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Used Volkswagen Polo: History, Buying Tips, Alternatives

Used Volkswagen Polo: History, Buying Tips, Alternatives

4 August 2022 Concept Car

The Volkswagen Polo is one of the most successful cars ever built. Introduced 45 years ago, it’s sold a total of 14 million units so far. That’s still well below the approximately 35 million Golfs Volkswagen produced. But considering the highly competitive class the Polo operates in, these numbers are truly impressive.

In fact, they are even more impressive if you consider the Polo’s premium pricing. Ever since its second generation, Volkswagen’s smallest model has been the subject of heated debate: Priceless classic or a classic case of overpricing? The arguments on both sides are still as valid today as they were back in the 80s.

To us, the debate seems like a waste of time. After all, a used Volkswagen Polo offers all the benefits without the depressing price tag.

There can be no doubt that a used Polo is a great alternative to a new one.

But what should you be watching out for? And what about its many competitors? Are they possibly an even better choice?

In this special, we’ll investigate everything you need to know about the Polo, from its colourful history to its advantages and disadvantages. Once you’ve reached the end, you’ll be able to answer that nagging question:

Is a used Volkswagen Polo right for me?

Volkswagen Polo: A history in six generations

Some have voiced concern over the fact that the Polo shares so many similarities with the Seat Ibiza. Essentially, the new Ibiza is a rebadged version of the Polo, with a considerably lower price tag. Which can make it hard to tell them apart.

As car magazine Top Gear wrote in a review of the Polo:

“The VW is very similar, not just in looks and specs, but in character. It strikes us as a strategic corporate error that the two are so alike. Why not chase different customers with different cars?”

Curiously, the Polo itself was a rebadged version of a different model itself! When Audi introduced the 50 in 1974, it wanted to attack the supermini class, dominated at the time by Italian and French brands like Fiat and Renault.

But the Audi 50 was not a big success.

Well, in some ways it was. During its four year production run, the Audi 50 sold almost 200,000 units, which isn’t bad by any means. But it never fully convinced Audi’s executives that it was a sensible addition to its roster. Also because of its markedly different looks, it always seemed like a foreign body. And so, in 1978, Audi decided that it would discontinue its supermini and instead focus on producing bigger and more luxurious cars.

And yet, the Audi 50 lived on. Already a year after Audi had introduced it, Volkswagen had copied the design and started selling it as the Polo. From the outside, no one could tell them apart. In technical terms, they were almost identical. But the Polos were more stripped down and basic and, thus, quite a bit cheaper.

Right from the bat, the Polo outsold the Audi 50 by quite a margin. At the end of its six-year tenure, it had sold half a million units and turned into a valuable asset for the Volkswagen group. With the arrival of the second generation, this process would speed up considerably.

Polo Mk2: Breaking through

The first iteration was undeniably successful. But it was the Polo’s second generation which really established its reputation. And it would quickly turn into one of Europe’s leading superminis.

The Golf Mk2 was considerably more expensive than the debut version. But it was also more pleasing to look at, more powerful to drive, offered a lot more space and improved on the first generation in almost every single regard.

Despite fierce competition from its competitors, this model would remain in production for a staggering 13 years. Very few cars – from the Saab 900 to the Mercedes Benz G-Class – have managed to beat that.

In a critical review, Honest John pointed at the many weaknesses of this model from today’s point of view. They also acknowledged that it remained a classic and was still in demand among many young fans.

Polo Mk5: Pushing upwards

If the Polo Mk2 marked the mainstream breakthrough of the Polo, the Mk5 pushed it even further upclass. This, according to many spectators, constituted a significant upgrade in the eyes of drivers worldwide.

Auto Express, for example, considers the Mk5 the moment when the Polo went from being just another supermini to the Golf’s little brother (or sister). The publication summed up its newly found strengths thus:

“The fifth-generation version was much better to drive, generally well equipped and came with some superb engines.”

This obviously makes it a great choice as a second hand model. After all, many of these Polos are still in excellent shape and will continue to perform for many, many years.

Feedback on the sixth generation has been very positive so far. Since it was  introduced in 2017, only time can tell if it can match the classic status of the Mk2 and Mk5. At this point, meanwhile, it still makes a lot of sense to opt for a Mk5 in great shape rather than a brand new Mk6.

