If you’re in the market for a supermini, chances are two of the cars near the top of your wish list are the Skoda Fabia and the Volkswagen Polo. Both are among the most refined and well built cars in the segment, and are practical and economical too.
But which should you buy? In the past this might have been a foregone conclusion; the Polo has always been one of the default choices for buyers. The new-for-2015 Fabia should make you think otherwise though, because it’s a genuinely talented car, receiving many plaudits since its launch. Our side-by-side comparison should help you decide…
To our eyes, neither of these cars are going to be winning a beauty contest any time soon. Both carry their familiar brand faces (the Skoda’s a little too large for the car which it finds itself on) and crisp, straight lines along the flanks which end at the clean simple rears.
Neither of them are bad looking – indeed it’s hard to argue against the opinion that both the Polo and Fabia look like quality items – it’s just they both seem rather dreary. In such a competitive class, the Ford Fiesta is more striking, the Peugeot 208 prettier and the Renault Clio more interesting.
Interior and practicality
It’s a similar story inside as it was out. Both are inoffensive but, once again, neither will set your pulse racing. In terms of ambience, the Polo just edges the Fabia, if only because the quality of plastics used is higher. Both are impressively screwed together though – arguably, the two best in the class.
From a practicality point of view, the Fabia is the one to go for. Not only is cabin space more generous, seating four six-footers in surprising comfort, but it has a bigger boot (330-litres against 280). An estate version of the Skoda swings things further in its favour. A 530-litre load bay is class leading for a supermini, while folding the rear bench out of the way liberates a total volume of 1,395 litres.
Under the skin, the Fabia is the more modern vehicle. It uses a mixture of components from both the current Polo and the VW-group MQB platform, a version of which is used by the Golf an the Audi TT. As a result, the Fabia is both stronger and lighter than the Polo, which on paper suggests that the Fabia should be the more enjoyable car.
Out on the road though, there is very little difference between the two. The Polo feels solid, comfortable and secure, without offering much in the way of excitement. The Fabia features a slightly softer suspension set up, which means it rolls more in the corners, with the upshot being a marginally smoother ride.
Both cars share a similar power steering system, which in both cars is described as “inert” and “lifeless” by testers. Whichever of the pair you find yourself in, all of the controls are light and accurate, making for an easy drive, if not an exciting one.
As both cars are Volkswagen Group products, many of the same engines are used in each. The Polo offers a greater choice, with a total of seven petrols and three diesels, while the Fabia can be equipped with four petrols and two diesels.
The fuel economy stakes swing in the Polo’s favour thanks to the ultra-efficient Bluemotion models. Due to more aerodynamic body panels and low rolling resistance tyres, the 1.4 turbodiesel which returns a very healthy 83.1mpg in the Fabia is capable of a claimed 91.1mpg in the Polo.
Claimed performance and mpg figures are identical when the same engine is used in both models. In the real world we find this hard to believe, as the Skoda’s more modern construction means that it weighs 75 kilos less than the equivalent Polo. A car carrying the equivalent of an average person at all times achieving the same figures as the Skoda seems unlikely.
As you’d expect, given they have so much in common, testers have formed very similar opinions about how the engines behave in each car. The diesels are flexible and smooth but lack refinement, while the smallest 1.0-litre unit – although characterful – is too underpowered so feels more frantic on the move.
If you’re looking for a performance option then, sadly, Skoda no longer provide one. A vRS version of the latest Fabia won’t be produced – Skoda cites poor demand for the old model as the reason. Volkswagen still offers a credible rival to the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST and Peugeot 208 GTi. The Polo GTI recently underwent a mid-life refresh, introducing a more powerful 1.8-litre turbocharged engine and re-worked chassis. A slightly milder performance option is also available. The BlueGT is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged unit producing 148hp.
Value for money
Skodas have always been marketed as the budget brand of the Volkswagen Group, and as a result they tend to be a little cheaper than the equivalent Volkswagens. However, due to the overlap of the older Polo versus new Fabia, the difference in price is only minor. However, the Fabia costs at least £650 less than the equivalent Volkswagen and, in all but the base model, you’ll find air conditioning, a leather steering wheel and flashes of chrome trim, mirroring the equipment levels of the Polo.
Residual values are slightly stronger for the Polo than the Fabia, but the Skoda is well-established in the supermini segment and therefore holds its value well too.
Based solely on our wowsocres, the Skoda Fabia is the one to have. It represents better value for money, while offering almost the same level of quality as the Volkswagen Polo. In some areas, it’s better, too. There’s more space inside, the lower weight makes just as efficient in the real world, while the strengthened body structure makes it safer.
In fact, the only reason to buy the Polo would be because you want a more expensive-feeling car. The Fabia wins this test, and would hold its own extremely well against any of its supermini rivals.