For as long as the Volkswagen Polo has been around, it has been damned with the faint praise of being a ‘baby Golf’. There’s nothing negative about that, you might reasonably argue, but for all it highlights the Polo’s grown-up qualities, it also underlines that it has never been cheap to buy in relation to its opposition, or as much fun to drive.
Still, even today, with it on the cusp of being replaced, the current Polo has a four-star What Car? rating, and is praised for combining the feel of bigger hatchbacks with an easy drive and low running costs. In those respects, it stands a cut above rivals such as the Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio and Nissan Micra, and fights extremely closely with our class leader, the brilliantly rounded Skoda Fabia.
You’ll have spotted the strange disguise on the all-new Polos we are testing 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 be revealed this summer before going on sale in the autumn, 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.
What's the 2017 VW Polo like to drive?
Initially, the Polo will be sold with variety of turbo and non-turbo 1.0-litre petrol engines, a more powerful 2.0-litre petrol and two 1.6-litre diesels. All are tried and tested in the VW Group line-up, and regarded by our testers as among the best in class for power delivery, refinement and economy, while even newer units are set to be added after the car goes on sale.
Our test covered the familiar three-cylinder 74bhp 1.0-litre and 94bhp turbocharged TSI 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. In the car, you feel a hint of larger potholes or road imperfections, but they especially 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.
What's the 2017 VW Polo like inside?
Most strikingly, the new Polo is longer and wider than the outgoing model, which is good news for interior space. And while it is lower than before, there's still plenty of head room for tall adults in both the front and the back.
Although we don’t have an official figure for boot space, a visual inspection suggests that too is bigger than ever – and among the best in class. This really is a grown-up little hatchback that scores extremely highly for practicality.
The disguised exterior you see in the pictures was carried over to the inside of the Polo, making it hard to draw too many conclusions. What was abundantly apparent, though, is that Volkswagen’s familiar switches and touchscreen infotainment systems are in place, and that the fit and finish are impressive.
There are rumours that buyers of higher-spec models may get the option of a body-coloured dashboard, as seen in the smaller Volkswagen Up. This remains to be confirmed, but if true, it would be one way of giving the Polo a slightly more fun, less austere look.
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