Good: smart styling, lots of space, excellent quality, fine to drive, high-end options, safety
Not so good: getting pricey now, 65hp engine lacks puff, SEAT Ibiza...
And so, the Volkswagen Polo has at last become a Golf. No, really, it has. Although it is still only just breaching the notional four-metre length limit for so-called small cars, or superminis as we used to call them, the new Polo (the sixth generation of car to bear that name) has achieved some serious packaging miracles thanks to its new MQBA-0 platform. So, rear seat space is now all-but-comparable with that of the larger Golf and boot space, at 349 litres, is hardly that far away from that of Big Brother too. Meanwhile, on the outside, the faintly gauche, upright styling of the old Polo has given way to something broader, smoother, more handsome and more premium-looking. We often accuse the (distantly related) Audi A1 of being nothing more than a 'posh Polo', but this new Polo now seems posh enough all by itself.
It feels posh when you sit inside, too. OK, some of the plastics are a distinct step down from that which you would find in the Golf, or indeed in some of the Polo's direct competitors, but the main contact points (wheel, door handles, gearshift) all look and feel suitably weighty, and our Highline-spec test car came with the gorgeous (and slick-to-use) eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which really lifts the cabin ambience.
More importantly, such things as seat comfort and driving position are from the top drawer (not always the case - anyone else remember the agonies of long journeys in the 1981 'Breadvan' Polo? I do...).
You can see, almost feel, the Polo bursting at its seams in an effort to prove that, following decades of being in the shadow of the Golf, it can now stand alone and proud in VW's model line-up. Standard equipment has taken a step up, so that even the most basic Trendline model now comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen system, along with body colour bumpers and door handles, forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and autonomous emergency braking, Bluetooth, start-stop and electric mirrors.
That said, few, if any it seems, Polo sales will come with base equipment. VW's policy of discounting the interest rates on its PCP deals for higher-spec models is driving customers to upgrade, and while our pricey €20k Comfortline test car would once have been of only minority interest to real buyers, now it's a core model. You can also spec it up with some proper high-end equipment - cruise control, automatic headlights, rear reversing cameras, keyless entry and ignition, Apple CarPlay and more. However, for all VW's protestations that buyers are happy paying extra for the bits they want, there's no getting away from the fact that the Polo is starting to look very pricey. You need to upgrade to an €18,000 Comfortline model just to get air conditioning, for instance. And then there's the SEAT Ibiza - mechanically identical and €1,500 or so cheaper model for model...
Still, there's no denying the impressiveness of the Polo once you sit in and drive. With that high-quality cabin surrounding you, and generally very good refinement, you feel as if you could knock off a journey from here to Milan by tea-time and not feel the worse for it. Of course, that may not be quite so easy with this engine. The basic 65hp 1.0-litre unit feels far more willing and able than the 1.2-litre Polo engine of old, but it's still very short on power and torque. The geological 15-second 0-100km/h time tells its own story, but to be fair the engine does at least feel a little more subjectively lively than that would suggest. At least on-paper emissions (108g/km) and fuel consumption (4.7 litres per 100km) are good, but given how hard one must thrash the engine to make progress, I'd suggest that an upgrade to the 75hp version could save some serious amounts of your fuel budget.
The driving experience is entirely predictable and very pleasant. There's nothing of the sharpness of steering that you'd find in the latest Ford Fiesta, it's true, and sharp, short-wave bumps can upset the Polo's composure, but by and large it's an enjoyable car to drive, with well-weighted steering, decent agility and a pleasing sense of composure and stability on motorways and dual carriageways that almost allows you to forget you've bought a (technically) small car.
So, has the Polo at long last grown up to the point that it now supplants the Golf? Almost, but not quite, in spite of the fact that it's now grown to all-but-identical dimensions to the 1991 MkIII Golf. Certainly, you could make the argument that the Polo is now sufficiently spacious and of sufficiently high quality that there's little point in spending more on the Golf, unless you really, really need the few extra cubic feet of space. Equally, it's now clear that you can save money by buying a well-specced Polo for a lot less than the equivalent Golf, and who wouldn't want that? But the Polo still falls but a hair's breadth short. The chief culprit is its engine, which in this basic form is too short of puff to be truly impressive, while unless you're prepared to spend a lot on extras, the Polo's cabin verges on the too-plain, and then you'll also start noticing the cheaper grades of plastic.
Now, while the Fiesta is still more fun to drive, the Honda Jazz is better-equipped as standard and the SEAT Ibiza is all things that the Polo is, but more affordable, within its own class, the new Volkswagen Polo is a hugely impressive car.