MSN Cars
08/07/2009 05:48 | By Alexander Popple, contributor, MSN Cars

Volkswagen Polo review (2002-2005)

New Polo has a friendly rounded face inspired by the Lupo. (© Volkswagen)

On the road: Polo is solid, comfortable and very competent

For the last few years - unlike in its infancy - Volkswagen has not been known for radicalism. The new Polo won't be changing that reputation - it's more subtle than that. The German company hopes the car will appeal both to its traditional customers and to the younger buyers who are often more attracted to the Peugeot 206 or Renault Clio.

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Space: Though this generation of Polos is bigger than the original Golf, it's still a small car, but . . .

In practical terms, that means Polo gets the round-headlamped, friendly face, of VW's smaller Lupo model. It also receives features like a built-in booster cushion for children. Impressively low insurance ratings will help, too.

. . . cabin is comfortable, and remarkably spacious especially in the front seats.

VW's boldest move with the new Polo most is in the engine options. The emphasis is very firmly on diesel - initially, there are three diesel engines on offer, and only two petrol choices, while the sportiest model is a 100bhp, 1.9 TDI turbodiesel (0-62mph in 10.7 seconds, in case you were wondering).

The high quality of materials and design is evident from a close inspection of details like these switches.

But what you really want to know, is how good it is. Quality is just what you expect from VW - excellent. It's immediately apparent in the materials, especially inside the cabin, and the way everything fits together properly. Though it's not on a par with larger VWs, it's still top-notch for cars of this size.

Safety: engineers have paid close attention to safety, as well as keeping insurance costs low by making repairs easy to do.

From behind the wheel, ergonomics are outstanding, with the location and weight of steering wheel and pedals particularly impressive. This may be a small car (though it's bigger than the model it replaces - and actually larger than the original 1970s Golf), but even tall people will find it spacious. Boot and rear passenger space is limited, of course, but there's plenty of headroom even so.

On the road, all the Polos are highly competent, with solid, dependable road manners. They're not exciting, but they're not meant to be. Thanks to the excellent cabin ambience, you could comfortably cruise in it for long distances. If you do want a little bit more zip, the `Sport' trim option may be a worthwhile investment; available with the largest engine options, it offers more supportive seats, stiffer suspension and a more involving drive.

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The entry-level 3-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine is certainly not the smoothest engine in the world (though you probably wouldn't guess that it was a 3-, rather than 4-cylinder if you didn't know before driving it), nor the fastest, but it does its job admirably, delivering a sufficiency of power and comfortable ride, with very low fuel consumption and insurance costs.

First of the diesels is a 64-bhp diesel unit, carried over from the last model. But the new 75-bhp TDI diesel is likely the preferable option - it utilises VW's PD high-pressure injection technology, which makes it cleaner and more efficient, as well as more powerful. Performance isn't spectacular (61.4mpg, 0-62mph in 13.6 seconds), but it's pleasant enough and has no nasty habits - indeed, like many of today's diesels, it feels just like a petrol engined car to drive.

Despite VW's faith in diesel, it's the other petrol option, a 1.4-litre 4-cylinder, that is the most impressive unit. Very refined, it's smooth and capable, and offers a remarkable feeling of quality for such a small car - but it's relatively costly.

Last but far from least is the top-line 100-bhp 1.9-litre four-cylinder diesel. Smooth and quiet, this unit delivers a very satisfying accelerative punch, but no drama; it leaves you with an impression of great competence. On the downside, at low speeds, there something of the diesel vibration and jerkiness that often accompanies big diesel engines in small cars - but not so much that it should put you off. However, what may put you off is how pricey it is, at upwards of £12,500. That said, it's in the lowest VED (tax disc) band for diesel cars (marginally more expensive than the lowest petrol band), and the insurance, though higher than its more modest siblings, at group 6 is still very reasonable. Furthermore, VW's second-hand values are typically good, so you have a reasonable chance of recouping a good part of your money.

Polo's safety levels are, however, right on the money - all models get dual front and side airbags, power steering and ABS brakes. Other sophisticated safety features like electronic stability control, brake assist (a system that reduces emergency stop distances) as well as luxury features like air conditioning, CD players and satellite navigation are available in the range.

Overall, it's an understated, attractive package. Maybe it will appeal more to younger buyers, but VW's core values of quality and dependability are still to the fore. The significant downside is that it can be expensive, especially as you move beyond the base models.

What's best?

Quality, cabins paciousness, refinement, fuel efficiency, comfort.

Overall verdict?

Impressive and highly competent. Expensive, but could still be a sound investment.

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