You’ll have spotted the strange disguise on the new Polos we're driving here; they are early prototypes which were undergoing late development testing in South Africa. Even so, they are representative of the final car which will go on sale in the UK in January, and we have the added benefit of having subsequently driven the hugely promising new Seat Ibiza which is based on the same mechanical underpinnings and uses the same engines.
Our test covered the familiar three-cylinder 74bhp 1.0-litre and 94bhp 1.0-litre turbo petrol units, and both performed well in conjunction with the slick-shifting five-speed manual gearbox they were linked to. Even the lower-powered engine felt strong enough for all but the most urgent motorway acceleration, while the 94bhp unit is particularly sweet, delivering power smoothly and progressively without ever becoming noisy.
The Polo’s trademark grown-up dynamics remain, too. You feel a hint of larger potholes or road imperfections, but they are very well absorbed for a model in this class.
At all speeds – including above UK motorway limits – the Polo is supremely stable, too. There were few corners on our test route, but the ones we encountered suggested the Polo remains level and grips well as it turns. The handling is secure, if not sparkling with feedback that makes the driver feel at one with the car.
It’s hard to give a definitive verdict until we get the full pricing for the Polo and drive a finished car, but there’s no question that it has taken the qualities of its predecessor and made them better.
That means it will still major on practicality, quality and running costs, and for many buyers that combination will be exactly what they want. The only real quibble is that we wish it was a bit more involving to drive, an area in which the Ford Fiesta still sets the benchmark.
Overall, though, the Polo joins the Seat Ibiza on our shortlist as one of the most exciting new small cars coming on to the market and, as such, it must be considered as a viable challenger to the aforementioned Fabia’s Car of the Year crown.
The best and worst small cars currently on sale
10. Honda Jazz
The Honda Jazz has long bridged the gap between small cars and mini MPVs, and the latest version continues that tradition. It offers class-leading space and practicality and should outlast you with its outstanding reliability. It's just a shame the ride is rather unsettled.
Our pick: 1.3 i-VTEC SE
9. Mazda 2
From the outset, the Mazda 2 is more expensive than most of its rivals. In terms of reliability and interior quality, though, the tiny Mazda has its rivals soundly beaten. It's good to drive, well equipped and most of its engine options are frugal - just be aware that you can get a cheaper deal elsewhere.
Our pick: 1.5 90 SE-L
8. Nissan Note
If practicality is your top priority, then few cars can match the Nissan Note. What this spacious hatchback lacks in engine refinement and classy looks, it makes up for in everyday usability. The rear seats and boot offer the sort of flexibility you'd expect from a family MPV. It's expensive to buy, though, and while all of the available engines are frugal, they're hardly powerful. Mid-range Acentra trim gets you air-con, electric rear windows and alloy wheels.
Our pick: 1.2 DIG-S Acenta