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?