The arrival of a new Volkswagen Polo is a big deal to everyone, from private buyers to company and rental fleets. It is the most popular passenger car in the South African market and one of the most popular worldwide, being the 19th top-selling model globally in 2017.

So we were excited about the arrival of a 1.0l TSI Comfortline at the office. We were even more excited when it arrived with a manual gearbox; we’re still into those, you see.

In terms of styling, the design is more evolutionary but it helps to show the slightly larger dimensions of the latest generation. It also helps it to fit into the family look with a hint of Golf about the front and more definition to the side profile lines. Its smart looks will stand the test of time which is good because it will probably end up as the next-generation Polo Vivo.

The interior is where the magic has happened with upgrades in materials, space and infotainment. Our model had a nice touchscreen system that connected easily to our devices and provided navigation and streaming services. It all fits in with the appeal of the Polo to provide a decent level of cool while also being practical. That said, at one point the infotainment system rebooted itself for no apparent reason. No big deal, just a bit odd.

It was not the only thing that was odd though. You know those door handles on the new Range Rover Velar that glide out from their concealed place in the doors when you unlock the car? They have been tested to ensure they work in all conditions and that they not only extend but retract back into the doors too.

The interior puts its rivals in the shade in terms of quality and equipment. Picture: QUICKPIC
The interior puts its rivals in the shade in terms of quality and equipment. Picture: QUICKPIC

The Polo we had on test was the same, with the door handle extended. Problem is that it’s not supposed to stay extended. Every time we opened the passenger door, the handle would stick open until you tapped and it snapped back into place. Must have slipped past the quality check people in Uitenhage.

Climb in and the driving position is great with reach and tilt for the steering wheel and everything has been positioned within easy view. Visibility outside is also good all round.

Fire up the little motor and it thrums with that great three-cylinder sound that has a sporty note about it. Combined with the manual gearbox, it gives the Polo more character than you might expect. But be wary of the combination of a high clutch point and absolutely no power below about 1,700 revs.

I have a sloped driveway and the first time I reversed out I thought the clutch was a goner. Strangely that telltale smell was there occasionally in traffic too but after a few days and adjusting my driving position a few times, I think we got there eventually. Some won’t.

That lack of power is an issue and you have to wind things up to pull away cleanly from the traffic lights. But once you are travelling along the little turbo gives you enough grunt to put a grin on your face.

Fuel consumption too was great, probably helped by the manual gearbox rather than an automatic. It was still a bit off the claimed 4.5l/100km but at 5.4 after mostly driving in Joburg’s urban traffic, that is rather good.

The ride feels a little firmer than the previous generation, but there have been great improvements when it comes to noise, vibration and harshness. We barely heard any noise coming from the outside world and there wasn’t a single rattle or squeak anywhere in the cabin.

That’s not surprising given the high level of the materials inside compared to some rivals. Thick, padded materials cover the dashboard in a way which must have the bean counters at Toyota wondering how they do it after the appalling plastics of the new Yaris. The boot space is decent and you can fold the seats down for when you need to shift something a bit larger, like the Cabinet.

Overall, the Polo has set the bar once again. Yes, there were a couple of issues but VW has managed to do a lot with its small car, even more than before in a generation change I would say. Getting quality, safety, technology and style into a package at this end of the segment is not easy, at least not if you want to compete on price, but VW has managed to do it really well and the Polo looks set to continue to be the leader of the small car pack.