LITTLE wonder so many motorists are downsizing: small cars are getting bigger.
The new Volkswagen Polo is roomier than a Golf from 10 years ago, fitting in size - and price - between city hatchbacks such as the Honda Jazz and small cars, among them the Toyota Corolla.
It starts from $17,990 drive-away for a manual and $20,490 drive-away for an auto, pricing it at the top end of its peers but undercutting most vehicles the next size up.
According to VW's tape measure, the new Polo has a bigger boot than a Mazda3, Ford Focus and Subaru Impreza hatch, more headroom than a Kia Cerato, and more shoulder room than a Hyundai i30.
It's no bare bones proposition, either.
All models from the base Comfortline up come with low and high-speed automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a rear camera hidden behind the VW badge on the tailgate, Apple Car Play and Android Auto in an eight-inch hi-res touchscreen, cruise control, leather steering wheel, a digital speed display, two USB charging ports, and height adjustment for both front seats, not just the driver.
The $22,990 drive-away Trendline gains 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, auto dimming rear view mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, front centre armrest and map lights.
The $23,990 drive-away Launch Edition gains 16-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear glass, front fog lights, LED tail-lights and wireless phone charging.
The new Polo earns a five-star safety rating when measured against the latest criteria and VW has also made advanced safety available in a $1400 option pack.
The extra tech includes radar cruise control with automatic stop-and-go in traffic, blind zone warning, rear cross traffic alert, and a "manoeuvre braking" function that will automatically slam on the brakes when driving in forward or reverse up to 10km/h, such as in car parks.
A pleasant surprise in an industry increasingly fitting space-saver spares: the new Polo comes with a full-size spare on a 15-inch steel rim.
Less welcome news for buyers on a budget: the new Polo - as with other VW, most European cars, and some class rivals - still requires at least 95 RON premium unleaded. In return, though, the miserly fuel consumption ratings are between 4.8L and 5.1L/100km.
The turbocharged 1.0-litre may be smaller in capacity and have three-cylinders rather than the previous four but it punches above its weight.
The base model gets 70kW/175Nm and dearer models are boosted to 85kW/200Nm.
These figures outshine most direct rivals - including the Suzuki Swift turbo triple - and give cars in the next class up a run for their money.
The more powerful Polo has the same torque as a Mazda3 and 15 per cent more than a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic.
Transmission options are a seven-speed twin clutch auto, five-speed manual (70TSI) or a six-speed manual (85TSI).
Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km, which means most drivers will only need to take the car for routine maintenance once a year.
The service costs have come down slightly versus the previous Polo but they are still a touch on the high side ($1213 over three years for the auto, $1253 manual), although by no means the dearest among its peers.
Warranty is capped at three years, unlimited kilometres; longer coverage would be welcomed and help remove any niggling doubts about long term reliability. For the warranty period, there is free 24-hour roadside assistance.
ON THE ROAD
Cars in the tiny tot class can feel and sound tinny, though they are the hardest cars to build because makers want to save a dollar at every turn.
However the new Polo feels grown up, not only in terms of size but also in the way it drives. The cabin presentation also steps the Polo up a notch.
It's surprisingly quiet for a small car. The tiny engine isn't raucous and there's not much tyre noise inside the cabin.
You can feel the subtle rumble of the three-cylinder engine when you floor the accelerator but the engine itself has more urge than you might expect, and enough oomph to keep pace in the daily grind.
The more powerful engine does feel a little more spritely but if the budget doesn't stretch that far the 70TSI variant will do just fine.
Previous VW twin-clutch autos have been prone to delayed reactions and some shudder on take-off and this has been largely addressed with "wet clutch" technology.
The Polo has a more rudimentary "dry clutch" automatic gearbox but most of the gremlins appear to have been ironed out. It shifts smoothly and the delays when moving from rest are closer to conventional autos than they've been in the past.
On a couple of tight U-turns on a smooth road, we could feel some vibration through the steering wheel; we're unsure if this was a tyre rubbing on the underbody or a trait of the axle design given the relatively tight turning circle.
Auto headlights would be a welcome addition on the base model, especially given the increasing number of forgetful motorists driving in the dark.
Other than that, first impressions are positive. The Polo steers precisely, corners and brakes confidently (despite drum brakes on the rear of the base model) and the ride over bumps in most instances is so comfortable it's almost serene.
One exception: on sharp bumps, the shock absorbers come close to running out of travel but the knock is muted rather than a loud thump.
A class act, the new Polo feels grown up in more ways than one.
Prices are roughly $1000 dearer than the previous Polo during its recent model run-out.
Low and high-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection is standard on all models, as is fatigue monitoring and tyre pressure monitor. Optional advanced safety pack ($1400) includes radar cruise control, blind zone warning and rear cross traffic alert.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder is smaller than the engine it replaces but surprisingly punchy. The base engine does the 0-100km/h dash in about the same time as a Toyota Camry (10 seconds) and the slightly more powerful version is half a second quicker.
Refinement has long been a VW strong suit and the Polo raises the bar in the city-car class. The bigger footprint gives it better roadholding. The tiny engine sips fuel but insists on premium unleaded (95 RON).
The first new Polo in eight years is fresh from the tyres up and adopts VW's new global underpinnings. It's as big as a VW Golf from 2004. In overall size it fits between current city-car peers and the next class up.
From $17,990 drive-away manual, $20,490 drive-away auto to $23,990 drive-away (good)
3 years/unlimited km, $1213-$1253 over 3 years (average)
1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 70kW/175Nm or 85kW/200Nm (perky)
5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB with pedestrian detection, rear camera, tyre pressure monitor, fatigue monitor (good)
4.8-5.1L/100km, 95 RON (miserly thirst, expensive fuel)
Full size, steel (good)
351 litres (good)