Key among the compact car competition for the new model is the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio and Nissan Micra.
Speaking to Autocar at the car's launch, Herbert Diess, chairman of the VW brand board of management, wouldn't say if he thought that the new Polo could entice buyers away from the UK's best-selling car, the Ford Fiesta, but did say: "I am convinced that we have the most competent car in this segment." Diess continued to talk about the car's improved handling, particularly in GTI form, suggesting that the new Polo and Polo GTI could challenge the Fiesta and Fiesta ST in terms of handling prowess.
Based around the German car maker’s MQB AO platform architecture, the new Volkswagen has grown quite significantly to match the dimensional gains made by many of its more contemporary compact class rivals; it boasts a 94mm longer wheelbase than the fifth-generation Polo at 2564mm, while the track widths are up by 62mm at the front at 1525mm and by 49mm at the rear at 1505mm to provide it with a considerably larger footprint than ever before.
Diess said: "All cars normally grow a little, but where the Polo has grown most is in its wheelbase; this adds a lot of comfort but doesn't add a lot of size. The car has become wider and lower, so the car's proportions are improved. It's increased a little in size, but this has been fully translated to the inside; more leg room and a lot more bootspace."
The previous Polo was based around Volkswagen’s PQ25 platform, whose engineering dates back to the fourth-generation model launched back in 2001.
The adoption of the new underpinnings, which employ a combination of hot formed steel and aluminium within the floorpan for added weight savings and support a MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension, has provided scope for a more progressive exterior design, according to Volkswagen brand design boss, Klaus Bischoff.
“Better proportions create the framework for a more confident appearance,” he says. “We have capitalised on the realignment of dimensions with an expressive design. It’s a car that fits perfectly with our times both visually and technologically.”
Despite being immediately recognisable as a Volkswagen, Bischoff and his team of designers have incorporated a number of new design elements on the new car, including a distinctive swage line graphic that provides additional structure to the bodywork in an area above the door handles.
At 4053mm in length, 1751mm in width and 1446mm in height, it is 81mm longer, 63mm wider and 7mm lower than its predecessor.
The new Polo will be sold in six different trim lines. Included are the familiar Trendline, Comfortline and Highline lines, a special Beats edition with an upgraded sound system and an R-line trim featuring re-profiled bumpers, standard 16-inch alloy wheels and darkened exterior elements among other unique touches.
At the top of the line-up is the GTI. It receives a number of traditional cues, including uniquely styled bumpers, a honeycomb grille insert, red highlights within the headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler atop the rear hatchback, LED tail lamps and dual chromed tailpipes.
The decision to dispense with the three-door bodystyle, which has traditionally accounted for over 30 per cent of worldwide sales, comes on the back of slowing sales and follows similar moves with the latest Renault Clio, Nissan Micra and Seat Ibiza – all of which are offered exclusively in five-door form.
The increase in external dimensions combines with the improved packaging offered by the new MQB AO platform to provide the new Polo with a larger interior boasting a claimed 15mm increase in headroom up front and 30mm increase in headroom in the rear. Volkswagen also quotes a significant 71 litre improvement in luggage capacity at 351 litres.
As with the exterior, the interior has been thoroughly redesigned, with a newly styled dashboard featuring new steering wheel and more contemporary switchgear at the centre of the changes. Analogue instruments remain standard, though buyers can option the new Polo with the latest version of Volkswagen’s Active Info Display digital instruments along with a wide number of connectivity functions, including a wireless smartphone charging pad and keyless access.
Drawing on technology already introduced on the larger Golf, the new Polo also comes as standard with Volkswagen’s Front Assist, City Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Monitoring systems as well as a tyre pressure monitoring function and a speed limiter.
Volkswagen has confirmed the 2017 model year Polo will be sold with the choice of four petrol and a sole diesel engine in varying states of tune, although not all will be available at the time of launch. Each receives a standard stop/start function and brake energy recuperation for improved efficiency.
Gearboxes include either a standard five- or six-speed manual, with a seven-speed dual clutch unit available as an option in combination with the more powerful engines on offer. Despite developing the smaller version of the MQB platform to accept four-wheel drive, Volkswagen says all new sixth-generation Polo models will be sold exclusively with front-wheel drive in a move aimed at streamlining production and improving profitability, which has traditionally lagged behind its more keener rivals.
Among the petrol engines is a naturally aspirated 1.0-litre three-cylinder multi-point injected unit with either 64bhp or 74bhp in a pair of price leading 1.0 MPI models. It is joined from the outset by a more sophisticated turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder direct-injection engine offering either 94bhp or 113bhp in two new 1.0 TSI models.
Further up is a new 1.5 TSI running Volkswagen’s newly developed turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder direct injection petrol engine with 148bhp.
Topping the line-up is the new GTI. It eschews the turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder direct injection engine of its predecessor for a larger turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine direct injection powerplant offering an added 8bhp at 197bhp.
Reflecting a waning demand for diesel engines in the class it competes, Volkswagen will launch the new Polo with just one diesel. The carry over turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder common rail unit delivers either 80bhp or 95bhp in a pair of 1.6 TDI models – both of which receive SCR (selective catalytic reduction) converter as standard.
Also available in selected markets will be a natural gas propelled 1.0 TGI model running a specially adapted version of Volkswagen’s turbocharged 1.0-litre four-cylinder direct injection petrol engine developing 89bhp.
First introduced in 1975, the Polo has garnered some 14 million sales to date.
The hot new hatches the Polo GTI must beat
Ford Fiesta ST
The 2018 Fiesta ST will swap four for three cylinders, but with 197bhp and Ford’s handling know-how, expect big things.
Suzuki Swift Sport
The Swift Sport will follow market trends and swap its naturally aspirated 1.6 for a turbocharged 1.4 successor when it lands in 2018.
Seat Ibiza Cupra
Seat is still deciding whether or not to do a Cupra version of its Ibiza. If it does, it’s likely to use the powertrain of the Polo GTI in a lairier package.
Comment: Has Volkswagen's MQB platform finally come of age?