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Volkswagen Polo 1.2 review (2002-2005)
Engine: 1.2 in-line 3-cylinder
Fuel type: Petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Date of Test: May 2002
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What is it?
In the supermini sector this is commonly regarded as the best-built, most luxurious model of all. Volkswagen is renowned for its impressive build quality and the chance to buy it in all its glory for so (relatively) little makes the Polo one of the most well-respected superminis on the market. Even if it’s far from being the most exciting. A wide range of engines are offered, but many people’s budgets will only stretch to the smallest 1.2-litre unit.
Where does it fit?
The 1.2-litre engine appears in various models, from the cheapest base derivatives to far more well-equipped ones. This makes it Volkswagen’s ‘entry-level’ Polo - though the fact that it’s both a VW, and one of the new breed of ‘maxi’ superminis, means prices are still pretty substantial. It competes with the new Citroen C3, Ford Fiesta and Honda Jazz; the smaller Lupo takes on rival’s city cars.
Is it for you?
The Polo is marketed as a ‘big small car’ and it does make a lot of sense if you’re after a compact Golf. Interior space is reasonable - though room in the back isn’t as great as you’d initially think -the boot is a decent shape though. Above all, it looks ‘expensive’, from the flawless paint finish and subdued styling, to the chunky stance and huge ‘VW’ badges. The fully-galvanised bodyshell and German integrity means it’ll be ideal if you’re after a car for the long run, too.
What does it do well?
It’s probably the maturest-feeling supermini out there. The interior plastics are as good as any Mercedes - substantially better in many places - and everything is big, firm and chunky, from the seats, to the light switch, to the steering wheel. Ride and refinement also do a good job of impersonating larger cars, for the Polo is quiet and hushed in most conditions, even at speed on the motorway. The three-cylinder engine is very smooth, has a positive gearchange and clutch - and makes a fizzy, cheeky noise.
What doesn't it do well?
Surprisingly, fuel economy from the 1.2-litre engine is not the best if you drive it as hard as it likes, though cut the pace and it’s actually quite efficient. This fine though, for you’re after fun, the Polo is possibly not the car for you. It’s thoroughly competent but a little too grown-up to be thrown around like a hot hatch. Prices are steeper than the competition too, though spec levels are better than they initially were, and when you factor in the top-level build, the Polo isn’t actually overpriced. Just dearer than rivals…
What's it like to live with?
Pretty painless. No-one’s going to give you any hassle when driving a Polo, as it’s in no way an aggressive car - rather one which does the job reliably, day in, day out. VW dealers will help you service it efficiently (if a little expensively) and ultra-low insurance ratings won’t give you yearly cause for concern. It should be as reliable as any Japanese car. The 1.2 falls into the second-lowest road tax bracket and there's always a ready market for used VW Polos, so chances are you won’t be stung when you come to sell it.
Would we buy it?
We’d give it consideration, though the excellence of Honda’s clever Jazz may sway us; the Jazz is more fun, more practical, just as well-built and better value. The Polo isn’t without merit though - the interior is luxurious and both ride quality and refinement are excellent. It depends on what your priorities are; we like fun cars and although the Polo is a competent car, it doesn’t quite fire up the passion within us like some rivals can.
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