By on June 12, 2017

2016 Volkswagen Polo - Image: Volkswagen UK

It’s a Volkswagen Golf, only slightly smaller and with a more affordable price tag.

Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted?

Maybe not.

The 2017 Volkswagen Polo is a close relation to the Mk7 Golf Americans can get their hands on, and shares the MQB platform that underpins just about everything at the Volkswagen Group except the factories themselves. But in a U.S. market that’s increasingly willing to pay just a bit more for a larger car with essentially no degradation in real-world fuel economy, would the sixth-generation Polo stand a chance?

Probably not, especially given the speed at which subcompact cars are losing sales.

There’s certainly been no shortage of speculation in the past regarding the Polo’s possible U.S. future. Some five years ago, AutoGuide reported that Volkswagen was “prepared if they wanted to get a product [Polo] out to market very fast.”

Three years before that, Car And Driver said hatchback versions of the Polo wouldn’t make their way to America, but a four-door sedan “is considered a strong candidate for American sales.”

In 2008, the New York Times quoted a Volkswagen of America spokesperson who said, “We have no plans to import the current version of the Polo. Maybe for the future, as we are always considering what is appropriate for the market.”

After U.S. sales of core subcompact cars fell 9 percent in 2015 and 3 percent in 2016, sales are down 17 percent through the first five months of 2017. Only the Toyota Yaris, boosted in part by the inclusion of the increasingly popular Yaris iA (which operated previously as a Scion and is actually a Mazda) has seen sales increase this year.

Combined sales of the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Prius C are down 21 percent, a loss of 37,000 sales over a span of just five months.

Moreover, most of the automakers that compete in the category are distant afterthoughts. Nissan owns 30 percent of the market.

Compact cars, with help from a greater number of nameplates, to be fair, are more than five times stronger and aren’t declining at anywhere near the pace of subcompacts. Kelley Blue Book says the average transaction price for a subcompact car in May was over $16,000, too high a price for many consumers to swallow when a compact car (averaging $20,595 in May) is typically more powerful, more refined, and more spacious.

America’s subcompact market has already lost the Mazda 2. The Ford Fiesta’s future is clearly in doubt. Remaining automakers are struggling to locate buyers.

Of course the sixth-generation 2017 Volkswagen Polo, which will follow the Polo’s historic strategy of looking entirely like its predecessor, isn’t making its way across the Atlantic. You may find it enticing. But most Americans do not.

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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35 Comments on “There’s About To Be A New 2017 Volkswagen Polo, But America’s Shrinking Subcompact Market Surely Won’t Have Room For It...”

  • avatar

    I would love to get my hands on a Polo GTI. The Golf has grown in size so much its almost too big.

    I think VW passed on it because they knew they would never make any profit on them and the volume would be so small – maybe 20 thousand a year?

    The interesting question is what will be their entry level / value offering once the New Beetle is discontinued.

    • 0 avatar

      Jetta. Base Jettas are usually sold for about 16k.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed! Which means it will have precisely zero chance of ever coming to America! I’d love a Polo GTi…

    • 0 avatar

      Speed 3, your statement “The Golf has grown in size so much its almost too big” rings a bell for me.

      We just bought a 2017 Golf Wolfsburg for my wife. We literally had to shop vehicles by seat fitment to her petite (5′ 2″/1.57 meter) frame. The short list ended up with some interesting comparisons – e.g., Chevy Trax instead of Buick Encore because the Encore had deeper bolstering, Kia Soul and Honda Fit because the seats were about right.

      She sat in the Golf, adjusted the seat and mirrors, and immediately said “this is almost perfect – if it was only one size smaller”.

  • avatar

    I’d love to see them brought over here. Smaller FWD cars are generally fun to drive. With MQB underneath, it’d be a great car.

  • avatar

    Unless Volkswagen were able to sell Polos for between $13,000-$18,000, I cannot see why a large enough population would take this over a Jetta (moving to MQB late this year) or Golf.

    Sure there’s a market segment for this, but at this point in time I’m hard pressed to see a viable business case in the US.

  • avatar

    Would be great to see a Polo in North America, but with cheap gas still a thing, I can’t see that it would be successful right now. Maybe if gas went back to $4/gallon they’d move enough of them to justify federalization in the USA.

    I’m sure Canadians would buy them, especially in Quebec. But probably not enough to justify importing them.

  • avatar

    It would have to be an extreme value play like the Nissan Versa.