Benefits: What makes a Polo a Polo?

When Auto Express praised the Polo Mk5, it considered the previous generations as “solid, dependable, costly and devoid of flair.”

That may be somewhat of an overstatement. But certainly, the Polo was hardly an exciting car for its first three decades. In terms of its image, it probably still isn’t, although it has undeniably made some progress in that regard.

Then again, clearly, that’s not what most buyers want out of a car these days. Solid, safe and dependable are no longer backhanded compliments. They constitute veritable arguments for buying a particular model.

So let’s look at the distinct Polo qualities, which make it the car that’s generally been considered a class leader in many respects.

Driving a Polo Part 1: Handling

Car journalists have never been passionate about the Polo. They much prefer a Ford Fiesta, which offers a more aggressive, sportive and red blooded experience.

And yet, few cars can match the Polo’s command of the road. Once you’ve turned the key, you’ll feel like you’re floating on air. The Polo is dead quiet, too, feeling graceful and refined. You won’t feel the blood boiling in your veins when you turn a corner. But maybe that’s a good thing.

In a to-the-point assessment of this feeling, Whatcar commented that the Polo “falls on the side of safety and comfort rather than entertainment” and that “the the ride is nice and smooth – even on 17in wheels.”

Driving a Polo Part 2: Safety

Safety has become a major concern for many buyers these days. Rightly so. Personally, we’re glad that the focus has shifted away from performance to security. Not just in terms of protecting passengers but pedestrians or bikers affected by a collision as well.

Safety is one of the hallmarks of the Polo. It scored the maximum five star rating by Euro NCAP with flying flags. It may not be the safest vehicle available in its class (that honour goes to the Renault Clio), but it is right there at the very top. If you want to compare the safety features of the Polo with those of its competitors, visit the South African page of Autotrader.

The excellent results achieved by the Polo are down to two points.

Firstly, the overall construction of the car, which offers the perfect fusion of flexibility and firmness. Secondly, the remarkable list of safety technology included in its most basic models.

The Telegraph admiringly writes:

“The Polo is available with the kind of advanced safety features you usually only see on models from the class above, such as a radar for the cruise control that allows you to maintain a set distance from the car in front. Volkswagen’s City Emergency Braking, which will bring the car to a stop if it senses a frontal collision, is also available as an option.”

Visibility is also often quoted as a plus in the Polo, which adds to the sensation of security experienced in the car.

Space and quality

The Polo is the very definition of a supermini: A car that may have small outward dimensions, but still offers a remarkable amount of space inside.

From the fifth generation onward, this has become even more pronounced. The Polo is no longer Volkswagen’s smallest model. The arrival of the Up! has allowed it to grow and mature and turn into the kind of car that leaves some wondering: Do I really need a Golf for my family?

Another essential benefit of the Polo is the overall quality of the materials and the entire feeling of excellence this car exudes. In a discussion on online community Quora, users described the Polo as the ‘safest and most premium’. They remarked that “once you will get a Polo, you will start disliking all other brands”.

It is this solidity and sense of premium quality that makes the Polo so valuable on the second hand market.

Maintenance Costs

German cars have a reputation for durability. They also have a reputation for being expensive to maintain. Ironically, both these assumptions may be wrong: As we’ll see in a bit, the Polo is not the world’s most reliable car (although still very reliable by any means). But intriguingly, it is extremely cheap to run.

In a comprehensive review of used Volkswagen Polos, Parkers explained this paradox: All Polos, be it petrol or diesel, have excellent fuel efficiency. This means your fuel costs are going to be low.

In addition, repair costs for the Polo are surprisingly easy on your wallet. Of the UK’s three best sold superminis, the Polo, the Fiesta and the Corsa, it was the German make which scored best in this department.

One thing to note: The difference in repair costs is considerable between the Golf and the Polo and tilted in the Polo’s favour. If you, too, are considering of giving the smaller of the two cars the benefit of the doubt, this could be an additional argument in its favour.

Are there any cons?

Life must be hard for the Polo’s competitors. Almost every car has a few weaknesses at least. But when it comes to the Polo, it appears as though this just doesn’t apply.

