THE year 1975 was a big year in my life. I got married.
It was an historic year for British politics too. Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party.
Amazing what you can find on Wikipedia: Jaws was the blockbuster movie, Bill Gates and a chap called Paul Allen created Microsoft and it was the year Tiger Woods was born.
It was also a big year for Volkswagen, which launched the Polo, its first small hatchback, or supermini as they became known.
Polo was VW’s response to the brilliant and fast-selling Renault 5, a motoring game changer if ever there was one.
Yet the first Polo was not a true Volkswagen. The company needed to move fast, Ford wasn’t far behind with its Fiesta, so VW rebadged the Audi 50 and Polo was born.
History tells us it has been one of the world’s most successful small cars – 1.2 million Brits have owned one.
I had a second hand, two-door in the ‘80s – and it has been the same story around the world.
Its reputation has always been ‘good old Mr Reliable’ – like most VW models.
Owners didn’t fall in love with a Polo in the same way as a cuddly Renault 5 and the same can be said for the even more cuddly Clio, yet last year more people chose a Polo than the Renault. It is one of those cars that is a constant. Once a Polo, always a Polo. Ford’s Fiesta bears no resemblance to the original; likewise the Clio. Yet Polo has retained its DNA.
If anything the current model is closer in looks to the Golf, another car that has just evolved through its long life. That’s the Volkswagen way.
How has it survived so well for so long? Basically, because it is damn good car.
Criticise VW for being too conservative with its design, but don’t criticise the company for building bad cars. It just doesn’t do that.
And Polo is almost faultless. It drives more like a Golf than ever to which I say “yippee!”
It is the supermini with the best ride, smooth but controlled, and dances through bends with the poise of a professional from the Strictly show.
My test car had no more than a one-litre, three-cylinder petrol under the bonnet – not the best engine of this size I have driven, but punchy enough.
The secret is not to expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.
Another Wikipedia fact that surprised is the 16 seconds sprint-to-60 time for the Polo’s original 1043cc engine – only two seconds slower than this Polo. But today’s car is heavier and has a catalytic converter, which put a dent in every car’s acceleration.
You can go more powerful but if your needs are for a car with a back seat big enough for two growing children – three at a squeeze – and not have to break the bank, then stay small.
My 48mpg average over a week with a lot of town driving was very good and getting into the mid-50s on a run is not difficult and is almost up to the official average, which is a rare event.
Compared with some rivals, the Polo’s dashboard layout looks dated, but you will be hard-pressed to find one that is as easy to use.
There is little thinking to be done; clear, good-sized switches around a 6.5in touchscreen.
Equipment levels on Volkswagens in general have improved and we can thank the likes of Kia and Hyundai for keeping VW and the rest of the European car makers on their toes.
The Match is one of the most popular Polos and includes all-round electric windows, manual air-conditioning, heated door mirrors, engine stop-start, DAB radio and multi-function computer, but fancy having to pay 85 quid for carpet mats.
I said Polo was almost faultless, so here is what I didn’t like...
There is too little space in the driver’s footwell, a common fault with cars built for the left-hand drive market, and there isn’t enough light in the centre console cubby hole, which houses the USB and aux-in socket.
Volkswagen Polo Match 5-dr
Engine: 1-litre; 74nhp
Performance: 0-62mph, 14.3sec; 108 mph
Economy: 58.9mpg combined
Emissions: 108g/km. Road tax £20
Insurance group: 9
See full story in the Leader