REVIEW DATE: 08 Nov 2005
Models Covered: Second generation (post-facelift) -1990-1994:2-door saloon, 3-door hatchback, coupe, 1.0, 1.3 [Fox, CL, Genesis, G40] Third generation - 1994-to 1999:3 & 5-door hatchback, 4-door saloon, 5-door estate, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.4 turbo diesel, 1.9 diesel, 1.9 turbo diesel [L, C, CL100, GL, GLX, E, S, SE, 16v, GTi]
What a difference between second and third/fourth generation cars! The earlier Polo is quite sound if you buy carefully, but it's mechanically crude and poorly equipped plus there are plenty of rogue examples about. The new generation Polo is one of the best small cars ever made; if you can afford one, you shouldn't go wrong.
The Polo was the car that Volkswagen always hoped would repeat the success of the larger Golf, the company's Escort-sized family hatch. And the reasoning was good; a smaller more compact version of the same thing was what we got in the Seventies. It never really took off here. The second generation Polo, launched in 1981 and facelifted in 1990, did slightly better, but the rather crude mechanicals and the lack of a five-door option always restricted its impact on the British market. All that changed in 1994 with the announcement of a completely new Polo range with everything on the UK buyer's wish list; three and five doors, saloons, diesels, automatics, a 16-valve hot hatch - even a clever retractable electric opening top. The Polo had at last arrived.
Second generation Polos arrived in Britain in 1981 and the model was substantially facelifted at the end of 1990. The brakes got a servo at last and there was new front and rear styling as well as a revised dashboard and fresh seat trim. Buyers chose between Hatch, Coupe and Saloon, all with the familiar 1.05-litre engine, plus there was also the 1.3-litre Coupe. In 1991, a potent supercharged G40 hot hatch model was announced, but the press castigated it. In 1992, the Saloon was dropped and the previously special edition-only Genesis installed in the range as the lead-in model with 1.05 or 1.3-litre power. It wasn't until the introduction of the all-new third generation Polo in 1994, however, that Volkswagen's smallest car was really taken seriously. Originally, there was a choice of 1.0, 1.3 or 1.6-litre power and three or five-door hatchbacks spread across L, CL, GL and GLX trim levels. The 1.3-litre unit lasted less than a year before being replaced with a much better 1.4-litre engine in 1995. A 1.9-litre diesel option arrived in 1996, as did a saloon range (a lightly restyled and rebadged SEAT Cordoba) plus the option of automatic transmission and a fully retractable electric, folding Open Top roof. A 1.4-litre 16v hot hatch was added in 1997, as was a new 1.0-litre engine for the lead-in car. An estate (also based on a Cordoba) was added to the range in spring 1998. By now, Volkswagen's 100bhp 1.6-litre engine was being used for 1.6-litre models. The hatchback range was facelifted for a February 2000 launch with a new nose and substantially altered interior with Lupo-style instruments. The saloon and estate were almost unchanged externally but did get the Lupo-like dashboard. Key new models included the 1.6-litre GTi and a three cylinder, 1.4-litre direct injection diesel offered with upmarket SE trim.
Arguably, the classiest small hatch on the market; even the decade-old ones look good, despite their crude underpinnings. The distinctive boxy shape of the second-generation hatch is roomy. The new-shape Polo (post-'94) has been a huge success story for Volkswagen and represents a superb used small car buy.
The post-1990 facelifted models are where you should start; they look better and that servo on the brakes makes them safer. Prices are difficult to pinpoint given the vastly differing levels of condition and mileage on these aging vehicles but most fall into the £200 to £1,000 bracket and there are plenty of good buys around. It's best all-round of course, to buy a newer shape third generation Polo - the car has been in demand since its launch and prices were relatively high though the arrival of the facelift model has reduced pre-facelift model prices notably. Pay roughly £1,300 for an early M-plated 1.0-litre three-door hatch or just over £1,500 for a three-door 1.3CL. The 1.4 varies between £1,400 and £3,300, while the sporty 16V costs between £2,000 (96N) and £3,200 (00V). 1.6-litre prices start at about £1,600. Plusher CL trim is worth about £200 more than L, while GL trim is worth another £400 or so.
Not much goes wrong with the post-'94 Polo, but look for starting and misfire problems on early examples and look for oil leaks through the head gasket on hard-used one-litre cars. A full Volkswagen service history is very desirable. Otherwise, the main attention here has to focus on the 1990-1994 second generation car. Rust sometimes starts on the valance below the front bumper and bonnet edge. Also check the front wings and tailgate (which can leak). Transmissions are good, but check the driveshaft gaiters (rubber couplings on the front wheels) for splits and leaks. Check the suspension struts for leaks and watch for blue smoke from the exhaust (which means the valve guides and seals need replacing). The interior trim can be flimsy; check the headlight switches in particular.
These aren't great fun to drive (unless you're in a 1.4 or post-'94 1.6 Polo). Second generation cars had vague and heavy steering. The 1.05-litre engine was slow and geared for economy. The supercharged G40 is quite fast, but wild, and attracts horrendous insurance premiums.
BY JONATHAN CROUCH
(Approx. based on a 1994 1.0L excluding Vat) An exhaust system is about £120. A clutch assembly will be around £50, whilst a new catalyst will be just under £270. An alternator should be close to £90 and a radiator around £90. A starter motor is around £100 and a front wing around £80. Brake pad sets front and rear are about £12 and £14, respectively. A new headlamp is close to £75. A windscreen (tinted) should be in the region of £60. Major and minor services cost around £35 and £75 respectively.
The results below show the top POLO deals on buyacar
|Volkswagen Polo 1.2 60 S 3dr hatchback|
|Price £6,790||Save £2,650|
|Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TDI Match 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £12,000||Save £2,750|
|Volkswagen Polo 1.2 60 S 5dr hatchback|
|Price £10,728||Save £572|
|Volkswagen Polo 1.4 SEL 5dr hatchback|
|Volkswagen Polo 1.4 SE 5dr hatchback|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT POLO DEALS|
|For POLO (1990-1999) RANGE|
|OVERALL||5.1 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||5|
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