Port Elizabeth - To claim that Volkswagen’s Polo has now ‘grown up’ would seem a tad unfair to the outgoing model, itself an extremely accomplished contender which, as far as we’re concerned, is still the best vehicle in its class even after eight years.

Nonetheless, the all-new Polo that you see here takes things a step or two further, both in terms of size and technological sophistication. 

By now you might have read about it moving onto the MQB platform, and growing in size (81mm in length, 92mm in wheelbase and 69mm in width for the record,with boot volume swelling from 280 to 351 litres), but few people realise just how big it’s really become. According to VW, the Polo is now roughly the same size as the third-generation Golf, only better packaged - in fact it has a longer wheelbase than the Mk4 Golf.

In many respects then, the Polo has evolved into the de facto Golf for South African buyers - but will it ever follow its larger sibling in becoming too expensive for mass success in our budget conscious market? VWSA has (for now at least) kept pricing at a similar level to its predecessor, with the base 1.0 TSI Trendline coming in at R235 900, just over six grand more than its predecessor, and that’s in spite of additional features, which we’ll get to in a moment.

First let’s take a spin. 

Under the bonnet, the previous 1.2 TSI turbopetrol engine makes way for a new 1-litre TSI three-cylinder unit, previously only fitted to the BlueMotion model. This engine is the only option in the initial range, but it is offered in two states of tune: 70kW and 175Nm in the Trendline and Comfortline derivatives (up from 66kW/160Nm), and 85kW/200Nm in the Highline (up from 81kW/175Nm). The 147kW, 2-litre TSI Polo GTI hottie is due soon, so watch this space.

I got to sample both on the media launch in the Port Elizabeth area. First up was the 70kW Comfortline, which should become the best seller in the range if its predecessor’s sales figures are anything to go by. It’s fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, with long ratios that benefit economy and allow quiet low-rev cruising on the highway, but that does hamper acceleration to some degree - although it’s still decently punchy by class standards - and overtaking is not quite effortless.

You get a six-speed manual in the 85kW Highline, but the version we drove was fitted with the optional seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, which is also available as an option in the Comfortline. As expected, the Highline felt a little punchier with its extra power and shorter ratios.

I’ll reserve full judgement until we’ve had a chance to spend more time with the new Polo in the context of a full road test, but so far I’m impressed with the smoothness and refinement of the new motor and, for that matter, with the vehicle’s road manners in general.

The interior is quite a departure from the outgoing Polo - in fact there’s been a full-on digital revolution in there, with new touch-screen infotainment systems positioned high on the dashboard, almost flowing into the instrument cluster. Though the latter is still analogue in standard cars, it can be optionally replaced by the latest version of VW’s Active Info Display digital instrument cluster - a first for Polo.

The new interior layout gets top marks for ergonomics, but I feel it’s lost a bit of its style in the process. The lower-positioned central air vents look like a tacked-on afterthought, for instance. Also cheapening the effect are inner door panels made almost solely from dark, hard plastic. Depending on the model you can however add some colour with Velvet Red or Reef Blue dashboard panels.

Also on the upside, the new screens with their enhanced, tablet-like graphics add some high-tech vibes to the cabin. Highline models get a 20.3cm Composition Media touchscreen interface, which is glass encased to fit flush with the rest of the central dashboard panel, but it still features a few essential rotary knobs, including one for the volume. Also included at this level is App Connect (featuring Apple CarPlay) and voice control.

A Composition Media 20.3cm infotainment system, which includes navigation, is also available.

The Trendline and Comfortline get a smaller 16.5cm Composition Colour touch-screen system, which is not glass-encased, but which is still an upgrade over the previous system. The base Trendline now features Bluetooth and a USB port, for instance, while the safety standard improves with the addition of curtain level airbags (front and rear).

As before the Trendline rides on 14-inch covered steel wheels, while the Comfortline adds 15-inch alloys, along with two extra speakers, a leather-covered multi-function steering wheel, Driver alert and rear electric windows.

Highlines, in addition to the beefed up infotainment, treat you to 16-inch alloys, cruise control, ambient cabin lighting and more. 

Keeping with the new Polo’s high-tech theme, the latest options list includes driver assistance gadgets like Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert and the latest Park Assist system for parallel and perpendicular parking.

Those braving the options list will find a wide range of available gadgets as well as styling packages and accessories - including the R-Line exterior design pack, which includes a unique front bumper - and the Beats, which packs a 300-watt Beats audio system and other cabin and styling upgrades.

As before the Polo is assembled in Uitenhage for both South African consumption and export as part of a massive R6.1 billion investment in the local plant.

PRICES

1.0 TSI 70kW Trendline R235 900
1.0 TSI 70kW ComfortlineR264 700
1.0 TSI 70kW Comfortline DSG R280 700
1.0 TSI 85kW Highline R286 200
1.0 TSI 85kW Highline DSG R302 200

These prices include a three-year/120 000 warranty and three-year/45 000km service plan.