REVIEW | Keep it basic and the VW Polo Life is a great buy

The styling is raised through optional alloys and a tilt-panoramic sunroof.
The styling is raised through optional alloys and a tilt-panoramic sunroof.

It has been 20 months since we first drove the face-lifted Volkswagen Polo at its launch event and 15 months since road testing an Ascot grey Polo R-Line 1.0 TSI derivative. In the interim, we’ve also tested the Polo sedan and the Polo Vivo GT. The Ascot grey Polo Life 1.0 TSI on test this week is another way of slicing the vast Polo cake. 

As standard, the Polo Life comes fitted with 15-inch “Essex” alloy wheels, but our car had the optional 16-inch “Torsby” design wheel, a tilting and sliding panoramic sunroof and LED matrix headlights, and that’s not all the options fitted.

Our test car benefited from safety and convenience options including the comfort park package costing R63,000. It brings keyless locking and starting without safelock; park assist; rear-view camera; composition media; adaptive cruise control; speed limiter; lane assist; multifunction camera; pedestrian monitoring and front assist. 

The interior is neat, spacious and suitably digital.
The interior is neat, spacious and suitably digital.

Most of the items enhance the enjoyment of the car with impressive cabin insulation. Unsurprisingly, space for passengers is plentiful and the leg and head room generally win it for the Polo compared with fresher alternatives that market edgier styling above anodyne practicality.

Reach and height adjustment for the steering wheel, plus height adjustment for the driver’s seat, means it’s easy to find a good driving position. The boot capacity is 375l with the rear seats up, which is generous for a family’s luggage. This extends to 575l when folded with a tailgate that’s light enough to handle.

All Polo models except the GTI are powered by turbocharged 1.0l three-cylinder petrol engines with varied outputs. The Life model uses a motor with 70kW and 175Nm outputs and is paired exclusively with a five-speed manual gearbox. You’ll have to upgrade to the more powerful R-Line if you want the seven-speed DSG gearbox, but the model with a light clutch and gear lever operation can be an easy sell.   

The performance rating is a claimed sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 11.3 seconds and a top speed of 200km/h. The acceleration isn’t the stuff of dreams and the top whack is robust enough, but don’t get hung up on these figures when its maker claims fuel consumption of 5.3l/100km on average. Thrift is the new world order.

We’ve yet to test a Polo model that disappoints on the driving quality front and the Life model is smooth and composed on most surfaces. If you crave a more exciting driving style you’ll find it musters decent cornering ability, though the handling isn’t GTI-like. Effortless and economic driving is a major take away point, especially with the optional radar-controlled cruise control fitted.

There's much to like about the Polo hatch, including family practicality and driving refinement.
There's much to like about the Polo hatch, including family practicality and driving refinement.

For all intents and purposes the Life model shows there’s bound to be a Polo for most tastes, but alternatives are plentiful and sexy, including the Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Citroën C3 and Honda Jazz. Some, such as the Hyundai i20, come with auto boxes for similar money. Adding the comfort pack prices it out of contention and the biggest challenger to the Polo Life could also come from the harem.

That you have to spend extra money to lift up the styling while its Polo Vivo GT stable cousin already comes suitably accessorised, and with a more powerful engine for less money, will mess up the sales pitch. Despite the concern, the Polo Life feels the kind of sensible buy down from a T-Cross that doesn’t compromise much on safety and innovation, and it’s a credible and recommendable upgrade from Vivo ownership.

There’s much to like about the Polo Life, but adding the comfort pack to its already pricey position makes for a dicey decision. Losing the stylish alloys, panoramic roof and touch operated door locks shouldn’t be a deal breaker. It’s a great buy in base form.

Tech Specs:


Type: Three-cylinder turbo petrol

Capacity: 999cc

Power: 70kW

Torque: 175Nm


Type: Five-speed manual


Type: Front-wheel drive


Top speed: 200km/h

0-100km/h: 11.3 sec (claimed)

Fuel Consumption: 5.4l/100km (claimed)

Emissions: 123g/km


Electronic Stability Control, ABS brakes, six airbags, front fog lamps and cornering light, park distance control, electric windows, App-Connect, air conditioning, touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth, USB-C ports, rain-sensing wipers, remote central locking, cloth upholstery, multifunction steering wheel controls, digital instrument panel, trip computer


Warranty: Three years/120,000km

Service plan: Three years/45,000km

Price: R385,300

Lease: R8,617 a month

*at 11.75% interest over 60 months no deposit

Volkswagen Polo Life 1.0 TSI

WE LIKE: Refinement, price

WE DISLIKE: Costly upgrades

VERDICT: Still a solid hatch package without options

Motor News star rating

Design ****

Performance ****

Economy ****

Ride ****

Handling ****

Safety ****

Value For Money ****

Overall ****

The competition

Citroën C2 1.2T Shine, 81kW/205Nm — R374,900

Mazda2 1.5 Dynamic auto, 85kW/148Nm — R354,700

Suzuki Swift Sport, 103kW/230Nm — R399,900

Hyundai i20 1.0T Fluid 90kW/172Nm — R386,500

Opel Corsa 1.2T Edition, 74kW/205Nm — R356,900

Kia Rio hatch 1.4 LX, 73kW/135Nm R359,995

Renault Clio 1.0 Turbo Intens, 74kW/160Nm — R367,999

Honda Fit 1.5 Comfort, 89kW/145Nm — R355,600

Peugeot 208 1.2T Allure, 74kW/205Nm — R389,900

Fiat Tipo hatch 1.4 City Life, 70kW/127NmR390,900

Volkswagen Polo Vivo hatch 1.0TSI GT, 81kW/200Nm — R341,800        


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