Mint Polo

Volkswagen is nothing if not thorough, and the new Polo is a demonstration of corporate efficiency in that it not only conforms to all current legislative requirements, but meets many for the future as well. Needless to say, the little car is scooping up awards left, right and centre. Almost before you get to try it, you know that VW has got it right again.

All new from the base up (and it needed to be), the latest Polo is shorter, taller and wider than its predecessor, and is available as a five-door for the very first time. With the introduction of the 1.9 diesel, VW is confident that the Polo now caters for all sectors of the small car market.

For the moment, the 75bhp 1.6GLX is the flagship of an 18 model range clothed beneath an all-new, stiffer shell. The overall dimensions of the Polo are similar to those of the Mk I Golf, though 20 years down the line the GLX could never evoke the same emotions. Still, it looks neat alongside the current bloated Golf and is one of the more handsome (if one can apply the term to hatchbacks) cars in its class.

At £11,750 the GLX is competitively priced considering the level of standard equipment: this includes power steering, alloy wheels, sports front seats, driver and passenger air bags, fog lights and stereo system with removable front panel. For the first time, ABS is an option.

Instantly noticeable is the power steering. In this respect, the new Polo is further removed from its predecessor than Manchester United are from the European Cup final. The GLX feels more like a Golf than a Polo thanks to its more substantial controls and more robust body. Refinement is now in a different dimension: the suspension is firm, the ride supple; there is little noise intrusion until you hit the higher octaves in the rev range, at which point harshness overcomes the deadening benefits of the pendulum mounting system, a concept geared towards reducing vibration.

Disappointments in the GLX are few. Performance is modest, as yet. There is nothing to touch the old supercharged G40; the 1.6 GLX takes over 12s to reach 60 mph from rest. The 107 mph top speed would be marmalised by the cheaper, more distinctive Fiat Punto GT. But that's not the whole story. The Polo's chassis is sure footed, agile and hysteria-free with reasonable turn-in and modest understeer. There is plenty of roll, albeit controlled, and the steering is quick and communicative enough to make the Polo as much, if not more, fun to drive hard than any rival.

Braking efficiency has been improved immeasurably, though VW could hardly have failed in this respect, so poor was the old Polo.

With increased passenger compartment and boot space, the new VW baby is altogether a more efficient package than ever before, combining all the necessary ingredients in the right quantities to provide an almost flawless supermini.