town like the commute, or school/supermarket run. The upside is very decent fuel consumption – our car sipped petrol, resulting in about 50mpg which is ace.

If you’re more of a petrolhead, you can go right up to the 2.0-litre, 200 horsepower engine in the Polo GTI, which is the same package as an old Golf GTI provides.

Price

The base list price of our Polo SE is £15,735, which feels like a bargain when you get such a smart piece of German engineering and design. Add on that orange paintwork, heated front seats (£295), carpet mats (£90 but haggle to get them thrown in!) and bits and pieces and our actual test vehicle came in at £17,030.

If you stick to the 1.0-litre engine with 80 horsepower, your insurance will look more attractive, and your fuel bills won’t get much lower (don’t opt for diesel because who knows which will be the next city to introduce a diesel tax, or ban them altogether). There are all sorts of attractive finance options for the Polo; ask your local retailer but take your time to think about it; never feel pressured into a deal.

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