We’ve browsed almost every single review on the Polo that’s out there. We’ve tried to be critical and to allow for negative impressions. We even looked in forums, from the UK to India and from Germany to the USA. But we just couldn’t find any substantial cons.

Yes, of course, the Polo does not score high in every single department. It has sometimes been mentioned that other cars offer more space for backseat passengers. Or that if you need a repair even for something as minor as a small dent, you will have to have the entire part replaced. (not that this is something out of the ordinary)

But if even the staunchest Polo haters can’t come up with anything more dramatic than saying the design is “uninspired”, or that there’s “no three-door model”.

Clearly, these people are trying to find a fault where there really is none.

Is the Polo the perfect car? It really does seem that way.

Buying a used Polo: What to watch out for

Of course, we’re joking. No car will ever be flawless. This is especially true for the used car market, where you can never be entirely sure about the quality of a vehicle. Under normal circumstances you should be able to thoroughly inspect the car before committing to it. (unless you have your mind set on a car auction) But even then, there are no guarantees.

This sounds a lot more problematic than it is, however. If you’re interested in a used Polo, we can give you a few concrete pointers about what to watch out for. These are some of the most typical areas where a used Polo might have some issues. If you can spot them in time, you can steer clear of these models. With plenty of Polos to go around, there should always be a better model available to make up for it.

Don’t take the weakest engine.

It has sometimes been mentioned that the choice of engines for the Polo isn’t wide enough. With other cars, this might indeed be a concern. After all, the bigger your range of engine options, the more you can tailor the car to your personal needs.

With the Polo, however, this need not be a problem. Most of the engines at your disposal are powerful and efficient enough to make for a compelling experience. Those looking for a more powerful and exciting performance can opt for the Polo GTI with its 2.0 TSI 200PS 6-speed engine.

That said, some advise against going for the 59bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine which seems a little too weak to truly impress. Other than that, though, you should be able to find the configuration that’s right for you.

Brake discs

Some car parts wear down more quickly than others. This isn’t rocket science. And it goes without saying that the breaks are among the items with the fastest rate of wear and tear.

Even considering this, some Polo drivers have remarked that their car’s break discs tend to wear or warp pretty quickly. Obviously, they can be replaced. But if at all possible, you don’t want to drive home your freshly bought used Polo only to find out the discs have to be renewed.

Auto Express therefore advises to check them “by feeling for juddering under braking.”

Another item that seems to experience issues on long-term use with a Polo are the headlights. But this really only affects a small number of drivers and only if you leave your daytime running lights on for a very long time.

Diesel engine

Diesels are becoming increasingly rarer on UK streets. When it comes to the driving experience, this is actually somewhat disappointing. The Polo Diesel especially has always been a great car to drive. It has consistently put the petrol to shame in many respects.

As it is, however, we expect Diesels to disappear from most manufacturers’ catalogues over the next few years. Buying a used Polo Diesel as such probably won’t even be on your radar.

If it is, however, here are three things you should be aware of:

  • Some Polos use a unit implicated in the Dieselgate scandal. If possible, try to either avoid buying one of these or to know what you’re getting yourself into.
  • According to Whatcar, “the 1.2 diesel engines built between 1 April 2010 and 1 April 2014 were subject to a recall for cracked fuel filters.” Volkswagen has offered to replace these at no cost. Just make sure this work has been performed.
  • If you don’t intend to drive your Polo Diesel all that often, you should be aware of the fact that particulate filters on these models can easily get clogged. Not an issue if you’re covering more miles, however.


As we’ve established, the Polo comes pretty close to being a perfect car. You’ll be hard pressed to find a serious fault. And even wear and tear is very limited at best.

This kind of excellence, however, comes at a price. The Polo is easily the most expensive supermini on the market. Plus, it holds its value remarkably well. Which means that even buying a used Polo will set you back quite a few Pounds.

In an assessment on the Honest John forum, one user puts it thus:

“£3K would buy you an absolutely mint low mileage Citroën C3 1.4 HDI, it will be better equipped and more comfortable than the Polo – just as economical – perhaps even more so. At least a third of your money is buying a shiny silver badge.”

Let’s now investigate how well the Polo performs against its closest competitors.

