It’s not by accident that the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo are in every monthly top ten sales chart. These three hatchbacks have sold like hotcakes since their respective introductions more than 30 years ago and if you’re in the market for a supermini, you’re a brave soul not to take at least one of them under consideration.
But as the top three in their sector it’s likely that, for many buyers, the cars will be butting heads directly. So which of the three should you choose? We’ve been trawling through the facts and figures to give you a definitive answer.
All three cars have had a recent mid-generation facelift, but the Corsa’s is the most subtle. It’d take a good eye to spot the difference between the current car and the 2006 original – the reshaped headlights are possibly the biggest cue – and that’s not necessarily a good thing as the others have moved their game on somewhat.
While the Polo is still intrinsically the same shape as the 2009 launch car, it immediately looks more contemporary than the Corsa. With subtle, less cutesy lines, it’s quite a handsome – if conservative – look. Polos over the last decade have been quite hard to tell apart from their larger Golf sibling, and the 2014 refresh is no exception.
The Ford Fiesta’s recent adoption of the Aston Martin-like facia brings something different to the party. The overall design is pretty cohesive and well-proportioned and, while the jury’s out on how well the shape will age, it’s the looker of the market right now.
The Polo, of course, sets materials and fit andfinish standards for the rest of the class to chase. It’s well laid-out, with just the right amount of garnish to elevate it above the background but no sufficiently du jour features. It’ll remain a quality cabin for years to come, particularly with that standard 5 infotainment touchscreen, filtered down from the Golf range
It’s not the most spacious of the group though, with 280 litres of load space expanding to 952 with the back seats dropped.
While the Corsa’s interior quality might not match up to the Polo, it’s still a good place to be. The overall feel of the interior is at odds with the price point and there’s plenty of room and storage space dotted about. It also has the largest seats-down boot space of the three – 1050 litres – but the rear seats don’t fold down quite flat, so longer fragile loads are a risk. Don’t go transporting any full length dress mirrors…
Ford’s interior though is surprisingly poor. The 2013 refresh has glitzed it up a little, but it’s no more inviting. The button-heavy centre console and the information centre bizarrely buried away in its own binnacle don’t add any appeal and curiously the latter remains even if you don’t spec the Ford SYNC system.
There’s plenty of bootspace though – 290 litres makes it the largest hole here, with 974 litres available if you lose the rear seating. It’s not especially well-proportioned for passengers back there in any case. For more on the Fiesta’s interior dimensions, check out our full guide.
As you might expect, all three models sport a range of 1.0-1.6 litre petrol and diesel engines, with economy a prime consideration. Green buzzwords abound – Ford has EcoBoost, Vauxhall has ecoFLEX and Volkswagen fits each and every engine with ‘BlueMotion Technology’.
At entry level, all three offer cars with around 60hp. VW and Vauxhall make do with 3 cylinders and 12 valves in their 1.0 cars while Ford has drafted in its venerable 1.25 Duratec 4 cylinder to fill this gap. However, don’t assumethe least powerful engines are the most economical – the 54 mpg Ford, 55 mpg Vauxhall and 60 mpg Volkswagen return good figures, but they’re far from the best each range has to offer.
To get the most mileage from your hatchback each car will need a diesel engine. Volkswagen only offers one – a 75hp 1.4 TDI that returns 83.1 mpg combined, but it is not available with an automatic gearbox. Of Vauxhall’s two 1.3 common-rail diesels, it’s the 95 hp car that shows the best economy, at 85.6 mpg, but it too is unavailable with an automatic.
The best showing is from Ford’s 95hp 1.6 diesel, with the same 85.6 mpg as the Vauxhall but a 0.1 mpg triumph in urban driving – 76.4 mpg to 76.3 mpg. If auto is a necessity, onlythe 105-horseversion of the same engine is available clutchless, but this has quite the effect on fuel use – 54.3 mpg is quite a drop in efficiency.
Ford’s 1.0-litre turbochargedEcoBoost engines (with 99 hp and 124 hp outputs)put in a good showing too.All are rated at 65.7 mpg combined, so if you simply must have a frugal petrol, they’re the obvious choice – if you can get the real world figures to live up to the on-paper ones.
