Volkswagen Polo vs Ford Fiesta vs Vauxhall Corsa

The Ford Fiesta is the UK’s best-ever selling car. But can it better the Vauxhall Corsa and VW Polo? Find out in our triple test

The UK loves its superminis. The Ford Fiesta is the best-selling car in Britain year-in, year-out, while the Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo consistently appear in the top 10.

Despite being fairly similar small hatchbacks – they’re all good to drive, cheap to run, inexpensive to buy and practical – they each offer something slightly different. The Ford is the most fun to drive, the VW feels solid and classy while the Corsa is an excellent all-rounder. But which do we think is the best? Read on to find out more.

Running costs

None of these cars will cost the earth to run. They all come with an excellent choice of petrol and diesel engines, but if sheer efficiency is what you’re after, then you’ll need a diesel. The most efficient diesel versions of the Polo, Fiesta and Corsa will return 83, 85 and 88mpg respectively, while CO2 emissions of just 88g/km for the Polo and 85g/km each for the Fiesta and Corsa means all three diesel are exempt from road tax. They also won’t cost much in terms of company-car tax, sitting as they do in the 16% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) bracket.

If you’re a private buyer, however, you’re more likely to be tempted by petrol, and it’s here that the Ford starts to open out a lead. Its 99bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine drops under the magic 100g/km of CO2 marker, meaning it’s free to tax. The best of the Corsa petrols – the 89bhp 1.0-litre turbo – isn’t as powerful as the Ford and will cost £20 a year to tax.

The petrol BlueMotion Polo beats both of these – it’s free to tax, too – but it’s pretty pricey to buy in the first place and isn’t as powerful as the Ford, either. Fuel economy across the three most efficient petrol models is pretty similar as well, with both the Corsa and Fiesta returning around 65mpg and the Polo topping 68mpg.

Therefore, if you’re in the market for a petrol version, we’d recommend a 1.0-litre Fiesta, as it’ll cost the same to run as a Corsa and costs less to buy then a Polo BlueMotion.

Engines, drive and performance

If you’re after a fun drive, the Fiesta is by far and away the pick of the bunch. Whichever version you go for, you’re guaranteed great fun behind the wheel. It balances sportiness with comfort superbly, too, although the fast Ford Fiesta ST model has both feet firmly in the sporty camp. The 123bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine is the best of the bunch, too, offering a great balance between performance and official fuel economy figures.

Plus, thanks to a six-speed gearbox rather than the five-speed fitted to the 99bhp, fuel economy is identical. However, while Ford claims 65.7mpg, around 35-40mpg is more likely in real-world use.

The Polo, however, offers a much more grown-up and solid driving experience. It’s not as much fun as the Fiesta to drive, but neither is it a disappointment. It’s more refined, with a softer ride and quieter engines. The sporty Polo GTI delivers pace in spades, but it’s nowhere near as much fun as the Fiesta ST.

The Polo’s 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine is a thing of joy – smooth, quiet, powerful and efficient – but it’s only available in pricey R-Line trim, which is something of a disappointment. The Corsa sits somewhere between the other two. It’s not quite as much fun to drive as the Fiesta, but nor does it feel as refined or grown-up as the Polo. That said, the hot Corsa VXR is fast and very exciting to drive, if not quite as polished as the Fiesta ST.

In terms of engines, we heartily recommend any of the Corsa’s newer turbocharged petrols, particularly the 1.0-litre turbo. But you should avoid the older naturally aspirated ones, as they’re slow and quite expensive to run.

Interior and comfort

This is where the Ford Fiesta starts to show its age and where the Polo really shines. Some of the Fiesta’s plastics feel a little flimsy and low-rent, while the Polo lives up to its reputation as a solidly built car, with some upmarket materials and everything feeling well put together.

The Polo’s dashboard is very cleanly designed and logically laid-out, while the infotainment system feels very upmarket and is easy to navigate. The seats, outward visibility and driving position are all excellent, too.

The Corsa is ahead of the Fiesta in this regard as well – it feels right up there with the Polo. The dashboard is well laid-out and the Intellilink infotainment system – standard on all but the two entry-level versions – is excellent. The Corsa’s materials feel high quality and when you consider it’s quite a lot cheaper than the Polo, that’s something of an achievement. Large and awkwardly shaped roof pillars do inhibit rear visibility, however.

Going back to the Fiesta, as well as some rather low-rent materials, its dashboard is something of a mess, with buttons everywhere and a rather confusing infotainment system. That said, the driving position is spot-on, the seats are very comfortable and there’s a good view out, too.

Practicality and boot space

Numbers don’t adequately prescribe the winner in this regard. Technically, the Ford has the biggest boot compared to its rivals here – 290 litres plays 285 in the Corsa and 280 in the Polo – but the Polo is actually the clear winner in the practicality stakes.

With the rear seats up, the VW’s boot has the widest opening and the squarest shape, offering the most useable space of the trio, while both the Corsa and Fiesta have somewhat cramped openings.

And although it has the smallest luggage capacity here when you drop the rear seats (952 litres), the Polo is also the only one to offer a completely flat load bay when they’re folded, making it the easiest one to slide heavy items in and out of. The others have stepped and sloped boot floors when their rear seats are lowered.

The Polo also offers more head and legroom in the back seats compared to the Fiesta and Corsa, both of which feel rather cramped and are only really suitable for children over long distances. Access to the rear seats is limited in all three if you go for a three-door model; we’d always recommend spending the extra on five doors if you regularly carry passengers.

Reliability and safety

Long-term reliability is a bit of an unknown quantity for the current Polo and the Corsa, due to the fact that neither has been on sale for very long just yet.

Neither had particularly stellar reputations for reliability in their previous incarnations – the Polo came 183rd and the Corsa 133rd out of 200 in this category of our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. We can only hope that, thanks to new engines, the recently revamped Polo and new Corsa improve on this record.

The Fiesta, meanwhile, was far better received by owners in the 2015 survey, coming 52nd overall and 41st in terms of reliability – an impressive achievement, especially considering that Ford doesn’t have such a great reputation for reliability as Volkswagen.

None of these cars will give you sleepless nights in terms of safety, although the Corsa does lag behind the other two slightly. Both the Polo and Fiesta managed the full five-star safety rating from the experts at Euro NCAP, while the Corsa could only muster four stars.

Both the Fiesta and the Polo scored 90% or higher for adult occupant protection, while the Corsa could only manage 79%. For child occupant protection, it only scored 77%, while the Fiesta and Polo managed 86% each in this regard.

So, if you need a reliable and safe car, the Fiesta is the best one to go for, while if anything goes wrong, it’s likely to be cheaper to fix than the Volkswagen as well.

Winner – Volkswagen Polo

All three of these cars have plenty to recommend them and the Vauxhall Corsa especially is a massive improvement over the previous iteration. The Polo, however, comes out on top thanks to its fine handling, powerful yet frugal engine range and grown-up demeanour.

Granted, the other two cars have their strengths – the Fiesta is by far the best to drive of the trio and the Corsa is fantastic value for money. However, the Polo just edges both of these fine rivals in all other respects and makes a great supermini buy.

For more information on these cars, read our review of the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa

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