The new Volkswagen Polo could be one of two things: A) a shrunken Golf, which despite hardly changing from Mk5 to Mk6, still leads the mid-sized hatchback class as middle England’s favourite runabout. Or B) nothing more than a reskinned Seat Ibiza, which although well built, is hardly dynamically inspiring. Now we’ve driven the new VW Polo (2009), we can tell you.
So just what is the fifth-generation VW Polo all about?
This new Polo looks just like a shrunken Golf! Is VW rinsing out the same design manual?
Well spotted. The Polo sports similar rectangular front lamps, square rear lights and a boxy stance – the jagged looks of the Ibiza are absent. But the Ibiza’s cut in kerbweight is thankfully repeated, despite a longer (54mm) and wider (32mm) body than before. Head and legroom are okay but not outstanding, and the 280-litre boot isn’t huge.
All models should come with 14-inch alloys, ESP, four airbags, five head restraints, power steering, electric front windows, central locking and tinted glass. And in the top-rung Polo 1.2 TSI, VW promises all-round disc brakes and a 20% improvement in fuel economy.
Is the new Polo just like a Golf inside, too?
Up to a point. Clamber inside and you’re welcomed by the same level of restrained elegance, subdued styling and intuitive ergonomics that you’ll find in a Golf or Passat. The plastics are soft to the touch, the seats supportive and perfectly shaped and there’s good all-round visibility. Plus the new sat-nav and air-con systems are easy to use and a joy to twiddle and twirl.
The only downsides are the handbrake and central armrest – which fight a constant battle to occupy the same space – and a very dated cruise control stalk. Overall, it’s not bad at all in the Polo’s cabin.
>> Click ‘Next’ to read about the VW Polo on the road
What’s this little Polo like on the road?
We drove the current range topper, a Polo 1.2 TSI, which comes mated to a typically Volkswagen-slick six-speed manual ‘box, but can also be had with a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. The tiny four-pot motor is aided by a turbo, produces 104bhp and 129lb ft, and VW claims 51.4mpg on the combined cycle.
All 129lb ft are available from 1500 to 3500rpm, so you needn’t rev to the 6000rpm red line. The throttle responds promptly and this Polo can be punted along at a decent pace. Do so though and you’ll have the little engine drinking at less than 30mpg. But you can also get it close to the claimed figure if you drive normally.
And the driveline?
Behind the wheel you immediately notice the well spaced pedals, the confidence-inspiring steering and the slick DSG gearbox. Slick, but still not as smooth as a conventional torque converter, and it badly lacks some shift paddles – they could enhance its appeal but aren’t even an optional extra.
Seventeen-inch alloys are extra though, but even on this big rubber the Polo rides almost as well as the Golf, while the ESP system can deal with any front-wheel drive fight. Ultimately it won’t excite like a Fiesta, but the new Polo is well balanced and confidence inspiring.
The new Volkwagen Polo isn’t perfect, but it’s an impressive step forward from a model that was well past its sell-by date.
Since the last Polo arrived, the supermini sector has been revived by the new Ford Fiesta, facelifted Renault Clio and Vauxhall Corsa. Each has brought big-car qualities to this smallest of sectors, and the VW Polo now stands comparison with the class best.
We’ll won’t announce class honours until we’ve tested them all side-by-side.
>> Read CAR Magazine’s full first drive of the new VW Polo in the new July 2009 issue out on 20 May 2009