Small cars no longer equate to poverty as they once did, today's little models are safe, perform well, and come packed with features. VW's Polo sits atop the small car tree and has been the class pacesetter in recent times.
VW launched its fifth-generation Polo in 2010 and it again raised the bar for the hard-fought class. It was longer, wider and higher than its predecessor, and with a longer wheelbase and wider track boasted a larger footprint.
With its increased size came more cabin space, such that it was beginning to rival the Golf of earlier times. There were two hatch body styles, a three-door and one with five, and two levels of equipment, the Trendline and the Comfortline, petrol and diesel engines, and manual and auto transmissions.
The Polo follows the VW line with styling that is understated but pleasing, its lines are smooth and flowing and its proportions are well balanced. Inside it was nicely laid out, the fit and finish was of a high standard and the seats were comfortable and supportive.
Given that it's a small car the Polo's cabin is nevertheless quite roomy with sufficient head and leg room for front passengers, and ample room for a couple in the rear. Beyond the cabin is a decent boot for a small car, and a split-fold rear seat enhances its load-carrying flexibility.
Entry to the range was through the three-door Trendline hatch with a 1.4-litre petrol engine, from there you stepped up to the Comfortline with either the 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine of the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel.
Performance from the 1.4-litre engine that comes with the Trendline is smooth and easy; the turbocharged 1.2-litre that is available with the Comfortline boasts the zip of a larger engine and the economy of a small engine, while the diesel delivers terrific driveability thanks to its great torque along with miserly fuel consumption.
The transmission choices are between manual gearboxes, five or six-speed depending on the model, and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. On the road the Polo's ride is smooth and comfortable, its handling is assured and responsive.
VW's reputation has taken a hit in the last year or two with a number of problems that have affected its reliability and safety, added to which the company itself has appeared unwilling to address the issues that owners raise with their cars.
Only the outcry of owners in the last few months has forced the company to get involved, and they have recalled cars for checking. Owners regularly report rattles and squeaks on cars that are relatively new, but the big issue has centred on the dual-clutch auto.
Complaints include erratic shifting, stalling, and cutting out completely at times. Take the time to test-drive any car you're considering buying, have it checked by an expert experienced in the problems of the DSG transmission, and do your homework on the make and model.
Check the service history to make sure your chosen car has been properly maintained, and check the owner's manual to see that it has been inspected under the recall. It's also important to know that to get the best out of the Polo petrol engines it's necessary to use the more expensive 95-octane fuel of even higher grade 98.
A great little car, but not without its flaws, so be wary.
Price new: $16,690 to $24,850
Engine: 1.2-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, 77 kW/175 Nm; 1.4-litre 4-cylinder, 63 kW/132 Nm; 1.6-litre turbo-diesel 4-cylinder, 66 kW/230 Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual, 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Economy: 6.1 L/100 km (1.4), 4.7 L/100 km (1.6TD), 5.5 L/100 km (1.2)
Body: 3-door hatch, 5-door hatch
Variants: Trendline, Comfortline
Safety: 5-star ANCAP
Expect to pay:
$9500 to $14,500 for the Trendline
$11,500 to $17,000 for the Comfortline petrol
$12,500 to $19,000 for the Comfortline diesel
OTHERS TO CONSIDER
- Hyundai i20 - 2010-2011 Good value-for-money, solid performance, top safety and it's reliable, check it out. Pay $9000-$15,500. 4 stars.
- Mazda2 - 2010-2011 Good looking, comfortable, great on road. Should be high on the shopping list. Pay $9000-$16,000. 4 stars.
- Toyota Yaris - 2010-2011 Well-built and generally reliable, but it trails on value-for-money. Pay $9000-$16,500. 3.5 stars.
Do you own a Mazda BT-50? If so tell us what you think of it by sending your comments to Graham Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or Carsguide, PO Box 4245, Sydney, NSW, 2010.