Used Ford Fiesta vs used Volkswagen Polo

This comparison is the one UK drivers will be most interested in, After all, these have been the two leading superminis for many, many years. While the Fiesta has dominated sales charts, the Polo is widely regarded as the best car. What sets the two apart?

Here are some of the most important considerations:

  • The Polo is roomier in every single regard.
  • The ride of the Polo is more refined. The Fiesta’s is more fun.
  • The Polo’s materials are higher quality than the Fiesta’s.
  • According to Carwow, the Polo is more comfortable and more practical.

And yet, the differences are small. As you’d expect, reviewers are undecided:

  • Carwow considers the Polo the better car and the better allrounder.
  • Topgear effectively feels they are equally attractive, but feels as though the Ford is just a little ’rounder’.
  • Auto Express puts the Fiesta ahead of the Polo, as the latter appears to be too pricey.

If you discount the reviewer bias towards more fun cars, then you should probably conclude that the Polo nudges ahead of the Fiesta just a little bit.

Used Skoda Fabia vs used Volkswagen Polo

This is an interesting comparison. From the outside, these two cars have so much in common that they could well be twins.

Hold on – they are like twins in some ways! Skoda, after all, is also part of the Volkswagen group. It goes without saying that the Polo is more refined and of a higher quality. But when it comes to the technology underneath the hood, both are quality items.

Here’s a breakdown of the respective strengths and weaknesses:

  • The Fabia is one of the few superminis that’s actually bigger than the Polo. If you need to store a lot of baggage, the Fabia is the one for you.
  • The Fabia is considered by some car magazines as less comfortable.
  • Again, the Polo offers more quality for your Pounds than the Fabia.
  • The Fabia offers plenty of nice gimmicks as extras. The Polo, on the other hand, includes a wealth of excellent safety technology.

Again, we’re presented with a divided opinion:

  • Australian website news.com opines that the Fabia is a fine car but no match for the Polo.
  • Newspaper TZ arrives at almost exactly the same verdict.
  • Europe’s biggest car magazine Auto Motor und Sport ranks the Polo well ahead of the Fabia.
  • Carwow, on the other hand, considers the Fabia just a tad better and cheaper to boot.

Overall, the wider consensus seems to be that the Polo is ahead of the Fabia. The latter does offer a great alternative, though, if you’re pressed for cash.

Used Honda Jazz vs used Volkswagen Polo

The Honda Jazz is a class of its own. We mean that quite literally. Thanks to its bigger dimensions, the Jazz sits at the outer border of the supermini genre. It is quite astounding what this still small car will fit. If you’re looking for a supermini which can fit your family and more, this may be the car for you.

In terms of pricing, it is very close to the Polo: Although there is a base model, which is a bit cheaper than its German rival, its other two versions are essentially exactly as expensive as the comparable Polos. That’s a lot of space for your money. It can come as no surprise, then, that the Jazz has built up a large group of dedicated fans.

Since they’re so different, it is hard to compare these two vehicles. We can note a few points to point you in the right direction, however:

  • The Jazz’s interior space is huge and unmatched by any other car of the supermini class.
  • The Jazz holds an impeccable reliability rating. In Whatcar’s annual survey, it has repeatedly come out first. (check the 2018 edition, for example).
  • Although tastes differ, most reviewers favour the driving experience of the Polo.
  • The Polo is considerably more economical and will save you quite a bit in fuel costs.
  • The Polo, from the interior to the exterior, feels a lot more classy.

By the time you’ve read this, you’ve probably already made up your mind: need a lot of space? The Jazz is for you. Looking for a refined ride and excellent build quality? Chose the Polo.

Used Vauxhall Corsa vs used Volkswagen Polo

This is another important comparison. Between them, the Ford Fiesta, Polo and Corsa make up around 50% of the UK car market. Although other brands have very interesting models on offer, these two cars are therefore the most natural competitors for the Polo.

Of the three, the Corsa is probably the most underrated. Vauxhall in general has a reputation for building somewhat boring cars. Which is one of the most unfair assessments you could think of. Yes, their cars won’t win any design competitions. And no, their driving characteristics probably won’t send your pulse racing. But they are still a lot of fun to drive and the exterior of just about all their vehicles has improved significantly over the past years.

