Piers Ward17 April 2014

First drive: new Volkswagen Polo

VW’s perennial supermini gets a shiny new face and cleaner engines. But is it better than a Fiesta?

What is it?

Fasten your seatbelt, for it's a mid-life refresh for the VW Polo!

Refresh? It doesn't look any different...

True, it's hardly the most radical surgery. We're told there are new front and rear bumpers, as well as that now-obligatory facelift tweak - optional LED headlights. But you show us someone who can spot the difference and we'll show you someone with too much time on their hands.

Surely there are other changes?

The big news is that the Polo's 1.2-litre petrol, the previous best-seller, is replaced by the 1.0-litre 3-cylinder from the Up. There are two power outputs, either 59bhp or 74bhp, and both have 71lb ft of torque. Unsurprisingly, with those sorts of numbers pace isn't blistering, with 0-62mph taking 15.5 seconds or 14.3 seconds respectively.

Crikey.

Well, 0-62 times are definitely NOT what this car is about. Silky urban commuting, that's where the Polo excels, and the 1.0-litre is ideally suited to this. At least the 74bhp version is.

It's capable of sitting at motorway speeds (assuming you've got the patience to get to them), and it's deeply refined. Honestly, BMW 3-Series quiet. A long motorway journey would be slow, but not painful.

Around town, there's enough torque on tap, and it rides well. Plus, fuel economy and CO2 figures are much improved over the old 1.2: the Polo now officially returns 59.8mpg and 108g/km, or 60.1mpg and 106g/km in the less powerful one.

You sound impressed.

To a point. While the more powerful 1.0-litre is just about brawny enough, the lesser engine labours more. It's fine in the Up, but the Polo is 100kg heavier. Hills are a struggle, and you can forget about overtaking on back roads.

We'd get the 74bhp Polo, especially as it's only £525 more. It's still not exactly rapid, but it feels significantly faster than the basic one.

Have they altered anything else?

There's a new touchscreen available as standard on all bar the basic trim, which can now connect to all sorts of Android phones. Apple won't play ball with VW for the time being, so if you're an iPhone user, skip to the next question.

But for everyone else, for £150 you get something called MirrorLink. This allows you to connect your phone to the car via USB, with the dash display mimicking the phone's screen, allowing you to access all your apps.

The phone remains the brains of the operation, but the car knows when you're driving so you'll only be able to view approved apps while you're on the move. No watching YouTube clips of a leopard eating a crocodile while you're driving, we're afraid.

The system works reasonably well, but it wouldn't sway us towards a Polo all on its own. It feels like an early adopter set-up.

Anything else I should know?

We're guessing you're more interested in the Polo GTI, and the good news is it's also getting a facelift at the end of the year, which will include a proper manual gearbox. Hurrah! Power is also increased to 190bhp. Hurrah again! The bad news is that we haven't driven it yet.

In that case, I may wait...

Don't dismiss this new Polo. It's not the most pulse-quickening, but if build quality and refinement are your priorities, it's as good as any supermini out there.

6/10

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