    Otherwise, I agree that it’s almost impossible to make any sort of fuel economy pitch with a tiny car like this versus something compact already like a Golf. For most people, you’re talking like $7 a month in their fuel bill difference. They would rather have the space.

  • avatar

    I have very little interest in this thing. It’s a great fun unreliable car I’m sure. This is Ahh-Murica it’s simply too small to survive a car accident.

  • avatar

    I can’t see it happening unless gas would get over $4 per gallon, which is unlikely to happen in the forseeable future. There just aren’t any advantages to a subcompact in the US with its wide roads, generous parking slots, and cheap fuel, and if all you want is a city car a subsidized new EV or heavily depreciated used EV is probably a better choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Not all of the US has “wide roads, generous parking slots and cheap fuel.” Do all you guys live in the MIdwest? That would explain a lot.

      Recently I traveled from Denver to Seattle to help my daughter buy her first car. I realized what a completely different driving environment it was. Seattle’s streets are Euro-narrow. Residential streets often feature one-and-a half through lanes between two lanes of parking. The streets dart, twist and dive to follow the complicated and constricted topography. Architects and urban designers follow the strictures of New Urbanist theory, as well as traditional developer’s greed, er, profit maximization, so newer parking spaces are not designed to fit a King Ranch King Cab KIngmobile. And most of the gas prices posted began with a $3. So I think a car like this would have a place in Seattle, or Boston, or DC, or anywhere like that.

      The cars I saw in Seattle proved that point. In two weeks there, I saw very few pickups used a personal transportation. Not even that many SUVs. But more e-Golfs and hybrids than I knew existed. Even a few of the hybrid hot rods (little) known as the Ford C-Max. My kids’ driving one there right now…

      • 0 avatar

        One word: Suburbs. The majority of people in most big cities don’t actually live in the city, and most of those in the cities are not in the congested downtown areas.

        • 0 avatar

          Most people don’t live near rough but enticing mountain roads, either, but they still buy SUVs made for them.

          Anyway, isn’t today’s market fragmented and subdivided enough that city dwellers can get some choices designed for their real needs?

  • avatar

    I’m not sure what the appeal of sub-compacts is in general, outside of very densely populated cities, vs a compact.

    There is almost no savings on annual fuel costs unless it’s an electric or hybrid vehicle, and there is almost always a feature and comfort penalty to keep it price competitive. I suspect there would be very little insurance savings as well.

    I sat in a Golf as a passenger once, and that was already too small (I’m 5’9″ tall). My legs were out in front of me like a go kart, and I couldn’t get the seat high enough to get my knees bent to a more chair-like position. Very un-unatural. I’m having trouble seeing how something even smaller than that would possibly work for VW in particular, given 1) their general inability to in recent years to sell market appropriate products in North America and 2) their perception of poor to below avg reliability (I think statistically they are in the middle of the pack.)

    • 0 avatar

      The idea that a 5′ 9″ man can’t fit comfortably into a VW Golf is absolutely absurd.

      • 0 avatar

        The seats are too low to the floor, and that is not a comfortable seating position for me. This is very subjective on a person by person basis. Why are my physiology and ergonomic preferences absurd? What makes me comfortable may be different from what makes you comfortable, but that doesn’t mean its somehow invalid.

        • 0 avatar

          I am 6’8″ tall, and I really fit in Volkswagen Golf Mk 1-7 so well. Ironically, I find massive Chevrolet Suburban bit too cramped for me.

          There is a handle on the seat’s side that you can crank the seat up or down.

          Where did you get the thinking that you have to sit high and bend your knees to be comfortable?

          • 0 avatar

            Its not what I think, I am more comfortable sitting in my desk chair or at a table or in my taller vehicle with my knees bent and more upright than I am in in my wife’s BMW 135. This isn’t an idea, this is based on how tired or tight my back and legs feel on longer trips in her car vs my car or other cars with higher seating positions in general. I am aware that the seat can be raised. It couldn’t be raised high enough for me to feel comfortable. Or at least not without my head grazing the headliner.

            I don’t sit on the floor in any other situation in my life, and feeling as if I am doing so for hours in a car really is quite uncomfortable.

            Again, this is very subjective and is not me telling anyone how THEY should sit or what makes them comfortable. I believe that a Polo would be more uncomfortable for me than my time in the Golf, given that it is smaller. This isn’t an unreasonable assumption on my part, I think.

            I’ve never driven a Suburban, so I have no idea what the interior space efficiency is like. I cannot speak to your experience, but I can ask what felt cramped?

