This year is something of a seismic one for the increasingly not-so-humble and yet enduringly important small hatchback otherwise known, in Europe at least, as the supermini. In the Renault Clio, Peugeot 208 and Vauxhall Corsa, three big-volume players have all been replaced with new models built on equally new model platforms. There are brand new versions of the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz currently waiting in the wings to appear in showrooms later this year, and likewise updated takes on the Mazda 2 and Citroen C3. Meanwhile, the renewal of class stalwarts such as the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo is still fresh enough in the memory to seem like it happened just yesterday.
Needless to say, the class order here could look very different by the end of the year than it did at the start. To make our top 10 list at all these days, a supermini needs to be so much more than just capable of carrying a couple of adults, a couple of kids and a decent amount of luggage. It must be desirable, well-packaged, easy-to-drive and pleasant-to-use.
A dynamic character that mixes in some simple agility, litheness and driver appeal is one route to standing out, but it’s now only one among several. Increasingly superminis offer a level of perceived quality, performance and technological sophistication that bears comparison with that of bigger five-door hatchbacks; and the very best combine some or all of that with the agility only a small, light car can offer.
Still the sensible supermini of choice, the latest VW Polo is usable, refined, easy-going, spacious, comfortable, smart to look at and very solidly built. That kind of roster of qualities, presented at a price that’s not as high as with other VW models, can only make the car the very best option in a super-competitive class.
Compared with the previous-generation car, this new Polo is a huge departure, mixing more impressive onboard technology with improved dynamic capabilities. The Polo's ascent up our top 10 list shows how close it is to being the ideal supermini: and that's pretty painfully close.
It's a little unimaginative in appearance, perhaps, as well as reserved to drive and expensive in higher-end forms, but pretty reasonably priced in the bigger-selling mid-range forms. Engines are almost universally strong, and both rolling and mechanical refinement are very good, while there’s room in the back seats for average-sized adults as well as kids.
Other small cars will amuse you more, but the Polo is the one that you could find a reason to recommend to absolutely anybody.
The latest Fiesta had the difficult task of bettering its class-leading predecessor, which might have been the best-handling supermini of the past 25 years. This new version is much more than just a reskin of the old one and in some respects – namely its supple ride, sparkling on-road handling dynamism and driver appeal - it remains best-in-class.