19/03/2012 12:22 | By James Ruppert

Expert guide to buying a Volkswagen Polo

Volkswagen Polo (© Volkswagen)

The Polo in a nutshell?
We admire the Polo's quality and the big car image, but we can't ignore the high prices. With the latest cars, the phrase 'value for money' does not spring to mind but when depreciation has levelled the market a bit more the current generation Polo will make a more tempting used purchase.

Otherwise, older Polos look like consistently sensible buys for those who want no frills transportation with build quality and brand equity to burn.

Read Volkswagen car reviews

First drive: Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion (2007-2010)

First drive: Volkswagen Polo (2002-2005)

First drive: Volkswagen Polo (2009 onwards)

What are the Volkswagen Polo stats?

Top Speed 117mph/0-60mph 10.5 seconds (1.4 16V 1996)
Top Speed 127mph/0-60mph 8.7 seconds (1.6 GTI 2000)
Top Speed 129mph/0-60mph 8.2 seconds (1.8GTI - 2007)

Slowest 90mph/0-60mph 21.4 seconds (1.0 - 1994)
Slowest 94mph/0-60mph 18.4 seconds (1.0E - 2000)
Slowest 95mph/0-60mph 17.5 seconds (1.2E - 2007)

Best 49.3 mpg (1.9 D - 1996) Worst 36.2mpg (1.6CL 100 - 1996)
Best 62.8 mpg (1.4 TDI PD- 2000) Worst 35.8mpg (1.6S 2000)
Best 60.1 mpg (1.4 TDI 2007) Worst 35.8mpg (1.8GTI 2007)

Best 122g/km Band D (1.4TDI - 2003) Worst 166g/km Band H (1.4 16V - 2003)
Best 127/km Band D (1.4TDI - 2007) Worst 190g/km Band J (Polo GTI- 2007)

Insurance Group:
Lowest, Group 3 (1.0 2000) - Highest Group 12 (1.6 GTI 2000)
Lowest, Group 2 (1.2E 2007) - Highest Group 13 (1.8 GTI 2007)

NCAP Safety Rating:
3 Stars (1997), 4 Stars (2002), 5 Stars (2009)

Volkswagen Polo (© Volkswagen)

How much for a Polo?
£500 Buys a 1997 1.6GL with 125,000 miles
£1000 Buys a 1999 1.4L with 95,000 miles
£2000 Buys a 2000 1.6GTI with 101,000 miles
£3,000 Buys a 2002 1.2E with 30,000 miles
£5000 Buys a 2008 1.4S TDI 70 with 50,000 miles
£7000 Buys a 2008 1.2 Match 60 with 16,000 miles

Why buy a Polo?
If it was simply a choice of badge the majority of supermini shoppers would go for the VW one without giving it a second thought. That roundel is the guarantee of quality, practicality and reliability. Indeed, who wouldn't want a scaled down Golf?

The feelgood factor is extremely high with the Polo, but when you examine the reality, the late model does not always stack up when it comes to the basic supermini requirements. That said, if you want some big car qualities in a handier more compact package, the Polo could be ideal.

What's the best spec Polo?
Overall, the specification of older Polo isn't anything to write home about. On basic spec cars, lots of the bits you'll want were optional extras so you're relying on the original buyer having ticked the right boxes.

Volkswagens got more generous equipment levels in 2000 which meant ABS brakes and airbags but try and find the SE rather than the S which had to manage without seat height adjustment and central locking.

The new model in 2002 had electric door mirrors and tinted glass as standard but the S added central locking, electric front windows and driver's seat height adjustment. SE meant some colour coding, split rear seats and an eight-speaker radio/cassette. The Sport has alloy wheels and firmer suspension, fog lights, heated washer jets and a multi-function computer.

By 2005 things were better, entry level models only had a CD and central locking. An S though meant air conditioning as well as alloy wheels and electric windows. SE means remote locking, alarm and seat height adjustment. The Sport has lowered suspension, CD and fog lights.

Volkswagen Polo (© Volkswagen)

Polo updates
1994 - 2001 Polo mk3

The mark 3 Polo produced in 1994 was completely revised and for the first time became available in both three- and five door versions. The mark 3 was given another facelift in 2000 with the new model featuring updated styling on the interior, headlights and bumpers.

2001 - 2009 Polo mk4
In late 2001 the VW Polo mark 4 debuted with quad headlights and this car was restyled again for 2005.

In 2007 the Polo BlueMotion was launched with a focus on low emissions and fuel economy. Based on the 1.4 litre TDI Polo, it had aerodynamic changes, lightweight alloys and longer gear ratios.