          • 0 avatar


            I call foul on 6’8″ and Golf Mk 1 being comfortable. I had an ’84 Jetta GLI (2-door, Mk1 Jetta) and I’ve sat in Mk1 Rabbits (Golfs) – we had to drill out the “seat adjustment stop screw” hole to allow the seat to move back that extra step just so I could live with the car on a 1.5 hour commute, when I was 19. I’m 6’1″. I guess unless you only sat in it for a few minutes at a time, or liked to basically lie down (extreme recline) while driving or were a contortionist and your knees hitting your ears was “comfortable” for you? If I was 7″ taller, there’s no way, absolutely none, an Mk1 would have worked.

            Mind you, Mk2 was amazingly better and never had an issue with room in Mk2/2.5.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Not invalid, but it is peculiar and not applicable to the general driving population.

          • 0 avatar

            Well, I would say that given that the general population in the US, at least, seems to prefer to drive pick ups, SUVs, minivans, and CUVs/crossovers, that seating position within the vehicle (which is not quite the same as wanting a higher/taller vehicle, although those two things seem to be generally related) might be one of the factors driving those sales trends.

            If I could find a wagon or sedan with a ton of head room and a seat that could be raised high enough for me that otherwise fit my needs, I would consider it for my next vehicle. But the trend appears to be more windshield rake and less headroom in the the traditional passenger car categories.

    • 0 avatar

      In my experience subcompacts cost more to insure than compacts since they are less safe, and they’re often less fuel efficient as well since the engines are less modern.

  • avatar

    I get it. I looked at a Spark before I bought my Sonic. The Spark is smaller and slower, with no appreciable gains in economy.

    • 0 avatar

      And barely anyone buys Sonics because the Cruze can often be had for cheaper, gets better fuel economy, and has much more space. It just doesn’t look as good and isn’t fun to drive.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I occasionally see a newer brown Polo at my gym, that clearly came from Mexico.

  • avatar

    The Polo doesn’t really offer much that you wouldn’t be better served with on the Golf: fuel economy, roominess, compact dimensions, cargo capacity, decent pricing. The Polo would have to excel (supremely) so in one or more of those areas to carve itself a niche.

    When a 1.4TFSI Golf/Jetta will do 40mpg in mixed driving, I find it hard to believe that a Polo would improve upon that enough to make it worth Volkswagen’s while unless they were positioning them at around the $15k mark fully loaded.

    • 0 avatar

      Obviously, you haven’t seen my mum’s 2009 Polo five-door (we live in Germany)…

      Hers has 1.4-litre petrol motor and six-speed Tiptronic gearbox. It is optioned to the hilt with power windows, power locks, air-conditioning, etc. Every time I visit her, I take her Polo out for a long spin through the countryside because it’s so much fun to drive!

      Here’s the real kicker: I am 6’8″ tall and fit in Polo really well, including the rear seat.

  • avatar

    Rented one for a week last month: not a bad car, but so gutless even with a manual. The center console edge dug into my shin that whole week; that alone would make me not buy it.

    Other than that, not bad, but nothing outstanding either.

  • avatar

    id like them to bring the up! stateside and make it the most affordable german car offerered in the states by a few thousand dollars. if possible.

  • avatar

    VW doesn’t need the Polo. They need the Atlas, new bigger Tiguan, smaller Tiguan, old Tigaun and Tourag. When they finally get smart, they bring back some version of VW minivan made by VW, Comfort Coupe replacement, and normal Golf/Jetta/Passat things. America is not a small car market. If anything, we need a mid-size Euro truck not a freaking subcompact.

  • avatar

    If they’re going to put a little plastic triangle on the car, they can just keep it in the old country.

  • avatar

    Different cars for different markets. Driving this in the US is pointless. There is almost zero advantage to this size, unless you parallel park in NYC or Boston. There is also the tradeoff when a Livery car hits you, being a Panther or some largish truck. I could also never see driving my SUV or Caddy in Europe…they’d be a parade float, and would not fit in garages, parking spaces, or be able to get down narrow lanes.

    We are a cheap gas, long distance driving, car friendly country (discounting parts of NYC and LA who have been taken over by the Bicycle Militia)

  • avatar

    Hell will freeze over before VAG brings it over. In fact, in the oast, they announced it, only to cancel it later. They’re such a tease!

  • avatar

    The Mazda 2 is not completely gone from America, the current 2 sedan is sold by Toyota as the Yaris iA.

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