Small car’s big play: 2022 VW Polo first drive review

A red Volkswagen Polo GTI  on the road.

Craig Duff

Posted June 03, 2022

The updated Polo moves upmarket as Volkswagen’s light car postures up against vehicles a segment above it.

Mid-life upgrades aren’t meant to be all-encompassing. A new bumper here, a splash of chrome there and, if the budget permits, an extra set of USB ports or wireless phone connectivity.

Volkswagen has tossed that concept out the window for the facelift of its latest Polo light car.

This isn’t so much a mild makeover as a registered renovation. VW even went to the expense of fitting a front centre airbag as part of the safety suite upgrade and then asking EuroNCAP to retest the car (it wasn’t a requirement, given the car launched in 2018) to the latest 2022 standard.

Now it's trumpeting that five-star rating, along with a raft of technology updates the Germanic company says aren’t offered in many small cars and none in the competitive light car set.

Revising a car to that extent isn’t cheap and ultimately it is the buyers who will bear the burden. So, is the semi-new Polo worth the extra expense?

Volkswagen Polo | RACV

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How much does the Volkswagen Polo cost?

The major players in the light car class don’t do $19,990 driveaway deals anymore and Volkswagen has deliberately removed itself from that cheap-and-cheerful approach.

The cheapest point of entry into this Polo tournament is $25,250 plus on-road costs for the Life version. That is fitted with a five-speed manual, meaning it’s already off the radar for most private buyers. Spend another $3000 and you’ll end up with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and the same engine in a higher state of tune.

VW argues asking $28,250 for an auto-equipped Polo isn’t over the top. There’s no doubt the standard specification is higher (see below). There’s also no doubt VW is trying to occupy a niche between mainstream and prestige, given it is much more expensive than a Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris, if well below an equivalent Audi A1 or Mini Cooper.

Climb aboard the Polo Style and the price jumps to $31,250. Chase after the spirited Polo GTI and the impost is $38,750.

VW brand director of passenger vehicles Michal Szaniecki says the increased standard specification and safety tech makes it a “Mini-me” version of the Golf.

“We’ve moved the Polo still further from the sticker driven rat race into its most premium form to date,” Szaniecki said.

As you’d hope for with those prices, options are limited across the range. Automatic-equipped Life versions can be had with a “Vision and Tech Pack” adding satellite navigation, infotainment voice control, wireless connection of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an upgraded digital driver’s display, adaptive cruise control and “travel assist” that combines the cruise with lane-change and blind-spot software for semi-autonomous driving for $1700.

Style versions of the Polo can be optioned with a $1500 sunroof and $1900 “Sound and Tech Pack” adding satnav, voice control, wireless app connect, keyless access and start and a 300-watt Beats sound system.

GTI variants can also option the sunroof, along with a $1500 “Sound and Tech Pack” adding a hi-res 9.2-inch infotainment screen and the above Beats sound system.

The warranty runs for five years and pre-paying servicing costs over that period will see the price set at $2150 for the Life manual variant, $2200 for the auto-equipped Life and Style and $2750 for the GTI.

Is the Volkswagen Polo safe?

The NCAP program now drops a model’s rating after six years if it hasn’t been re-tested.

That meant VW had just two more years to travel before the initial five-star rating expired.

Given the car is expected to live on beyond that timeframe, VW chose to fit it with a centre airbag to protect front-seat occupants from hitting each other’s heads in a sideways crash, along with updating the autonomous emergency braking to deal with cyclists (it already had pedestrian detection).

Other standard systems include lane assist, front and rear parking sensors and LED headlamps.


The 2022 Volkswagen Polo has had a major makeover for a mid-life update.
The VW Polo GTI is now priced at more than $40,000 on the road.
Luggage space is 351 litres in a regular Polo, or 305 litres in the GTI.

What’s the Volkswagen Polo like inside?

There’s a lot more tech in the cabin of the facelifted Polo. It’s there to differentiate the VW from its mainstream rivals.

The entry Life model is fitted with cruise control, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with digital radio and wireless phone charging, auto lights and wipers and a front centre armrest (for those who haven’t sampled a light car recently, base models often don’t have them).

The Style adds a 10.25-inch digital driver’s display, adaptive cruise control, semi-automated parallel and reverse parking, adaptive high beam on the LED headlamps (it dims individual diodes to avoid dazzling oncoming cars without losing visibility). There’s also a look-at-me LED strip running the length of the grille, dual-zone air-conditioning and the alloy wheels grow from 15 to 16 inches.

