IF you crave a Volkswagen Golf but can’t afford one then try the new Polo.
The sixth generation of VW’s second best seller (behind Golf) sits on the group’s ‘one size fits all’ MQB platform so Polo’s underpinnings are, as near as damn it, the same as Golf. That becomes obvious after a couple of minutes behind the wheel. Polo is nearly as good to drive as a Golf and that is praise indeed.
It has also grown and is even bigger than the original Golf, and it has gone up market with a premium feel to the fittings and trim along with a sharp and, if you want, colourful dashboard.
If anything the Polo’s revised shape draws it closer to Golf and is even sporting sharp crease lines along the side panels something we normally associate with its prettier Seat Ibiza cousin. From behind the wheel you can hardly tell these two apart – same platform, same engines, same gearbox.
Polo has always been a favourite with the Brits selling 1.4 million since it arrived here in 1975, and didn’t do badly last year with all but 48,000 sales so you can see why VW is anxious to keep up the pressure on rivals like Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Honda Jazz.
Just like Jazz the Polo is the sort of car Mr and Mrs Sensible will buy. More people buy a Ford Fiesta but it is the Polo that offers more space and with its increase in size is knocking on the door of the incredibly roomy Jazz.
For the first time there will be no three-door option not even for the hot 200bhp GTI which arrives in the summer.
So the five-door only Polo is trying to push as many family buttons as possible with its roomy cabin and big boot – a full 355 litres worth which is better than some cars in the next grade.
For the first time in a long time I asked for the absolute basic model – the majority of cars from the press fleets are high spec because the car companies want to showcase all the toys and gadgets.
VW has never had a reputation for generous equipment levels particularly at entry level so I wasn’t hoping for much with my £13,855 Polo S. I am old enough to remember a plunger on the dashboard to wash the windscreen as a ‘luxury’ fixture on a small family car. That was in the early sixties but even in 1981 I had to pay 50 quid for a rear wiper on my brand new Renault 5.
Thankfully things have moved on and Volkswagen has given itself a gee-up with a few bits and bobs I didn’t expect on the Polo. The biggest surprise is the 8in colour touchscreen for the infotainment system, standing out proudly in its glossy piano black facing.
In there can be found a digital radio, Bluetooth with pairing for two mobiles (shame there was only one USB charge point) and a multi-function computer with its three-way log for fuel, average speed etc which is also mirrored in the main binnacle.
This entry into Polo land will also provide one touch electric front windows, air conditioning, automatic headlights and some excellent safety features like emergency braking which can recognise pedestrians as well as vehicles and bring the car to a stop if the driver doesn’t react.
Not a bad bundle, in fact the only bits I really missed were steering wheel radio controls and parking sensors. It is not that I can’t reverse but 99 per cent of the cars I drive have them and you miss them when they are not there.
This Polo will also be cheap to run. It qualifies for group one insurance, a rare event these days, and the little 64bhp one-litre engine has the economy of a diesel. It never dropped below 45mpg and was the other side of 50mpg most of the time.
But I would not want this engine. It is too much of a plodder and overtaking needs to be planned and well judged. Once it reaches cruising speed it is smooth and refined.
I would rather scratch around for another £1,300 and get the turbo charged TSI version which is remarkably nippy for a 1-litre.
Polo is never going to satisfy the trendy buyers. Even with the body creases and bonnet bulges it is still conservatively styled, but as a roomy, versatile small family car it is ticks all the boxes and with its improved handling and comfort has moved a couple of rungs up the super mini ladder.
By Steve Rogers
Polo S 5sp manual
1-litre petrol; 64bhp
0-62mph 15.5secs; 102mph
Economy: 60.1mpg combined
Emissions: 110g/km. Road tax £140
Insurance group 1