Early in 2014 the Ford Fiesta became the best selling car in the history of the UK car market – 4.2 million sales across all generations – and the current Fiesta is rated favourably by critics for its great chassis and superb Ecoboost engines.
One of its main rivals, the increasingly popular Vauxhall Corsa, has recently received a major overhaul – the styling has changed, the ride and handling have received some significant tweaks, and there are now some similarly impressive small turbocharged petrol engines.
Despite not being “all-new” the experts are very impressed with the new Corsa as well, and carwow can predict confusion appearing on the faces of people in the market for an economical, practical and fun supermini when faced with the choice – Fiesta or Corsa?
We’ve had a good look at what the experts think and have paid attention to the important facts and figures to provide you with a simple side-by-side comparison between these two popular choices to try and help you make your decision.
There’s no denying that the Fiesta’s aggressively slanted headlights and the Aston Martin-like grille give it a good-looking stance when parked or on the move. Ford has successfully made each generation look fresher and more modern than the previous, so buyers of the latest model will feel they’re getting something new and different from the previous one – even if it is borrowing flourishes from cars that cost more than ten times more!
It might be argued that the Fiesta’s styling is a little bland and conservative – other manufacturers have certainly taken more risks in the styling department, and anyone seeking something a little more radical may feel the Fiesta is too good at blending into a car park.
The same might once have been said of the Vauxhall Corsa, but its new look is now based on the smaller Vauxhall Adam – the fashion-icon of the range – so it’s clear Vauxhall wants to give its trademark supermini some distinction in the market.
The sharper headlights and wider grille definitely give the Corsa an identifiable face easily spotted from the edge of a car park – not exactly aggressive like the Fiesta, nor really that pretty, and around the back it feels a little like Vauxhall ran out of ideas.
Interior and practicality
The Fiesta’s 2013 update brought improved trim materials and door cards, more supportive seats and other touches that improve the appearance and user-friendliness – the electric window switches have been relocated for the driver’s convenience, for example. Even though everything feels solid and well-built, the appearance still feels a little dated and the dashboard is messily awash with buttons and switches.
The driver and front passenger will find it hard to be uncomfortable thanks to the ample headroom, and the driver can make lots of adjustments to the wheel and seat to find the right driving position. Taller front-seat passengers may moan that the front-left seat isn’t adjustable for height though,
Rear passengers don’t fair quite as well because the sloping roof makes headroom an issue for taller passengers, and luggage space in the boot is adequate at 280 litres but access is compromised by the boot-lip, and the rear seats don’t fold completely flat or slide forwards to provide extra capacity.
The Corsa would have once been unable to take advantage of the Fiesta’s short-comings, but the 2014 model brings with it a marked improvement in interior quality – experts have even said it has a proper premium feel to it – and as the overall shape of the car hasn’t changed much.
There is plenty of headroom and space for five adults, and one reviewer states that rear passengers are better accommodated in the Corsa than in the Fiesta. Bootspace rivals the Fiesta too, and the tumble-down seats provide more than 1,000 litres of space, trumping the Fiesta’s 974 litres with the seats flat.
The Corsa’s new dashboard is simplistic but solid-feeling – significantly different when compared directly to the Fiesta – and the tech available via the seven-inch touch-screen will be very appealing to younger buyers.
It certainly looks like Vauxhall has taken advantage of Ford’s lacklustre attempts to improve the Fiesta’s interior and can now fairly claim to be providing potential buyers with a more tempting place to be.
This is another area where Vauxhall had to really improve the Corsa, which had little or no appealing driving dynamics according to experts. The Fiesta, on the other hand, is universally praised for its fun driving experience.
Reviewers cannot get enough of the Fiesta’s superbly weighted and accurate steering, saying that it has the best ride and handling balance in its class. One thing that has clearly helped the Fiesta achieve this balance is the replacement of the heavier engines over the front wheels with the light and revvy 1.0-litre Ecoboost units.
The Corsa, therefore, has a veritable mountain to climb, and according to the experts it makes a pretty decent attempt at it. It has a sturdy chassis and it feels keen and capable when tackling twisty roads.
The steering is accurate and the six-speed manual gearbox is crisp and reviewers say it’s perhaps one of the best gearboxes ever available on a Corsa.
