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Used Car Focus: Volkswagen Polo

The Volkswagen Polo has long been a favourite among the mainstream motoring media. Its Teutonic looks ooze class, it is precisely engineered and it creates easy headlines for lazy sub-editors (think: Volkswagen's mint supermini; no holes barred, etc).

The 2000-02 model inherits and improves on this legacy (including the puns); essentially it's the proven 1994 model subtly tweaked-and-tucked, with a new dash, trim and external design that evolves the understated Volkswagen look.

But this wasn't an all-new model and with cleverer superminis like the Peugeot 206 and Toyota Yaris aiming for a slice of its market, its main shortcoming is all too apparent today – a lack of interior space. This problem was not cured until the launch of the Polo Mk 5 in early 2002.

LINE-UP

Best sellers are the well-defined three- and five-door hatchbacks. The estate looks boxier, but is practical with a much bigger load area. For reasons which probably still puzzle VW, it never really caught on in the UK, so numbers are limited.

Saloons have a large boot, but were never popular with buyers. The Polo range finally got a sporty engine with the 1.6-litre 125bhp GTI, but was not replaced when the first Mk 5 examples arrived – a hot new Polo is a possibility next year.

DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE

All 2000-02 models get power steering, but it's over-light and lacks feel. Roadholding is good, but like others in the class Polo suffers from body roll. The GTI version is considerably stiffer and has a sportier chassis for more driver involvement. Visibility is generally adequate, but thick rear roof pillars restrict rear vision. Polo's 'wheel at each corner' design means it's easy to park and manoeuvre round town.

COMFORT

Up against the Toyota Yaris and Peugeot 206, Polo's early Nineties interior design feels cramped. Taller drivers complain the car lacks headroom, the seats lack support, and tight legroom (especially in the rear) can make it feel claustrophobic. But the previous generation Polo is good on quality – the fabrics and plastic trim are durable and well put together.

ENGINES

The Polo's 1.0-litre petrol unit feels underpowered in the car's heavy body, making it strictly a town car. The 60bhp or 75bhp 1.4 engines give good fuel economy (around 45mpg) and adequate performance, making them better all-rounders. The 1.4 16v and 1.6 trade economy for performance; 1.6 GTI 16v has a 0-60mph time of 8.7 seconds and a top speed of 127mph. The modern, refined TDI diesels are popular with higher-mileage buyers; top TDI is the 75bhp 1.4 TDI PD unit.

SAFETY

ABS and twin front airbags are standard. Euro NCAP describes it as a strong car, awarding a high four-star rating. It's not that secure: an alarm is only optional on S and SE (standard on GTI) to complement the mandatory immobiliser.

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