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New 2010 Volkswagen Polo review

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By making the new fifth generation look like the new sixth generation and highly praised Golf, VW look as though they will make a mint from their new supermini as people are moving to smaller cars in big numbers.

The Golf is an exceptional C-segment medium sized three and five door hatchback, it drives fantastically well and it is a classy and desirable product. But it is expensive so the new Polo, larger, better looking, better performance and of better quality than its predecessor, is just right to capture 'down-sizers' and 'down-pricers' in the recession hit new car market.

Five door Polo models go on sale from 16 October and three door versions will follow in December 2009. Five door prices show a 2-3% increase over the outgoing Polo due to the low value of the Pound against the Euro. Prices range from £10,035 to £14,910 and expect three door versions to be around £600 less for like-for-like specification.

In a full year the Polo should attract 37,000 UK buyers making it VW's second best selling range behind the Golf which accounts for 65,000 sales. But I can see some previous Golf owners wishing to save on money, but not on image, taking a serious look at the new Polo.

It looks just like a Golf but it is just 229mm shorter in length (around 9-inches) and with a width of 1,682mm is just 104mm (around 4-inches) less. The Polo also has a good sized boot with 280-litres of space with the rear row of seats in use and 952-litres with the rear seats folded.

There is more storage space under the strong load floor and even room for a spare wheel not an inflation kit - a rarity these days.

There are four levels of trim and equipment, S, Moda (designed for the younger buyers with flashy wheels and dark glass but no air-con) the best selling SE and the SEL which will attract down-sizing buyers from much more expensive cars.

The current engine line-up has three petrol and two diesel Euro V units with more to come including a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder TDI diesel BlueMotion model which will return 85mpg with a CO2 figure of just 87g/km. However for now we have 1.2-litre three-cylinder 60 and 70PS, 1.4-litre, four-cylinder 85PS petrol, and 1.6-litre four-cylinder TDI 75 and 85PS units.

A heftily priced £1,200 DSG automatic seven-speed gearbox is available for the 1.4-litre petrol engine. All other models have five-speed manual transmissions. The most popular engine by far, over 50% will be the 1.2-litre unit and of those two the range starter 60PS engine will account for most sales.

Finally on figures 60% of new Polo buyers are likely to be retail customers and also 60% of all Polo sales will be for five-door versions. The single best selling model in the UK Volkswagen expects to be the SE 1.2-litre 60PS which carries a price of £11,385 , a road tax bill of £120 but with an insurance group rating of just 2E.

A 1.4-litre SE Golf 5-Door (nearest equivalent) will cost £16,520 with a £125 road tax bill and insurance rated as 7E.

So this shrunken Golf in the form of a Polo makes a lot of financial and visual sense.

The two main competitors for the new Polo will be the Vauxhall Corsa which the Polo beats hands-down for driving refinement, room and quality. It almost beats the market leading new Fiesta, especially for rear seat space, the quality of the interior and the future residual values.

But the Fiesta outscores the Polo in the overall driving thrills and verve departments as the Polo is safe and secure but not that exciting to drive.

I sampled various engines from the new Polo range and the 1.2-litre 70PS unit seemed to me the best option. The three cylinder unit is responsive and lively and the combined cycle 51.4mpg figure should be achievable, VW's are normally good at actually producing in real-life their fuel economy figures.

However it is the 60PS unit of the same engine that will be the best selling model and this unit needs to be pushed just that bit harder to achieve the same performance. The 10PS less power becomes obvious on hills and the 0-62 acceleration figure of 16.1 seconds is a full two seconds slower than the 70PS unit and it shows.

The top speed is a sluggish 98mph, 5mph slower than its larger counterpart. The fuel economy is claimed to be the same but in real-life because it is worked harder I suspect it will return less than the more powerful unit. The 60PS engine is also noisier than the 70PS engine during acceleration.

As for roadholding, stability and handling, the ride was comfortable and the suspension compliant and it handled our poor road surfaces well enough.

The interior is relatively roomy and the new Polo feels much more grown-up that the previous versions. It is still a smallish car but with the 'feel' of a much bigger car and with the build quality and layout to match.

The adjustment for the driver's seat and the steering column gives a first rate driving position and the rear seat leg and headroom is impressive, much better than the class leading Fiesta. The boot is about average in size for its class but it is of a sensible box shape which means it is easy to load and the split folding rear seats give added very useable space.

Safety equipment is high and VW have very sensibly given the new Polo ESP stability and traction control as standard. Anti-lock brakes are standard of course as is a full range of airbags so the outcome is a five-star safety rating and very low insurance groups.

Volkswagen says the SE specification will be the most popular and I would agree with that because it includes active head restraints, central door locking, air conditioning, front and rear electric windows, electrically operated and heated door mirrors, a good sound system, plenty of storage space, split folding rear seats, alloy 15-inch roads wheels and a space saver spare wheel.

The soft feel interior trim for panels gives the Polo a 'grown-up' appearance and generally it's a nice place to be.

Volkswagen Polo MILESTONES

Volkswagen Polo SE 1.2-litre 60PS 5-Speed manual (Best selling model)

Price: £11,385

Engine/transmission: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, petrol, 60PS, 80lb ft (108Nm) from 3,000rpm, 5-speed manual gearbox

Performance: 98mph, 0-62mph 16.1 seconds, 51.4mpg, CO2 128g/km VED Band D £120

Insurance group: 2E

Load space: 280-952 litres

For: Family styling of the new Golf, slightly larger and more interior space than previous Polo models, comfortable ride, much improved equipment and quality, frugal with fuel, low insurance costs

Against: Stressed sounding 60PS engine when pushed so go for the much better 70PS unit