VW Polo a winner all the way

Andy RussellANDY RUSSELL wasn't at all surprised Volkswagen's mature new Polo is European Car of the Year.You don't have to be big to be great - as Volkswagen's new Polo proves by taking the European Car of the Year crown.Andy Russell

ANDY RUSSELL wasn't at all surprised Volkswagen's mature new Polo is European Car of the Year.

You don't have to be big to be great - as Volkswagen's new Polo proves by taking the European Car of the Year crown.


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VW's fifth-generation supermini - celebrating its 35th anniversary this year - won the keenly-contested title against against big hitters like the all-new Vauxhall Astra and Mercedes-Benz E-Class as well as quirky newcomers like Toyota's innovative iQ city car.

To put the win into perspective, VW's new Golf, seen as the benchmark in the compact family car class, lost out to Vauxhall's Vectra-replacing Insignia last year.

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It's a real coup for the Polo which, for all it success with nearly 11 million sales worldwide, had always lived in the shadow of the Golf. In the past the Polo was sometimes seen as the choice of car for people who wanted a Golf but couldn't stretch to one. But it did not quite live up to the image of the Golf… until now.

The new Polo, to all intents and purposes, is a mini Golf, raising its image, quality and appeal.

It's wider, longer and slightly lower, yet considerably lighter, than its predecessor and gains the new VW face first seen on the Scirocco coupe with its flat grille and band of headlights and, emphasising the more athletic styling, a narrow front spoiler. This dynamic new stance gives the Polo more presence, with many people mistaking it for a Golf.

It's also more dynamic to drive and boasts the Golf's big-car feel when it comes to ride and roadholding. Wider front and rear tracks give it a bigger 'footprint' on the road, making it more settled and stable through corners, while body lean is kept in check better. Speed-sensitive electro-mechanical power steering is light in town but retain good feedback and speed. Supple suspension makes for a well-damped, comfortable ride and it takes a bumpy country road at speed before it feels bouncy. It's still not as good to drive as Ford's Fiesta but as superminis go the new Polo has a distinctly grown-up feel.

Bigger on the outside means bigger inside with more legroom in the back so it's acceptably roomy for four adults. The well-shaped boot has grown slightly and, on all but entry-level S models, has a split-level floor. The removable panel sits just below the boot sill and creates a useful storage compartment beneath - take it out and you have a deeper, more practical load bay. Rear seats split 60/40 on all but the entry model but you have to flip the cushions upright before the backs fold flat.

VW has also raised the perceived quality of the Polo with upmarket soft-touch materials for the dashboard which is a model of simplicity with big, white on black instruments - although why the speedo goes up to 160mph I'll never know - which now have white back lighting and easy-to-use controls. It's not eye-catching but is superbly user-friendly and the all-round visibility is excellent.

From launch the engine line-up is not powerful enough to fully exploit the fine chassis with three petrol engines - 60 and 70PS 1.2 and 85PS 1.4-litre units modified for better economy and emissions, the latter also offered with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox in a Polo first - and new 1.6-litre common rail turbo diesels with 75 and 90PS. Early this year will see the arrival of a 105PS 1.2-litre turbo petrol and, later, an ultra-frugal, all-new 75PS 1.2-litre three-cylinder diesel with automatic stop-start for the Bluemotion model.

I tried the lower-powered 1.2 petrol engine which will be a popular choice, making up for its lack of oomph by a willingness to rev in the lower gears. It's fine in city traffic but on the open road is short of top-end puff so overtaking needs careful planning, but once you finally get it up to motorway speeds it cruises comfortably. It makes up for the lack of miles per hour with plenty of miles per gallon and the digital fuel gauge went down so slowly I began to wonder if it was faulty!

Four trim levels are offered - S, Moda, big-selling SE and SEL. On the safety front, all Polos have anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control and front and front side airbags. The Moda, aimed at a younger market, includes remote locking, front fog lights, alloy wheels, electric heated mirrors, six-speaker radio/CD with MP3 plug-in, USB and iPod connection cables in the glovebox and storage drawers under the front seats.

With more drivers downsizing when they change cars, the new Polo's grown-up feel makes it very enticing and a deserved Car of the Year winner.

VOLKSWAGEN POLO 1.2 60PS MODA

PRICE: three-door �10,785; five-door �11,385 (add �600 for air-conditioning)

ENGINE: 1,198cc, 60PS, three-cylinder, 12-valve petrol

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 16.1 seconds; top speed 98mph

MPG: Urban 38.7; extra urban 62.8; combined 51.4

EMISSIONS: 128g/km

BENEFIT-IN-KIND TAX RATE: 15pc

INSURANCE GROUP: 2E

WARRANTY: Three years/60,000 miles

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE: Length 3,970mm; width (including door mirrors) 1,901mm; height 1,462mm

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