What is it?
It's the fifth-generation Polo, now virtually as big as a Mk3 Golf and the first Volkswagen to be designed entirely under the direction of Walter de'Silva. Revealed at the Geneva motor show, and due on sale in Europe next month and in the UK in September, the new Polo has a visual attitude wholly lacking in the previous version, a car which had almost entirely fallen off UK buyers' radar.
Volkswagen makes much of the new Polo's eco-credentials, with very low CO2 figures (and some pretty conservative power outputs) from new or revised engines. Two 1.2-litre three-cylinder engines of 59bhp and 69bhp produce 128g/km apiece, while a four-cylinder 1.4 manages 84bhp and 139g/km. A new 1.6-litre common-rail diesel comes in 74bhp, 89bhp and 104bhp forms, all emitting 109g/km, so it's hard to see the attraction of the puniest version. All of these TDIs have a stop-start system.
The eco-stars, though, are the Bluemotion (on sale next year), with its 1.2-litre 75bhp three-cylinder turbodiesel plus long gearing, optimised aerodynamics, regenerative braking and an extraordinary 87g/km CO2 score, and the petrol 1.2 TSI with a turbocharger, 104bhp and a 129g/km CO2 count. At the other extreme, a Polo GTI is promised for next year with a 168bhp version of Volkswagen's 1.4-litre Twincharger engine featuring both a supercharger and a turbo.
What's it like?
Volkswagen is pitching the Polo as a 'mature, high-end' car, yet also one described by R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberger as, yes, emotional and sporty.
It's true that the Polo looks good in a typically simple, stark, age-proof VW way, with a wedgy, big-wheeled side view, crisp edges and a wide, Golf-like face, and the interior fittings feel they will last forever. Precision and finish are generally superb, but the hard plastic door trims are disappointing when set next to the expensively padded dashboard.
There's proper space for a family and the boot has a removable false floor to match its level to the folded rear seats. But the contrast between the Polo's restrained, understated cabin design and a Ford Fiesta's Nokia-on-wheels approach couldn't be greater.
We concentrated on the 1.2 TSI for this first encounter, specced-up with optional 17in wheels (normal rubber is 15in, or 14in for base models) and a trim level equating to the UK's top SEL model (others will be S, SE and Mode). It comes with a six-speed gearbox, but a seven-speed DSG (the first in a supermini) is optional with this and some other engines.
It's a smooth, gutsy engine whose turbocharger is betrayed only by a soft initial throttle response. Thereafter it feels like a normal 1.6, but there's little point in revving it hard; its best work comes in the midrange. Cruising is relaxed in sixth, and this Polo is a quiet car.
That refinement comes partly from an extremely rigid structure, which – unlike the test car's low-profile tyres – also helps the ride's smoothness. The electro-hydraulic steering feels more natural than some rival all-electric systems, and the Polo threads tidily through curves with plenty of grip, tight body control but not a lot in the way of interactive entertainment. The brakes have too much servo assistance and are hard to feather at first. ESP and hill-start assist are standard on all new Polos.