This current generation of superminis marks yet another evolutionary step in the history of the class, offering even more space and practicality alongside improved infotainment systems and better efficiency.
The latest Ford Fiesta and SEAT Ibiza have been around since the middle of last year, and now it’s the turn of a new Volkswagen Polo to hit UK showrooms, where the battle of the compact hatchbacks will be fought.
And with more than 500,000 superminis registered in this country every year, to be crowned champion of this sector brings big bragging rights, not to mention lucrative returns on the development budgets these manufacturers have invested in what is one of the most important areas of the market.
However, the Polo has its work cut out because the class is more competitive than ever. It doesn’t have price on its side here, either, but with the majority of superminis bought on PCP finance, do VW’s monthly deals make it more attractive than its rivals?
We’re going to find out by examining every area of these three cars to determine a winner. Read on to discover which supermini will take the spoils.
|Model:||Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE|
|Engine:||1.0-litre 3cyl turbo, 94bhp|
|Annual road tax:||£140|
This sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo enters the crowded supermini sector offering even more space, usability and tech than its predecessor. But at £15,930 in 1.0 TSI 95 SE trim we’re testing (our pictures show a beats edition), it’s also pricier than ever, plus more expensive than its rivals. Is it worth the extra?
If the Ford is the fun choice and the SEAT the sporty choice, the VW has the edge on refinement. Its ride is the most supple of these competitors, absorbing bumps with a level of compliance beyond its rivals, especially the firmer-feeling Ibiza.
Whereas peaks and troughs in the road upset the SEAT more noticeably, the Polo takes them in its stride to give greater comfort. It’s not without fault, because the car understandably runs out of answers to nasty ridges and potholes, but it does an adequate job of filtering out the worst surfaces for a supermini.
The trade-off is that it isn’t as fun or characterful. There’s more grip than you’ll realistically ever use, but it’s safe and secure even when you push the chassis, and in typical fashion for an MQB-based car, the Polo’s steering is nicely weighted and accurate.
However, the steering is also totally lifeless, which contributes towards the Volkswagen’s flatter, less eager feeling. It still delivers a nice balance between comfort and capability. The best compliment we can pay the latest version of the Polo is that it feels remarkably like a scaled-down Golf.
The 1.0-litre TSI unit delivers a refined dollop of performance. The Polo was the slowest car from 0-60mph on test; its time of 10.2 seconds was only three tenths behind both its rivals. This slight deficit will be difficult to notice on an empty road, never mind on the commute.
With an identical 175Nm of torque, it matched the Ibiza from 50 to 70mph in fifth gear at 13.1 seconds. Importantly, it’s the quietest car on the move, with less wind and road noise at higher speed.
Testers’ notes: “While the beats in our pictures adds an upgraded stereo, the car’s body graphics might not be to everyone’s taste. If you’re not keen, SE spec gets the same basic level of kit and looks more reserved.”
|Model:||Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost 100 Zetec 5dr|
|Engine:||1.0-litre 3cyl turbo, 99bhp|
|Annual road tax:||£140|
For the best part of a decade the Ford Fiesta has been Britain’s best-selling car, and the arrival of an all-new model last year did nothing to dent the popularity of the famous nameplate. Yet competition is fierce in the supermini sector, so six months after its launch, is the Fiesta still a contender? The £15,895 1.0 EcoBoost 100 Zetec five-door model fights it out against the latest Polo here for honours.
Even though it’s a supermini, if you’re a keen driver who values fun then the Fiesta will suit you perfectly. Compared with its MQB-based rivals that feel inert, the Ford is alert and agile, but is still comfortable.
The steering is lovely, and as you load the car up into a corner it offers the most information as to what’s going on at the road surface. Not so much as to impact refinement, that is, but just enough to put you at the heart of the driving experience. And combined with a suspension set-up that delivers impressive grip and adjustability for a standard small hatchback, it’s remarkably rewarding to drive.
The damping has a lovely ability to support the car through bends so it doesn’t roll, but it’s not too harsh over bumps, either, softening the blows from ripples in the road. It’s not as refined as the Polo, but then it’s clear the Fiesta’s brief is ever so subtly different. It feels like its job is to entertain, while it makes a good effort at delivering day-to-day usability.
This is helped by the six-speed box that keeps cruising revs lower. Its 0-60mph time is identical to the Ibiza’s, at 9.9 seconds, while the shorter gears meant it was the fastest car on test going up through the ratios from 30 to 70mph, recording a time of 10.1 seconds. Having more intermediate ratios meant it was punchier than its competitors in gear despite being 5Nm down. For example, the Fiesta took 6.9 seconds to accelerate between 30 and 50mph in fourth, while the Polo and Ibiza posted times of 8.0 and 7.6 seconds respectively.
Away from the test track the Ford’s performance advantage is marginal, and given how these cars will be driven most of the time, there’s not much in it.
Testers’ notes: “Unlike its two VW Group rivals, the Fiesta is also available as a three-door model. But for only £650 more, we think the increased practicality of the five-door bodystyle is well worth the extra outlay.”
|Model:||SEAT Ibiza 1.0 TSI 95 FR|
|Engine:||1.0-litre 3cyl turbo, 94bhp|
|Annual road tax:||£140|
SEAT went from an also-ran in the supermini sector to a class contender when the brand’s fifth-generation Ibiza launched mid-way through 2017.
In £16,015 1.0 TSI 95 FR trim as tested here (our pictures show an SE model), it’s the priciest car here by a small margin, but it could be the best value, too.
Unsurprisingly, with an identical 94bhp output and the same 175Nm of torque, the SEAT delivered similar performance to the VW, although the Spanish car was slightly faster at our test track.