If hot models are your thing then it’s best to steer clear of the Polo for now. The 150hp BlueGT isn’t a dawdler, but Ford and Vauxhall both offer far more potent machines. The 182 hp Fiesta ST won’t hang about, while the 192 hp Corsa VXR (or the 205-horseClubsport version) will show it a clean pair of heels. At least until you pass a petrol station – the Fiesta’s fuel economy is 25% better!
A 190hp Polo GTI will be on sale next year – and will be available with an automatic DCT that the other options lack.
Value for Money
It won’t be all that surprising that Volkswagen’s option is the most expensive, Vauxhall’s is the cheapest, and Ford sitsin the middle. With Corsa prices kickingoff at 8,995 for the 1.0, it’s a full thousand pounds cheaper than the Fiesta’s cheapest model, and the equivalent Polo starts at 11,100.
It’s not the Polo’s finest hour though – the S grade you’ll buy at this price is absent of most amenities, save a standard fitment DAB radio and 5 infotainment touchscreen. It’s even running on 14 inch steel wheels while the Corsa gets full alloys – and two inches bigger at that. The extra spent on the Polo isn’t recouped when it comes to selling iteither – while VWs in general depreciate less than rivals, all three cars shed55% of their value over 3 years. Poverty-spec motoring is not an enticement in a used car, it seems.
Moving through the range tells a similar story – the more expensive Volkswagen is slightly less well equippedthan Ford and Vauxhall’s offerings – but as the Polo’s equipment tally grows, so its depreciation prospects improve. In the 90-95 hp diesel models at high trim levels – likely the best performers in the secondhand market – the Polo loses only 49% of its value in 3 years, compared to 55% for the Fiesta and 60% for the Corsa.
There’s another sting in the Corsa’s tail too, in the shape of running costs. The entire petrol Polo fleet is in VED band B, whileEcoBoost Fiestas all sit in band A (Duratec cars are in band C).But Corsas are, save the 1.0, all in band D. This means a penalty of 70 a year for your tax disc and around 300 more on your average fuel bill – 400 more if you’re mainly using it in town. The diesel ecoFLEX models are a saving grace though, returning the same fuel economy as its peers.
It should come as little surprise that when it comes to driving, the Fiesta is the most surefooted, exciting, rewarding and tactile of the bunch. Ford’s baby hasn’t just been at the top of the hatchback tree – it’s been one of the finest driving cars of any kind for the last 37 years and this shows absolutely no sign whatsoever of changing. Old-school fans might not be a fan of the electric power steering, but it’s a very good system and provides peerless feel – just like the brakes.
This leaves the Corsa to play catch-up as usual, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a nice, light feeling drive that requires very little effort to push around – little wonder that so many driving schools use them. It perhaps does everything in just a little less accomplished fashion than the Fiesta, but it’s not a stressful or fussy experience.
The Volkswagen takes a different path. Retaining brand hallmarks of good construction, solid materials and very low NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels, the Polo is a comfortable, composed and relaxing place to be. It makes a fair account of itself if you wish to play about some, but it’s not got the point-to-point fun factor of its rivals. Instead the Polo is the car you take on your commute or long drive so that you arrive without fuss.
The Corsa is the oldest car here and with the lowest wowscore of 7.2 it’s the least well-received. It makes a good case for itself in terms of value for money, but the higher running costs, relatively high depreciation and so-so ownership experience means it’s tough to recommend in this company. It’s pretty easy to drive though, so it’d be a good buy asa first car.
Though the refreshed Polo hasn’t been reviewed yet, it ought to slot in alongside its newer VW stablemates with a high-8s wowscore, pitting it directly against the Fiesta’s 8.7. They’re two distinctly different ownership propositions though, with the Polo’s cool interior, staid looks and solid build facing off with the Fiesta’s smart exterior, great drive and enticing price.
In general, the VW has fewer faults and we’d not hesitate to recommend it to a friend… but these cars are meant to do city journeys and B-road blats – and we’d take the Fiesta every time.