The eagerly-awaited small car Volkswagen Polo is here. Sensible and solidly-built, it makes top-class German engineering affordable, writes Ashish Masih

From the looks of it, there's little to stop Volkswagen from being a superhit in its class.

The Polo has a very modern and sporty design that is bound to turn heads. The clean, sharp lines and the stylish chin give the Polo a sporty stance. The 15-inch alloy wheels on the top-end Highline variant look nice on the car.

The cabin

Step into the cabin, and you could mistake this for a more expensive luxury saloon. Buyers will appreciate the high level of craftsmanship that has gone into the cabin. All materials exude a brilliant quality feel, and all the switches, especially the AC knobs, have a solid, tactile feel to them.

There are few hatchbacks that can rival the Polo's fine ergonomics. Clearly labelled instrumentation, large dials, buttons and switches, plus a well-ordered centre console make it easy to operate. The large dials are easy to read and the chrome highlight around the AC vents (on the top-end version) looks classy. The cabin is also high on practicality with plenty of storage spaces. Another first for the Polo internationally is the beige upholstery, specially designed for India. It adds to the airy feel of the cabin.

The seats, both front and back, are very supportive, and have been specially modified for India. You'll comfortably sink into them. Rear legroom, though, is disappointing, especially considering the Polo's generous exterior dimensions. And, the sloping roofline means that headroom is limited for taller passengers. The boot is adequate, though. The dashboard is placed a touch too high, and can get irritating for shorter drivers, since the low-spec variants of the car do not get driver's seat height adjustment. VW has also forgotten to put a dead pedal, a glaring omission.

In terms of equipment, you get the basics such as power windows, rear wash-wipe and alloys, but surprisingly, even the top-end version misses out on automatic climate control, electric mirrors and steering-mounted audio controls, features that are more a norm these days at this price point.

The drive

The Polo we tested came with a diesel and petrol option. Both are 1.2-litre units. While deliveries of the petrol-engined Polo has begun, you'll have to wait till May to get your hands on the diesel-powered car. The petrol is a familiar motor that we've seen in the 1.2-litre Skoda Fabia. But, VW has modified it considerably to improve refinement and power output as well. With 74bhp on tap, this engine feels at home in the city, but runs out of breath on the highway.

The petrol car also comes with a relatively heavy clutch, which can get irritating when stuck in stop-go traffic. Also, this three-cylinder unit simply can't match the K-series engine that powers the Swift and Ritz. With only 74bhp, performance is best described as underwhelming. Zero to 100kph comes up in 16.67 seconds; that's almost 3.5sec slower than the Swift petrol.

The 1.2-litre diesel also delivers 74bhp. This is an all-new common-rail motor developed by VW that makes its international debut on the Indian Polo. While the motor feels refined at idle, it feels lazy to respond to throttle inputs below the 2000rpm mark. However, once past this, it's a different story.

The diesel motor revs freely all the way to 5200rpm, which is very unusual and very impressive for a diesel. The best useable power, though, is between 2000-4500rpm, which means you will have to constantly shift gears to keep it in the powerband. The diesel motor is refined, but not quite smooth.

Gearboxes on both the diesel and petrol versions are slick to operate.

The Polo isn't as much fun because there's a fair amount of body lean through bends, and the light steering has clearly been set up to make things effortless in the city rather than entertaining. The Polo is still reassuring to drive because body roll is quite progressive and the steering, consistent.

The Apollo Acelere tyres are well tuned to the car's dynamics. The suspension works quietly, but doesn't have the utter flat and consistent ride. There is some vertical movement on bumpy surfaces, but it never gets uncomfortable. Bumps can cause a bit of bounce, but the ride is generally terrific.

Polo's performance is mediocre, and we wish the engines had more power. However, it is a safe, sensible and solidly-built car that makes top-class German engineering affordable for the masses. Buy one and enjoy years of no-nonsense motoring.