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Used Volkswagen Polo review: 1998-2012

Most Polos in Australia have petrol engines, however turbo-diesels have really started to sell in good numbers.

Until the introduction of the cute little Volkswagen up! the Polo was the smallest Volkswagen sold in Australia. As is often the way the Polo grew in size over the years and later models are similar in size to older VW Golfs. This means that a late model Polo can be used as a family car if the kids are in their pre-teen years.

The Volkswagen Polo has a solid feel that’s not the norm in Asian competitors of this size. Owners love them and say they feel safe and secure within them.

Sales of the Polo were slow in its earlier days in Australia, but picked up after significant price cuts. Better styling helped as well, the new model introduced in July 2002 was more stylish than some of the somewhat bland earlier versions. The 2010 model further improved the looks and Polo is starting to become a serious contender in the small car market in Australia.

Most Polos sold in Australia are hatchbacks, with either two or four passenger doors, but a four-door sedan, tagged as the Polo Classic, was imported from China during 2004 and 2005. The latter wasn’t a success due to dubious quality control.

Another interesting model is the Polo Open Air of 1998 to 2000. Though a five-door hatchback it had a huge sunroof that could let in plenty of fresh air when fully open. It wasn’t a success either, so is comparatively rare on the used-car front.

Handling was nothing special in the earlier days, with too much understeer. It can show up in anything more than moderate cornering and is presumably in there to maximise safety in the hands of clumsy drivers. This was improved in Polos from 2002 onwards.

Most Polos in Australia have petrol engines, however turbo-diesels have really started to sell in good numbers in recent years. Petrol engine capacities in the standard models are 1.4 and 1.6 litres. Performance from the smaller engine is better than you might expect due to the little VW's relatively light weight. The 1.4 engine from the year 2000 was a more modern unit than the one it superseded and has a good combination of economy and performance.

Interestingly, the petrol 1.6-litre engine used in the Polo Classic has a twin-cam setup, whereas the others have a single-cam head. In both cases there are four valves per cylinder.

Transmission options are five-speed manual and four-speed auto until the new model of 2008. The Polo Classic sedan, pre-2010 GTI, and TDI diesel are only sold with the manual. From 2008 a six-speed automatic was installed, this expanded to seven speeds in 2010. Manuals remained at five-speed units.

Polo GTI in its early versions wasn’t the pocket rocket its name might suggest, chiefly because the turbocharged 1.8-litre engine is running only modest boost. However, it works very nicely in mid-range torque. The real strength of the Polo GTI is its nimble handling. Firmer suspension and added precision through the steering means it gives you a lot of driving fun at a pretty modest price.

Engine power in the latest Polo GTI, launched in November 2010, was increased from 110 kilowatts to 132 kW thanks to a new TwinCharger (supercharged and turbocharged) engine. Finally the Polo GTI had the grunt to back up its name.

Volkswagen has undergone a revolution in Australia in recent years thanks to a smart new management team. This has led not only to better sales results, but also an increased number of dealerships, many with impressive high-tech facilities.

Service and repairs are moderate in price, though they can be higher than for equivalent sized Asian cars. We have heard of no real complaints about the cost or availability of spare parts.

A good amateur mechanic should be able to do a fair bit of their own work as the Polo has a simple mechanical layout and the underbonnet area isn’t too crowded. Have a repair manual at your side, and keep well clear of repairs that could affect the car’s safety.

Insurance costs are about average for a car in this European class although you are likely to be charged extra, possibly substantially extra, to cover the Polo GTI because of its turbocharged engine.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

The VW Polo is generally well built, however the quality of assembly on the Polo Classic sedan left something to be desired. Check the interior as it can be on the rough and ready side. Ensure the engine starts quickly and idles reasonably smoothly immediately it fires up.

Older VW Polo engines aren't the most refined of units, but if one seems too bad it may be due for major repairs. Gearchanges should be light and easy, with no crunching when you shift down quickly. The clutch should be smooth and predictable in its operation. Look inside the boot for signs of harsh treatment as cars in this class sometimes get treated as small trucks by inner-city residents carting things around.

Interior trim that has been continuously scorched by the Aussie sun through lack of undercover parking may fade. The dash top and luggage cover will be the first to suffer, look and feel for cracks, as well as for a dry feel in the plastics.

CAR BUYING TIP

Try to do any test drive with the car in stone-cold condition, after an overnight stop is ideal. Mechanical problems are often aggravated by cold weather.

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2012 $5,170 $14,190
2011 $4,730 $11,990
2010 $3,960 $10,010
2009 $3,740 $8,690
2008 $3,190 $8,030
2007 $3,080 $7,480
2006 $2,750 $5,940
2005 $2,530 $5,720
2004 $2,640 $4,730
2003 $2,420 $4,840
2002 $2,420 $4,510
2001 $2,640 $4,290
2000 $2,640 $4,290
1999 $2,640 $4,180
1998 $2,640 $4,180

View all Volkswagen Polo pricing and specifications

Pricing Guides

$3,410
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$2,640
Highest Price
$4,180

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.6L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,640 – 4,070 1998 Volkswagen Polo 1998 (base) Pricing and Specs
Open Air 1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $2,640 – 4,070 1998 Volkswagen Polo 1998 Open Air Pricing and Specs