Cars we love: buying a second-hand VW Polo

Buying Guides

Sizing up a Polo as your next car? Here's all you need to get started on the buying trailVolkswagen PoloPeople like Polos. OK, that’s not a slogan I’ve whistled up myself but one borrowed from a long-ago TV ad campaign for a minty sweet, writes Ray Castle of But it’s as true for the car as for the confectionery. Not only will you see one parked on almost every street but it’s also true that the little Volkswagen is a very popular second-hand buy – despite prices that are higher than for most of its rivals.

How can it be so desirable yet pricey? Put simply, the Polo is one class act. On the move, it is hushed and smooth-riding in a way that embarrasses most of the competition and even outds some cars that are a fair bit bigger. And Volkswagen has honed the car’s image so that it appeals to all ages and types. It has a wonderful classless air that only the new-age BMW Mini can better.

But which should you buy and how much should you pay? Read on for the guide to buying wisely.

Volkswagen PoloHow much should I pay?

Just £1000 will buy a usable 10-year-old Polo. But, thinking of a sound longer-term buy, we’ll begin with the model that first sold in 2002. This is roomier inside than the car it replaced and it is safer and more refined, too. Around £3500 will get you an 02-reg 1.2 S three-door that’s covered 70,000 miles.

£5000 will get you a newer and more powerful Polo, here the 1.4-litre petrol Sport with five doors, on 55-reg and with 55,000 miles showing. Add £2000 to your budget and £7000 puts you in line for an 07-reg 1.2 S five-door that’s covered 30,000 miles.

Finally, £9000 gets you a year old 1.2 Match special edition with five doors. This’ll be on 09-reg and will have covered around 12,000 miles. The Match is based on the S model but adds alloy wheels and ritzier seat fabrics to the offer.

Volkswagen introduced a new and even more refined Polo last November. This new is handsome, looking the spit of its bigger brother, the current-model Golf. But, as yet, second-hand examples of this latest car and scarce and expensive. If you’ve your heart set on one of these, buy new or hold tight a few months until supplies of lightly used ones improve.

Volkswagen Polo BluemotionWhich model is best?

Go for a 1.2 S with five doors. Remember, though, that the 1.2 petrol motor in this car comes in two states of tune: 55bhp and 65bhp. We’d always favour the more powerful of the two because 55bhp isn’t enough to make long motorway journeys comfortable. Five doors are a definite plus unless you rarely carry more than one passenger and, providing you buy a car no older than 2004, you’ll get three full seat belts in the rear as standard.

The ‘S’ model is one model up from the most basic and brings with it remote locking and electric front windows and mirrors as standard, plus anti-lock brakes and twin front airbags. Many have air conditioning, too, which’ll keep the car cool in summer and ensure, too, that the windows stay clear of condensation when the weather turns nasty.

This car will return between 40 and 50mpg across a variety of cross-town hops and longer trips. But if you want still better fuel economy and lower exhaust emissions, too, then the Polo Bluemotion is for you.

Bluemotion is VW’s eco-range and, in the Polo, it means up to 70mpg and pumping out just 99g/km of CO2, which makes it ‘green’ enough to qualify for free road tax. The Polo Bluemotion joined the range late, in 2007, and used ones sell quickly and for big prices.

Volkswagen PoloWhere should I buy?

If you’re after a newish Polo and want your purchase to be as stress-free as can be, beat a path to a main dealer and buy using Volkswagen’s Approved Used programme. This promises at least a year’s warranty on any car, breakdown assistance and thorough-going pre-sales checks. The cars won’t necessarily be the cheapest but they ought to be the best. Go to car supermarkets for bargain-priced nearly new Polos, while independent garages specialising in Volkswagens are the best bet for good but older and cheaper Polos. Finally, try your hand among the private sellers for older, low-mileage one-owner gems. Remember, though, that buying privately carries more risk because there is little if any comeback due if you discover after you buy that the car is a duffer.

What should I watch for?

Polos rate as average-to-good for reliability. They’re by no means the worst but they are some way off their best-performing rivals, Honda’s Jazz and the Toyota Yaris. Replacements parts for Polos are generally fairly priced, though. Two key areas need watching: the dampers and the gearboxes. Fortunately both can be spotted if you’re a reasonably savvy buyer and you watch for the warning signs. Polos should ride as smoothly as you’d expect of a bigger, more expensive car so if the car steers vaguely and thumps badly across road ruts, it’s a fair bet that its dampers need replacing.

Similarly, the gearshift should be slick, light and positive. If it feels rubbery and won’t shift easily, problems could follow. On a positive note, the 1.2 engine is tough and Polos hide their age well – even seven- or either-year-old cars can still look smart.

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