Despite being tested in slippery conditions and on modestly sized 15in wheels and 185-section tyres, the Polo hit an objectively competitive standard when compared with its rivals and subjectively felt decently strong and flexible on the road.
That it accelerated slightly slower against the clock than the identically engined Ibiza we tested last year was partly to do with our test conditions but may also have been attributable to a set of gear ratios for the VW’s five-speed manual gearbox that seemed long for such a small car – even though the engine’s healthy provision of turbocharged torque seldom made it struggle to accelerate in the higher ratios.
It takes a steep incline to force you to come down to third gear out of town, and on the motorway, the Polo will pick up speed from 60mph at an acceptable rate even if you leave it in top gear. So it seems a piffling complaint to make, but the Polo gives you the occasional impression that you’re driving a car geared for meat-and-potatoes economy, rather than one with the zest and enthusiasm of a spirited, fun, small hatchback.
For a recently qualified driver in his teenage years, this would always feel like his parents’ car; rarely the one he’d have picked himself.
So much, of course, we’ve been used to from the normal Polo over the years – and it’s fair to say the new one conforms to the same character type.
This is a very rounded, grown-up, refined, small car with many dynamic qualities you don’t routinely find in the supermini class. It has intuitive, solid-feeling controls that are well matched for weight and nicely isolated from vibration and changing load, with the only exception being a gearbox that begins to feel notchy through the gate when you hurry it.
The three-cylinder engine sounds a little rorty under load but settles to a muted, smooth, background level at a cruise.
The Polo’s cabin is better isolated from both wind and road noise than the average small car’s is.
And pulling less than 3000rpm even at a fast motorway clip, the engine is an easy one from which to produce better than 55mpg, as evidenced by our 57.1mpg touring test result.