Volkswagen Polo vs Ford Fiesta vs Vauxhall Corsa

The Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Vauxhall Corsa are among the UK’s best-selling cars - but which should you pick? Find out in our triple test

Volkswagen Polo vs Ford Fiesta vs Vauxhall Corsa header

The UK loves its superminis. The Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa battle it out for sales supremacy, and the Volkswagen Polo also consistently appears in the list of the top 10 best-selling cars.

Top 10 best small cars and superminis 2021

They’re not alone in this market, with the Toyota Yaris, Renault Clio, MINI, SEAT Ibiza and countless others all vying for a slice of the supermini pie. But the fun Fiesta, classy Polo and good-value Corsa are the most popular. All are fairly similar small hatchbacks, offering lots of equipment, low running costs and decent practicality, so we’ve compared them to see which is best.

Running costs

None of these cars will cost the earth to run. They all come with an excellent choice of small petrol engines but if sheer efficiency is what you’re after, then you’ll need the electric Vauxhall Corsa-e. The Corsa is also the only one to offer a diesel engine now.

Petrol is still the most popular fuel type for cars of this size, and it’s here that the Ford starts to open out a lead. Its 99bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine is reasonably quick and will manage 53mpg. The Fiesta’s 1.0-litre engine also gets mild-hybrid technology on the 123 and 153bhp versions, so they’re faster and more economical than the 99bhp engine. At the entry point of the range is a 1.1-litre engine with 74bhp, which offers the cheapest insurance and still returns more than 53mpg.

The Corsa also offers 74bhp and 99bhp engines, with strikingly similar fuel efficiency figures. They do officially get up to speed slightly quicker than the Ford’s engines, while a range-topping version of the 1.2-litre engine gets 128bhp and a standard-fit automatic gearbox. The remaining diesel engine promises up to 70mpg, which is highly impressive.

The Polo doesn’t feature any electrification but its 1.0-litre engines will all return 50-54mpg. It’s pretty pricey to buy in the first place and isn’t as powerful as the Ford.

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 than a Polo.

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.

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.

Volkswagen’s 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is a thing of joy – smooth, quiet, powerful and efficient – but the more powerful 108bhp option is only available in pricey SEL and R-Line trims, 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. Meanwhile, the Corsa-e feels particularly nippy around town, thanks to the instant power of its electric motor.

Interior and comfort

The Fiesta’s interior is a big improvement over the old model. The tiny screen buried deep in the button-heavy dashboard has thankfully been replaced by an intuitive eight-inch touchscreen. This includes more connectivity features than ever before, with all models getting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; higher-spec cars also get sat nav and a range of online functions. However, some of the Fiesta’s plastics feel a little flimsy and low-rent, while its rivals use coloured trim pieces to lift the cabin ambience. That said, the driving position is spot-on, the seats are very comfortable and there’s a good view out, too.

The Polo lives up to its reputation as a solidly built car, with some upmarket materials and everything feeling well put together. Its 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.

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 Multimedia infotainment system 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.

Practicality and boot space

The Ford and Vauxhall are very well matched, with 311 and 309 litres of boot space respectively (measured to the parcel shelf with all five seats in place). You’ll fit more luggage or shopping in the Polo’s 351-litre boot, but all are likely to be a little smaller if you specify the optional space-saver spare wheel. If you’re interested in the Vauxhall Corsa-e, it’s worth noting that the batteries reduce the boot capacity by about 15%, giving you 267 litres instead.

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, 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 for adults over long distances. Access to the rear seats is even more limited if you go for a three-door Fiesta model; we’d always recommend spending the extra on five doors if you regularly carry passengers. The latest Polo and Corsa models have both become five-door only.

Reliability and safety

Our Driver Power survey ranks customer satisfaction from people who’ve bought new cars, and reliability is one of the key aspects that’s rated. Overall, the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Vauxhall Corsa came 68th, 48th and 28th respectively out of the top 75 cars rated. That’s a three-place improvement for the Fiesta in 2021, while neither of its rivals made the top 75 in 2020.

In 2020, 17.3% of owners reported faults within the first year of ownership, which is slightly above average. It’s likely that most of these were electrical, and many seemed to be minor niggles rather than major faults that’ll leave you stranded. We would expect that the Volkswagen would be a little more expensive to service and maintain, based on Ford and Vauxhall’s reputations for cheap ownership costs.

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.

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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