Ultimately, the Corsa cannot match the Fiesta when it comes to being a fun-to-drive car, but this is probably because the Corsa has been designed to appeal to a wider audience.This is evident in how the Corsa fares better for road and wind noise, especially on 16-inch wheels, and its ride is softer than the Fiesta’s – the suspension is good at coping with road imperfections.
The Corsa clearly won’t be the choice for you if you regularly hurl your car to work like you are taking part in the Monte-Carlo rally, but if your life involves a fair amount of city driving with occasional ventures out into the countryside, it makes a much better case for itself than you would suspect, especially compared to the old model.
Both cars have a range of naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged) petrol engines that are generally overlooked by the experts because both Ford and now Vauxhall have party-piece 1.0-litre turbocharged units. These engines combine usable grunt and class-leading frugality and running costs at the same time.
The Fiesta provides the same 1.0-litre unit in a number of different power outputs, beginning with an entry level 78hp engine that promises 65mpg and doesn’t incur any road tax at all. A 14.4-second sprint to 62mph is adequate but a little lacklustre for keeping up with traffic, so the 98hp unit is probably a more sensible choice, cutting four seconds off the 62mph sprint and keeping the claimed 65mpg figure. The 123hp unit promises to be just as economical, but is the extra money worth it just for the further second it knocks off the 0-62mph time?
The Corsa has two 1.0-litre units available in either 90hp or 114hp guises. Unfortunately they don’t look to be as economical as the Fiesta’s Ecoboost, with 58mpg on the cards, and neither of them fall into the tax-free category. But critics note that they are both incredibly refined and muted, and are happy to climb the rev range without ever sounding harsh or strained.
Both cars have diesel options which are torquey and fairly refined. The Corsa’s 1.3-litre CDTi unit is best in 94hp form, costing nothing to tax and promising a superb 88mpg, and the Fiesta can be chosen with a 1.5-litre or a 1.6-litre TDCi unit – both of which are less economical than the Corsa’s 1.3-litre unit and are a little slow and noisy when pushed.
This is one instance where in both cases critics urge you to go for the smaller petrol engines over the diesel units.
Value for money and running costs
The basic Fiesta’s £9,795 asking price looks competitive until you notice that this lumps you with the rather undesirable 1.25-litre petrol engine which is a bit old and tired. If you want a 1.0-litre turbocharged unit you will need to cough up nearly £14,000 – although this does get you a higher spec Fiesta with more toys.
The entry-level Corsa enters the market at a truly impressive £8,995, and – like the Fiesta – this will get you a less desirable naturally aspirated 1.2-litre unit, but standard equipment even on this model is remarkably generous – you get hill-start assist, six airbags, an electrically heated windscreen and electric mirrors and front windows.
The Corsa becomes an even more attractive prospect, however, when you consider the cost of purchasing one of the expert-approved models with the 1.0-litre turbocharged engine – a 1.0T ecoFLEX in Sting R specification with the more gutsy 113hp output will set you back just £10,995 – undercutting the Fiesta by nearly £2,500.
These numbers only tell some of the story though – the Corsa’s 1.0-litre engine is less economical than the Fiesta’s and you’ll be paying £30 to tax it for a year rather than nothing at all. The Corsa is likely to drop in value faster than the Fiesta too, although it’s significantly lower starting point will help make this less painful.
One important thing to consider, however, is the improvement this new Corsa shows over the old model – it has a far posher feeling interior, generous equipment levels and promises a better driving experience than its predecessor, all while being cheaper than the Fiesta virtually right across the range.
Turning to the wowscores for a moment, there’s only around half a point in it – the Fiesta has 8.3 compared to the Corsa’s 7.6.
The Corsa still struggles to really inspire the critics – it has little flair and has stolidly resolved to be more of a sensible, every-day usable car. It offers predictability and ease-of-use rather than venturing towards a unique selling point like the Fiesta’s chuckability and zest on twisty B-roads.
But is this really a bad thing? We find it hard to say so. The Fiesta may have class-leading Ecoboost engines, but with less-than-impressive rear passenger room and a boot that isn’t anything special, combined with the increasingly dated and messy dashboard, and the steep asking prices get harder to justify.
The new Corsa may not be the most exciting idea in the world. That said, the new model’s tweaked handling, clear improvement in interior quality and the introduction of the new turbocharged engines all wrapped up in a well-equipped body-shell and a very reasonable price-tag make it a very attractive little car – an instance where in all but a few cases, we are confident that playing it safe is not quite as dull as it sounds.