The Corsa is a great example for this. Most commentators will place the Polo well ahead of it.

Still, there’s every reason to give the Corsa a closer look.

  • It is one of the cheapest superminis on the market and offers great value for money.
  • The Corsa is a remarkably complete and well-thought-through car. As Topgear puts it: “There really is little to criticise and a lot to like here: a lovely little engine in a car that rides, handles, steers and stops very well indeed. There’s plenty of space, the interior is leagues ahead of where it was, and the quality is generally pleasing.”
  • According to many reviewers, the Corsa’s engine may well be the best of its class at the moment (with Auto Express calling it ‘a gem’).
  • Its characteristics lie somewhere between the Fiesta’s and the Polo’s, which makes for a great compromise. For this reason, Carwow, for example, considered the Corsa the best of the three.

As you can see, there’s a lot to enjoy in the Corsa. When you’re buying, the Corsa’s price difference grows even bigger, since new models tend to depreciate alarmingly fast. Which is one of the reason we always have a few Corsa’s in supply in our Manchester showroom.

Used Seat Ibiza vs used Volkswagen Polo

On the outside, this seems to be one of the decisive tests for the Polo. The Ibiza, after all, is built on the same platform and has very similar features in general.

Are these two cars really that close to each other? And is the Ibiza automatically the better choice since it offers the same value for less money?

Ironically, price is not really a point of consideration. If you want to pit a comparable Ibiza against a Polo, the list price of the Ibiza is actually higher! Admittedly, in practise this may turn out differently, since you can get excellent rebates for a new Ibiza. But even then, the Polo is quite a lot more affordable than you’d think.

If you’re looking for a used Polo or Ibiza, meanwhile, the Ibiza could well be quite a bit cheaper. The simple reason: The Polo’s depreciation rate is among the lowest of its class. This makes it a great car to sell, but a bigger investment if you’re buying.

So which to choose?

Dutch magazine Auto Week believes the choice between the two is essentially a question of taste.  Germany’s major car publication Auto Bild considers the Polo superior in every single department. This includes price, as it is cheaper to maintain and offers a far better resale value.

In the UK, WhatCar arrives at a very detailed test result, which places the Polo narrowly ahead of the Ibiza.

Pros and Cons of the Polo:

  • Comfier ride;
  • Smarter interior;
  • Less engine and tyre noise;
  • Cheaper PCP finance
  • Sat-nav and cruise control cost extra.

Pros and Cons of the Ibiza:

  • More fun to drive;
  • Better equipped;
  • Larger boot;
  • Firmer ride;
  • More hard interior plastics;
  • Pricier in the long run.

Used Volkswagen Polo vs Mazda 2, Citroën C3, Renault Clio

And then there are a few interesting niche contenders. Renault and Citroën have found success with their unique and charming designs which truly feel different in a market dominated by generic looks. Mazda, on the other hand, similar to Kia, is currently producing vehicles which are running underneath the radar somewhat. They’re not bad by any means. But they also come without any unique selling points which could elevate them into the mainstream.

Can the Mazda 2 make a serious dent into the Polo’s commanding position? It doesn’t look that way. In a comparative review, Auto Express did place it ahead of the Fiesta, but concluded that its engine was not responsive enough and materials too cheap.  Whatcar only awarded it 3/5 points, compared to the Polo’s perfect 5/5.

Autocar arrived at a radically different conclusion: “The Mazda 2 continues to be Japan’s best effort at a classic, European supermini, but it’s now a better one than most of the Europeans.”

That, however, is an outlier, as most reviewers remained somewhat neutral on the 2. Either way, this is by no means a bad car and another interesting addition to a market already brimful with options.

What about the C3?

The C3 fares worse. Different magazines have remarked on its weakness in terms of its ride and handling. Admittedly, it is very cheap as a used car. But in this case, that may simply be because it is not the best option at your disposal.

The Clio is a stronger competitor. Its main advantages are its eye-catching design, its value for money and the excellent interior. It is no match for the solid ride of the Polo, however.

So there you have it, probably the biggest used Polo guide on the Internet. If you still didn’t find what you were looking for, do make use of the comment function and we’ll try to in updated versions of this article.

4 August 2022 Concept Car