Maturity, solidity and trusty old conservatism are all things that you'd associate with the Volkswagen Polo. You wouldn’t think virtues like that would sell a supermini – a part of the new car market fuelled by fashionable style and colourful originality.

But they’re exactly the virtues that continue to sell one of the class’s longest-established entrants, and make the Polo a permanent feature of both the segment’s top sales ranks and of Autocar’s road test top five.

Now in its fifth generation, the Polo looks more like a shrunken Golf than ever. And that pretty neatly sums up what Volkswagen has tried to offer with this current version: all the positive attributes of the Golf, just in a smaller, more affordable package. The derivative styling and bigger dimensions are designed to make the Polo feel even more mature, while the Scirocco-inspired nose and lights add the merest touch of flair.

With established market presence comes complexity, of course – and the Polo range is more complex than most. Volkswagen offers the car in three or five-door forms, with a vast array of petrol or diesel engines, which include an ultra-efficient 80mpg-plus BlueMotion model and a be-spoilered 178bhp GTI.

Between those two extremes lie normally aspirated 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrols, turbocharged 1.2 and 1.4-litre TSI petrols, and two further turbodiesels offering between 74 and 89bhp.

Trim levels run from S, through Match, SE and SEL, to R-line and R-line Style. S models can be (and usually are) specified with air conditioning, when they gain the A/C tag, while the GTI with its standard DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox is a standalone model.

A fairly recent addition, meanwhile, is the Polo BlueGT, which is a halfway-house warm hatchback combining spritely performance with some of the most competitive fuel economy and emissions in the range.

Along with the more mature styling comes an equally grown-up price tag – this isn’t a budget supermini, after all. While this is also the case for the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, the supermini class is ultra-competitive and the Polo is facing a string of ever-more-credible, cheaper competitors.

So just how compelling is the prospect of a downsized Golf?

Top 5 Superminis

  • Ford Fiesta
    Fiestas sold in Europe are ostensibly the same as those sold in America and Asia

    Ford Fiesta

    1
  • Mini Cooper
    Its various improvements make the new Mini more desirable and practical than ever before

    Mini Cooper

    2
  • Renault Clio
    Distinctive styling details are taken from the showstopping Renault Dezir concept car

    Renault Clio

    3
  • Volkswagen Polo
    The Polo is a polished, mature-feeling, spacious supermini

    Volkswagen Polo

    4
  • The Honda Jazz is an expensive small car, especially the hybrid version

    Honda Jazz

    5

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