When I first spotted the latest addition to the Auto Express fleet, I have to admit that I thought I’d stumbled on to the set of classic Sixties TV series Land Of The Giants.
On paper, the latest VW Polo slots neatly into the supermini sector, but in reality this is a small car that thinks big. In fact, with its spacious cabin, roomy boot, high quality finish and mechanical refinement, it could easily be confused with models from the class above.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the VW Polo
So, with downsizing all the rage these days, I’m going to find out whether the Polo can cut it as sensible family transport. With a 14-month-old daughter and all her baggage to cart about, relatives who live as far away as Yorkshire and Devon, plus a daily 60-mile round trip commute to London, I’m determined to test the VW’s versatility to breaking point.
Initial impressions are good. While the conservatively styled Polo lacks the flair of the Ford Fiesta, our car’s optional Savannah Yellow paint finish really helps it stand out from the crowd.
Our range-topping SEL model is also packed with all the kit you’re likely to need. We’ve barely needed to touch the options list (see panel), because air-con, a trip computer, four electric windows, an iPod connection, plus soft leather trim for the steering wheel, gearlever and handbrake are all standard. It’s even got the classy damped grab handles you’ll find in VW’s more upmarket cars.
As with the exterior, the design of the cabin is sensible rather than stylish, but the quality is outstanding. Most of the plastics are soft touch, while the fit and finish are first rate. The dashboard is logically laid out and easy to use – the stereo’s chunky controls and big buttons are a highlight.
Then there are the wide door bins, a large glovebox and deep centre console cubby that will swallow most family odds and ends, while our SEL model also benefits from a lidded armrest between the front seats and neat sliding trays under the chairs.
Push the tailgate-mounted VW badge that doubles as a boot release, and the door swings open to reveal a generous 280-litre load bay – that’s three litres more than our much larger Ford Focus long termer. It’s practical, too. Taller passengers will find the rear bench a little cramped compared to a Golf, but it’s far from uncomfortable.
On the road, the car’s turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine serves up a surprising turn of speed, and bigger and more powerful machinery is often left trailing in the VW’s wake. Better still, the slick six-speed transmission allows you to make the most of the available performance, while the tall top gear results in refined and relaxed motorway cruising. Best of all, it retains the traditional supermini virtues of compact dimensions and excellent visibility.
So it’s a shame the chassis is a bit of a letdown. The Polo rides comfortably enough and there’s plenty of grip in corners, but it lacks the poise and precision of a Fiesta. Still, this is the only fly in the ointment so far.
Overall, the VW is doing sterling work as a refined, comfortable and practical family workhorse. However, only time will tell if this little car will continue to be a big hit.
VW Polo 1.2 TSi SEL
“I wasn’t expecting much when I took the Polo home one night. But James is spot on – it’s a cracker. There’s plenty of space up front and the little 1.2 TSI engine makes it really fast. The only negative is the bouncy suspension. If it was more taut, it’d be pretty much perfect.”
Sam Hardy, Motoring editor