An integral aspect of the Polo's appeal is the drive to downsize. That may sound odd given that the car's girth has noticeably swelled, but it now caters very well to drivers no longer interested in running something Mondeo-sized, without making them feel as if they've suddenly become a member of the underclass. Swap from a Passat to a Polo and you certainly won't feel as if your station in life has taken a dive; you'll just feel as though you've taken an informed decision to drive a smaller car. No more, no less.
With 270 litres of boot space, the Polo, especially in five-door form, can realistically function as family transport, with rear legroom particularly generous. Park yourself behind the steering wheel and you'll witness a level of fit and finish that was once unseen on supermini class cars. It takes enormous corporate confidence to build something this tasteful and without resort to gimmickry to pull the punters in, but Volkswagen have pulled it off with aplomb. All models get power steering plus a tiltable and telescopic steering column, pretty much guaranteeing comfort behind the wheel. Plusher models get an adjustable height drivers seat.
Invisible laser welding makes the roof, rear wing and sills look all of a piece and also contributes to Volkswagen's claim that the Polo has better structural rigidity than any car in its class, although as a rather outsized Supermini, one hesitates to identify exactly which class that is. The key themes behind the Polo are the worthy (but slightly dull) avenues of safety and environmental friendliness. Both are top notch, all Polos being fitted with anti lock brakes with electronic braking assistance, twin front and side airbags, ISOFIX child seat mountings and a passenger airbag that can be deactivated when a child seat is fitted.
A nearly new Volkswagen is not a good place to start if you're interesting in hearing 'what went wrong' stories. The Polo is no exception, with no major faults having been reported. The new engines appear to be trouble free, and the older power units have a good pedigree. As with any car that sees its fair share of city driving, check for parking bumps and scrapes Otherwise it's hard to find fault with the Polo. Look for a main-dealer serviced car and you really can't go far wrong.
(approx based on a 1.4 TDI 70) Volkswagen spares have developed a reputation for costliness but you might be surprised at how reasonably priced they now are. A new alternator will set you back almost £245, while an ECU engine management unit is around £550. Other parts are far more reasonable still. An exhaust system is around ££95, rising to £500 if you need a catalytic converter as well. Front brake pads are just over £40 a pair, while a clutch is a little over £150. A new radiator will be around £90 and a new fuel pump is approximately £100.
One obvious weak point in the old pre-'05 Polo line up was the inclusion of the archaic 1.9-litre 64bhp SDI diesel engine. We regularly advised buyers to steer well clear of this budget unit, a powerplant that could be wheeled out to show how far modern diesels had come. Wheezy, harsh but frustratingly gutless, this engine had little to recommend it and Volkswagen thankfully wielded the axe as part of the '05 facelift, replacing it with a far superior 70bhp 1.4-litre TDI unit. The old 75PS 1.4-litre TDI was swapped out at the same time for an 80bhp unit, creating a pair of three-cylinder TDI diesel options. There's also a 100PS 1.9-litre TDI turbodiesel and, like both the 1.4-litre diesels, it's fully Euro4 compliant. The diesel flagship is the 1.9TDI 130 unit.
If you'd prefer a petrol-powered engine, Volkswagen offered 55 and 64bhp 1.2-litre units with this particular Polo, plus an 80bhp version of the 1.4-litre powerplant. For those who must have the ultimate Polo and don't mind paying for it, there's a GTI variant featuring a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 150bhp. The Dune was offered in 1.4-litre guise with either the 70bhp diesel or the 80bhp petrol unit. Ordinary Polos came in either E, S, SE or Sport guises.
This Polo's handling will be a revelation for those used to older versions of this car, with far crisper turn-in and improved road holding. They may also notice that the electro-hydraulic power steering has been finessed for a more natural feel. The GTI is of course the car for the keener driver. Going head to head with the Ford Fiesta ST, this Polo offered a bigger midrange punch but a little less tactility. Make your choice.
With this generation Polo, Volkswagen refined the engine range down to the powerplants that really worked and cleverly made the car feel more upmarket. As a result, they ended up with probably the most accomplished line up of superminis of any manufacturer. Go on, pick one - any of them. You can't miss.