2009 - on Polo mk5
The mark 5 Polo arrived in 2009. It was voted the European Car of the Year and the World Car of the Year for 2010.

Volkswagen Polo (© Volkswagen)

What should I look for on a used Polo?

Cam belt.

Has the cam belt been changed on schedule? With petrol engines it should be changed within 4 years or 80,000 miles. On most of the diesel engines it is 4 years or 60,000 miles. Please note, the 1.2 litre engine does not have a cam belt. Changing the belt will cost £200 - £350.

Ignition coil packs
The amber engine management light should come on with the ignition and go off shortly after the engine starts. If the light stays on and the car misfires, the most likely problem is the ignition coil pack.

Service history
Note that the Polo has the option of two servicing programmes - the initial choice of which is up to the first owner but a buyer of a second-hand Polo can swap from one to the other. The first option is the VW 'LongLife' servicing programme. With this option the servicing is up to 20,000 (petrol) or up to 30,000 miles (diesel). The other servicing option is "Time and Distance" servicing which is every 10,000 miles or every 12 months.

If the brakes are cold, feel the disc (through the middle of the wheel). There should not be a significant lip on the edge. If the disc has a lip of more than 2 mm then the car needs new discs (and usually pads) which will cost around £250.

Water leaks
Inspect the boot trim on the tailgate and feel all the carpet. If there are any water marks, or the trim and carpets are damp, there is a leak usually through the rear windscreen washer pipe. It needs a new clip. But if the water has reached the alarm microswitch in the tailgate, the alarm may be triggered for no reason. The microswitch will need replacing too.

Knocking noises coming from the wheel usually indicates that an anti-roll bar link needs replacing.

Air bag light
If the air bag light stays on, the problem is usually a software fault. The car needs an electronic diagnostics test and update.

The clutch can become heavy when the pedal box has cracked or and needs replacing. But the clutch itself could just be worn and need replacing. Cost of replacement will be around £400.

Volkswagen Polo (© Volkswagen)

What's the marketplace like for Polos?
It has always been and remains very strong. Despite the huge amount of competition in the supermini car market, there is always room for a premium product and the Polo is it.

The better-equipped models and automatics always find buyers. Those after a bargain have to content themselves with the basic specification models which struggle in a more competitive used marketplace.

Which Polo should I buy?
The 1990s Polo is the tough little bargain basement model which is now temptingly cheap. The 1.0 litre engines can be tired now, although the '96 specification engine can return up to 47mpg. The 1.9D is quicker, tougher and will return almost 50mpg.

It's better to go for the perkier 1.3/1.4 petrol engines which will be cheaper than the sometimes overpriced diesels. If you must have an oil-burner, however, the 2000 on SDI and TDIs offer more refinement and over 50mpg.

It's always best to get a five-door for resale unless you are going down the GTI or minimalist 1.0 route. From 2002 the Pump Diesel engines meant even more economy and the smaller engines were better too making a 1.2 12-valve model probably the bargain combination. The often-overlooked 1.4i petrol is also worth a look.

Volkswagen Polo (© Volkswagen)

Where do I shop for Polos?
The Polo is almost exclusively a privately bought model when new. It attracts nice middle class families aiming to get a quality second car or well-off OAPs who want to do the shopping in comfort. For that reason you can find some of the very best examples in private hands, provided they do have a full service history and bodywork that has been preened, cleaned and ideally parked in a garage.

Of course, there are plenty of examples that are with independent dealers and will have the advantage of a warranty. First off though we would recommend the private market and compare prices with dealers and work out the best value from there. You certainly should not pay over the odds for what still can be one of the more expensive small used cars.

Any alternatives to the Polo?

Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta, is cheap to buy and run and there is a hugely wide choice at auction, car supermarkets and classifieds. The low prices combined with low insurance and running costs make the Fiesta impossible to ignore.

Toyota Yaris
One of the most complete superminis has to be the Toyota Yaris. Traditional Toyota virtues of build quality and reliability have been combined with cheeky distinctive styling and truly phenomenal packaging.

Peugeot 206
The Peugeot 206 is spacious, with good specifications and now some very low prices. It's getting on a bit now so early models are cheap but they're also in plentiful supply. The most economical is the 2.0 HDi Eco which returns an impressive, 62.8 mpg.

Read Volkswagen car reviews

First drive: Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion (2007-2010)

First drive: Volkswagen Polo (2002-2005)

First drive: Volkswagen Polo (2009 onwards)


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