It matched the Fiesta’s 9.9-second 0-60mph time, while it pegged the Polo’s 13.1 seconds between 50 and 70mph in fifth gear. However, it was slightly faster than its German rival between 30 and 50mph in third and fourth, getting closer to the six-speed Ford’s times (more ratios to cover a similar speed range in the Fiesta mean acceleration is better).
So performance is on par with its competitors’, but how does the Ibiza ride and handle? It combines many of the VW’s traits with a sportier feel that’s more like the Fiesta in ethos. The steering is similarly lifeless like the Polo and not as full of information as the Ford’s, plus it doesn’t have the more adjustable nature of the Fiesta, either.
But it is as sporty. This means the ride is firmer than the VW’s and closer to the Fiesta’s, but it doesn’t quite have the level of quality present in the latter’s damping. FR trim gets a sports suspension set-up which does sacrifice ride quality a little, whereas the rest of the line-up is tuned more for comfort.
Ridges and ripples in the road do send more vibrations through the structure, rattling the harder plastics in the cabin and impacting refinement as a result. But only really bad craters in the road surface will send a whack through the Ibiza’s dampers – a situation both its rivals struggle to control, too.
There’s slightly more precision from the steering as a result of these sportier chassis settings, but at higher speeds on smoother A-roads and motorways there’s little to separate the Fiesta and Ibiza’s ride. It’s only as the surface starts to degrade that the Ford’s plusher suspension starts to come into its own.
Around town the SEAT is supple, while on country roads it’s composed and easily a match for the Fiesta in terms of cornering potential. Refinement isn’t quite as good, but there’s flexibility from the engine to match both models it’s up against here.
Testers’ notes: “Unlike with the Polo or Fiesta in these specs, if you want an automatic gearbox on the Ibiza you’ll have to step up to the 1.0 TSI 115 engine; FR trim is the only specification to get this option.”
First place: SEAT Ibiza
The Ibiza wins here on account of its incredible affordability; this FR model has a long list of standard kit. It also adds to this a level of practicality that pushes the Polo, plus driving dynamics and speed to match the Ford. It’s hard to look past the SEAT; it offers a package that was the most efficient on test, is predicted to resist depreciation the best and is the cheapest car to buy on PCP.
Second place: Ford Fiesta
If driving fun matters most, the Fiesta is the car for you. Its engine, gearbox and chassis are the sweetest here, with lots of performance and involvement. But it also offers enough practicality for most people, great infotainment and low running costs. It’s cheaper than the Polo (including on finance) and offers as much refinement and nearly the same level of comfort.
Third place: Volkswagen Polo
Space, refinement and a classy ride are the VW’s strengths, but it’s no more practical than the Ibiza and doesn’t offer the Ford’s fun factor. It’s also pricier on PCP finance and to match the Ibiza’s kit you’ll have to spend even more. The Polo is still a great supermini that’s efficient and spacious, offering the most comfort and highest-quality cabin here; you just pay more for it.
Other options in this category…
Model: Citroen C3 PureTech 110 Flair
Engine: 1.2-litre 3cyl, 108bhp
Model: Nissan Micra 0.9 I-GT N-Connecta
Engine: 0.9-litre 3cyl, 89bhp
The current Micra is a big improvement over the previous model, with a sharper look and more practicality. It’s pricier than the Polo, but sat-nav is standard. However, the infotainment isn’t great and the class has already moved on.
|SEAT Ibiza 1.0 TSI 95 FR||Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost 100 Zetec 5dr||Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE|
|On the road price/total as tested||£16,015/£16,015||£15,895/£17,825||£15,930/£15,930|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)||£6,899/43.1%||£6,150/38.7%||£6,801/42.7%|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£633/£1,266||£566/£1,132||£598/£1,196|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£1,515/£2,525||£1,587/£2,645||£1,536/£2,560|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax cost||8/£375/£140||10/£464/£140||8/£335/£140|
|Cost of servicing||£378 (2 services)||£530 (2 services)||£288 (2 services)|
|Engine||3cyl in-line/999cc||3cyl in-line/998cc||3cyl in-line/999cc|
|Peak power/revs||94/5,000 bhp/rpm||99/4,500 bhp/rpm||94/5,000 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque/revs||175/1,500 Nm/rpm||170/1,500 Nm/rpm||175/2,000 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||5-spd man/fwd||6-spd man/fwd||5-spd man/fwd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||40 litres/£100||42 litres/£100||40 litres/space saver|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)||355/823 litres||292/1,093 litres||355/1,125 litres|
|Turning circle||10.6 metres||10.1 metres||10.6 metres|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (60,000)/2yrs||3yrs (60,000)/1yr||3yrs (60,000)/1yr|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||6th/17th||19th/24th||14th/20th|
|0-60/30-70mph||9.9/10.3 secs||9.9/10.1 secs||10.2/10.7 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||4.8/7.6 secs||4.8/6.9 secs||5.1/8.0 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th||13.1 secs/N/A||11.2/15.0 secs||13.1 secs/N/A|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||113mph/2,500rpm||113mph/2,250rpm||116mph/2,500rpm|
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range||44.0/9.7/387 miles||42.0/9.2/388 miles||43.4/9.6/382 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||148/106g/km/20%||155/97g/km/18%||150/101g/km/19%|
|Auto box/lane keep/blindspot/AEB||No/no/no/yes||£1,350/y/£475*/£400*||£1,350/no/£255/yes|
|Clim ctrl/cruise/leather/heated seats||£320/yes/no/no||Air-con/limiter/n/£225*||£415/£285/no/£285*|
|Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless entry||£530/£480/£245||£745/no/no||£565/£975/£310|
|Wireless charging/CarPlay/Android Auto||£160/yes/yes||No/yes/yes||£355/yes/yes|