Spare a thought for the Volkswagen Polo. While big brother Golf gets all the headlines and gold stars in the VW family pecking order, Polo sits there quietly, getting on with its job of being an entirely decent little car.
In the world of supermini cars, it plays the sensible shoes choice. It's never had the dynamic pizzazz of the current Ford Fiesta, or the emotional design language Renault's bestowed on the latest Clio. It's the car your mum and dad wanted you to have when you were 18, because they would have known that it'd look after you in a crash and wouldn't go wrong. Smart people they were too - we're sat writing this today thanks to an unexpected test of the structural rigidity of an earlier-generation-Polo's roof, aged 17.
It's the safety factor that VW's playing up with this Polo; the facelift of the current Mk V model. You've probably seen the adverts for it, the ones with people in the passenger seat frantically pressing an imaginary brake pedal. We've all been there. So if you do happen to ride in a new Polo with a bad driver, it's nice to know that besides the usual six airbags, ABS brakes and ESP stability control, you get an automatic post collision braking system (VW reckon 25 per cent of accidents involve a second impact, which often causes many of the injuries passengers sustain) and a standard hill-hold function for those who find hill-starts challenging.
SE models and above will try quite hard to stop you having the crash in the first place too, with a driver alert system which detects if you're tired and (for £500) an adaptive cruise control system with front assist and emergency city braking. That does pretty much what it says on the tin and auto-brakes the car should you fail to, preventing those annoying moments where you could run into the back of other road users in traffic.
VW has given the engines and the on-board tech kit a decent upgrade too, which it hopes will be enough to get punters into the showroom. Which it might need to given the almost total lack of change to the exterior design as part of this "facelift". Although for a design that's five years old it's still looking pretty fresh - thanks to the clean, simple form language VW's design chief Walter da'Silva debuted on the pre-facelift version.
Under the bonnet, all engines are now Euro6 compliant. That means they're more efficient in fuel economy terms, but produce less of the nasty emissions that cause asthma and the like. If you've an eye on future legislation and live near London, you'll still be able to drive a Polo diesel into town, even if Boris Johnson passes his proposed legislation to ban all pre-Euro 6 diesels from the centre of London. All Polos get Bluemotion technologies - a stop/start system to kill the engine automatically at the lights, energy recuperation to the battery, and on some models a cylinder-deactivation technology which runs only two of four cylinders when the engine's not being taxed.
We drove the 60bhp 1.0 litre petrol in SE trim (£12,435), which Volkswagen thinks will be the best seller in the UK, in addition to the 90bhp 1.4 diesel in SEL spec (£17,615). Both have a level of smoothness and refinement that's deeply impressive for a small car. The diesel deserves particular mention because we actually thought we were driving the petrol model until we got out to photograph it and noticed TDi on the back.
But the performance gulf between the two is striking. While the diesel feels a good deal punchier than its 90bhp suggests and can be rallied along with some gusto, the 60bhp petrol - in spite of its smoothness - feels like a bit of a throwback to times when small cars were just dog slow. For example 0-60 takes 15 and a bit seconds.
We know not everyone's a speed freak, and around town it's absolutely fine, but if you ever plan on taking your Polo beyond the city limits or reckon you might need to overtake someone, do yourself a favour and go for the 75bhp version of the same 1.0 3-cylinder engine if funds allow. Fuel economy wise, we found it easy to hit 60mpg in the petrol and closer to 70mpg in the diesel, despite the test route including a good array of fast country roads. Expect that to get worse in town and better on the motorway.
The Polo is comfortable and easy to drive. In fact, it's the easy going nature that's its defining character. It lacks the fun of the current Golf, or its rival the Fiesta, and a 5-speed manual gearbox is a bit of a surprise in a world of 9-speed autos.
But it's inside and with the on-board technology where the Polo makes the greatest leap. The plastics and materials receive a slight update - and are inoffensive and classy - while the core design remains unchanged. But all models now get a 5-inch colour touchscreen as standard and even the entry-level S comes with DAB radio, Bluetooth and both USB and Aux connectivity as standard.
Like the Golf, the Polo's touchscreen features a proximity sensor, so menus pop up as your hand approaches it, and it also responds to swipe gestures. Interestingly, it also goes a level beyond what's currently offered in the Golf, because the radio stations come up with the respective station logo icons (in full colour) and you get the option of MirrorLink for £150 on SE models and above (sadly not available for us to test on the launch), which controls various functions on your Android device. No Apple CarPlay though, or not for now at least - we are assured it's coming.
As is the way of all things in German cars, you can pay your way to upgrade. There's an upgraded media system with a 6.5-inch display, which you get as standard on SE models and above, while if you want Navigation it's another £700 on top.
The screen - in either size - is responsive and has an ease of use and clarity of logic that is leagues beyond the touchscreens offered in the likes of the Renault Clio and Peugeot 208, partly because it uses a capacitive as opposed to resistive technology. The menu logic is simple and clear, with well-designed icons and easy-to-hit physical shortcut buttons and clear fonts. If you've driven any other VW group product recently then you'll feel at home - except this system is slightly sharper, faster and nicer overall.
It all means that the Polo is better than it ever was. In terms of the solidity, safety and refinement it's always done well, but in the 2014 model that's boosted yet further. It's a classy small car that's easy to get along with.
The technology updates - while sounding small - genuinely make this facelift worth checking out. It might still lack the let-your-hair-down youthfulness of a Fiesta or Clio, but as a complete and very grown up small package, the Polo still has few peers. Mum and dad would approve.