The GTI then pumps in metallic paint, the traditional tartan seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension with driving modes and paddle-shifters on the steering wheel.

There’s room for a pair of adults in the rear and the boot is a massive (for the class) 351 litres for the Life and Style, or 305 litres in the GTI.

The contact points are covered in quality materials but look down and it’s easy to spot some of the harder, less-premium plastics at most carmakers use these days in areas where they think buyers won’t notice or care.

Finally, four USB-C charging points will keep everyone’s devices topped up.

What’s under the Volkswagen Polo’s bonnet?

A triple-cylinder turbocharged engine with just 1.0-litre of displacement still manages to make the auto-equipped versions of the Life and Style the most powerful engine in the class. Figures of 85kW/200Nm propel the Golf to 100km/h in 10.4 seconds. That’s about what you need in a compact city car, though it is tardier than the pre-facelifted version. That’s what happens when the extra equipment weighs on performance.

The minority who do choose to save $3000 with the five-speed manual see outputs fall to 70kW/175Nm. The sprint time also rises by 0.4 of a second.

Go for the GTI and the engine bay houses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 147kW and 320Nm. The seven-speed dual-clutch auto found in the Style makes way for a more robust six-speed dual-clutch.

The 0-100km/h time plummets to 6.8 seconds, which isn’t far off a Ford Fiesta ST.


The interior of the VW Polo GTI is classy where it counts.
The infotainment system is straightforward and the resolution is crisp.
The facelifted VW Polo benefits from major tech upgrades and added features.

Is the Volkswagen Polo efficient?

Claimed combined fuel consumption of 5.4 litres/100km for the 1.0-litre engine with either transmission is more than mildly appealing if you’re an urbanite who can’t afford/can’t wait for a new hybrid or EV. The dual-clutch auto wins the frugality stakes around town (6.2 litres/100km to 6.6 litres/100km), but the manual edges it out by 0.2 of a litre on the freeways, where it uses just 4.7 litres over 100km.

The GTI slugs 6.5 litres/100km on the combined cycle and uses 8.5 litres/100km around town.

Note that all these vehicles prefer to run on 95 RON petrol.

How does the Volkswagen Polo drive?

Ignoring the price-point VW Polo Life manual (and 99 per cent of buyers will), the diminutive engine and dual-clutch auto are a slick combination.

Turn off the auto stop-start if the momentary lag when taking off from the lights frustrates you, because this transmission is well calibrated once the Polo is underway.

There’s no sporty intent, but it resolutely rides over the lumps and holes of Sydney’s deluge-damaged roads.

That supple suspension does mean the Polo will tilt a touch in the turns. At the rate most people will drive this, they’ll barely register in the front and won’t complain in the rear.

The chunky body is also pleasantly stable at freeway speeds, with no nervousness in crosswinds.

Move up to the GTI and there’s one immediate criticism: engine noise, or the absence thereof.

If I drop better than $40K on a tiny car, I want passers-by to know why. Even set into sports mode the aural ambience is about as gruff as a two-day-old billy goat.

That conservatism is also evident in the drive. The GTI’s engineering brief was almost certain to be focused, rather than fun. That’s where rivals like the Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai i20 N come into their own.

They’re nowhere near as mature, inside or out, but are edgier to drive … and cost $5000 less than the Volkswagen.

Time will tell if VW has pulled the right marketing lever; history show they probably have, if only by creating an appreciable point of difference for the Polo GTI.

The upside is the GTI's adaptive suspension is supple enough in the comfort setting and, along with a 15mm drop in ride height compared to a regular Polo, resists roll in the sports mode.


A manual VW Polo Life costs $25,250 plus on-road costs; the auto adds $3000. Spend the extra.
The facelifted Volkswagen Polo earned a five-star safety rating based on the 2022 testing criteria.

Should I buy one?

There is almost nothing to compare the Polo against. It is packed with features found in cars in the class above and priced accordingly. That means it is not a bargain drive in any variant against mainstream competitors such as the Mazda2 and Kia Rio.

Toyota’s Yaris comes closest and you could argue the Polo is better equipped in the Life guise, while the Style must compete against the hybrid versions and hybrid buyers tend to be buying those cars for the fuel savings, rather than interior features.

Conversely, check what’s on offer relative to an Audi A1 or Mini Cooper and the VW Polo concedes little in on-the-road composure while out-performing on price and utility.


The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.

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