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VW POLO (1994 - 2000) (stills taken from video road test)




  • Excellent build quality and refinement
  • Extremely reliable
  • Its good image means it is never out of place
  • Holds its value well
  • Easy to drive


  • Fairly dull to drive
  • Expensive compared with the competition

I've had my 1.9 diesel polo for the past 7 months and on the whole i have been very pleased with it. Its cheap to insure, averages 50mpg (and i do alot of urban driving), and has not let me down once - apart from the time i put unleaded in by accident (oops). Its also done 165,000 miles and still feels solid and rattle free, which is a testament to how well VW screw a car together. The 1.9d engine is never going to set the world alight but what it has got is bags of torque, which actually makes it feel nippy and really easy to drive. The other thing i really like about this car is its good image and this also means that when i come to sell it, there is always going to be people wanting to pay me good money for it. 


The best and most popular body is the hatchback so its by far and away the best one to go for. 5-door models tend to be more in demand than 3-door ones, which means you also pay a slightly higher price for one.Unless you have an unnatural attraction to boots the saloon is best avoided as it looks ugly and residual values will be substantially lower than hatchback models. The estate version is slightly better looking but again suffers from being unpopular so its only worth going for if you are desperate for that extra luggage space. The best all-round petrol engine is the 1.4. The 1.0 petrol is slow and under geared on the motorway so its only worth a look if you use the car mainly around town.  The SDi diesel (64bhp) is pretty slow and unrefined. A much better choice is the 1.9 TDi (90 bhp) which makes for a much more pleasant drive.


The polo is one of the few german cars that can genuinely rival the japanese for reliability so you should have very few problems if you get one with a full service history. Things to look out for are gearboxes on diesels which can need replacing on high mileage cars, and look out for leaks around the head gasket on the 1.0 litre petrols. No recall issues of any note


Scored a better than average three stars in the Euro NCAP safety tests so you are going to pretty well protected in an accident. Any pedestrians you happen to hit are not however as it only scored one star for pedestrian safety. Later models have twin airbags but the passenger airbag cannot be switched off so child seats are unable to be used in the front.


The Polo was launched in 1994 with the 1.0 litre, 1.3 litre, and 1.6 litre petrol engines. Drivers airbag and tinted glass was standard across the range apart from the 1.0L. 1995 saw the 1.3 ungraded to a much better 1.4 unit and the 1.6 was modernised and had its power output increased to 75bhp. In 1996 the saloon version was launched with similar equipment levels to the hatchback, the 1.0 litre petrol was uprated to 50bhp which did address a number of its shortcomings. The 1.9 diesel was also added to the range. 1998 saw the launch of the estate with the option of the 1.6 petrol or the 1.9 diesel. The more capable 1.9 Tdi ws introduced and all models were also given twin airbags.


An old wise man with a strange hat once told me "time spend on reconnaissance is time seldom wasted" - which when translated into buying a used car means "a little preparation can save you a lot of money and frustration". Seriously, if you are spending thousands of pounds its worth following a few simple points to help you avoid being dissapointed with your i hope you find this buyerguide useful.

Before seeing the car:

  • If it is a private sale make sure you view the car at the sellers premises - this will help determine if the seller is genuine
  • Always ask the seller to make sure the car is cold when you come to view it - warm engines can hide a multitude of sins

How to check the mechanics:

  • Before the car is warmed up check for a film of oil in the radiator - the presence of oil would signify internal engine leaks or a blown head gasket
  • Make sure the oil on the dipstick is smooth and has no bits in it or milky scum - again this could mean internal engine leaks
  • On starting from cold make sure the engine does not turn over sluggishly - this could mean a worn starter and or starter motor.
  • Check for oil leaks around the engine and on the ground where the car has been stood - any leaks could indicate expensive gasket replacement

Body and interior:

  • Worn drivers seat, pedal rubbers, and a shiney steering wheel all indicate a high mileage car - check these appear consistent with the indicated mileage
  • Evidence of scratches or tampering around the speedometer is a dead giveaway that the car has been 'clocked' and the mileage is not genuine
  • Check that the tyres have 1.8mm legal tread depth and the exhaust is silent when you cover the end with a cloth whilst the car is running - both can be price negotiating points of replacements are needed
  • Check that everything works such as switches, heater, a/c, windows, mirrors, stereo, interior and exterior lights - fixing any of these things can be a real pain
  • On older cars check for rust on the sills and floorpan (prod carefully with a screwdriver) - unless you are friendly with a welder rot can be expensive and messy to fix.
  • Check all body panels are consistent in colour and fit - if they are not it is likely that the car has been in an accident and has been repaired poorly

Road testing the car:

  • With the handbrake firmly on try to set off in 1st gear. The car should stall instantly - if it does not it is likely that the clutch needs replacing
  • After driving for a short while floor the throttle - a cloud of blue smoke out of the exhaust indicates worn bores or valve guides both of which are expensive to fix
  • The car should accelerate smoothly accross the rev range - flat spots or hesitation may signify fuel injection and /or computer problems which are notoriously hard to diagnose and fix
  • The car should pull away smoothly from a standing start - if it judders this may indicate oil contamination of the clutch plate and a new clutch will be needed
  • take the car to at least 70mph. The car should drive straight and not pull to one side. If there is significant vibration this may indicate any one of a number of hard to diagnose problems. Do not let the seller fob you off with "its just the wheels that need balancing".
  • When the car is stopped with the engine running turn the steering wheel from full lock to full lock - rough operation or hissing indicates the power steering is faulty

Finally, trust your instincts about the car and the seller and do not let your heart rule your head - if you are not happy just wak away!!

I hope you found this information useful. For a more comprehensive appraisal of the VW Polo you can also download our full video road test. Want to see how easy the seats fold down? how much boot space there is? what the interior is like? how much leg room there is? what its really like to drive and live with in the real world?..... then just click on the link below.


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