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New Vauxhall Corsa vs Fiesta vs Polo

  1. This is the most important test of the year. Honestly. If you thought that was a battle between hybrid hypercars that most people aren’t even going to see in real life, let alone drive, you’d be wrong. Because if importance is based on the car you’re statistically most likely to actually own, then this particular test is the holy grail. Obviously, there’s a deep, dark, mind-wiping pit of statistics to take note of here, though I’ve simplified them somewhat, because at one point my forehead actually bounced off my laptop in boredom. Basically, it doesn’t get much more real-world than the three cars on these pages: according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the most popular type of car in the UK last year was the supermini, selling a total of 813,092 units of four-metre-ish long five-seater hatchbacks. Of those variously badged little cars, the top three best-sellers were, in order, the Ford Fiesta (121,929), the Vauxhall Corsa (84,275) and the Volkswagen Polo (42,609). These, then, are the cars we actually buy, and given that VW and Vauxhall have recently re-entered the violently contested theatre of supemini war with new versions of the Polo and Corsa to take on perennial TopGear favourite the Fiesta, it’s time to find out which is best.

    Pictures: Matt Howell

    This feature originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Top Gear Magazine.

  2. First up, it’s wise to take in some basic rules of engagement. We’ve gone for various versions that all manage over 100bhp and a combined economy of over 55mpg for around £15k basic price without options. The Ford in the pictures is a five-door Titanium X with enough kit to sink a small island, but we’ll try to look past that as you can get the 3dr in a lower spec for bang on the money. It’s probably wise to note here that even though you can get silly with ‘big car’ options, one of the joys of a supermini is that it’s relatively straightforward and cheap, so we’ll focus on what you get as standard with our £15k-ish price tag. Which isn’t exactly cheap, but you get the idea.

  3. What you do get are some decent, modern, thoughtful engines and generous standard spec from all three, including electric windows, central locking, airbags, Bluetooth and the like. The Fiesta comes equipped with the now-familiar sub-1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder, in this guise producing 123bhp and 126lb ft of torque, the most powerful of our three cars. It’s efficient, too, managing the best mpg and CO2 figures of 65.7mpg and just 99g/km, though, as with the others, it’s no fire-breather - 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds and a 122mph top speed are yet another set of statistics that might ensure a forehead/keyboard interface. Mind you, that’s not exactly what most people are looking for on their way to Tescobury’s. A Titanium-spec three-door costs around £15-and-a-bit grand, and hoves in at group 15E for insurance. So it’s a good baseline for the other two.

  4. The Polo gets the more obviously traditional 1.2-litre four-cylinder motor, though again turbocharged with a minute blower to give 107bhp and 129lb ft. It’ll manage a smidgen under 59mpg according to the byzantine European combined cycle, and emits 110g/km of CO2, meaning - like the other two - zero first-year tax. It’s fast enough, pretty much identical to the Ford (0-62mph in 9.3 seconds, 121mph), and in SEL trim, costs £15,610 and with group 18E insurance, turns out to be the most expensive to insure.

  5. Which leads us neatly to the new Vauxhall Corsa. Looking resplendent in ocular-assault green, the SRi 1.0T comes with GM’s lovely little turbo triple, this time managing 113bhp and 123lb ft. It’s the least clean (115g/km CO2), does the least mpg (57.6), and is about a second slower to 62mph compared to the VW or the Ford, but in the big scheme of things they’re the kind of margins that probably won’t swing a purchasing decision one way or another. What might are the impressive costs: the Corsa comes in at just £14,460 to buy, and a decidedly non-threatening group 12E to insure. At this end of the market, that’s the kind of thing that really does matter.

  6. What also matters is how they look, and while style is obviously a thing of subjective opinion, for me, the Fiesta and the Polo look more grown up than the Corsa. Admittedly, the Vauxhall has the love-it-or-loathe-it paint and the VX-Line bodykit, but it has a lot of curves, strakes and lines, which make it look fussy once you’ve stopped to have a decent look. It also - on first inspection, at least - appears quite a lot like the old car, even though every panel is different - good for not scaring away committed Corsaphiles, less brilliant for encouraging conquest sales from other manufacturers. The Fiesta, on the other hand, has equally divisive paintwork (are we settling on calling it bronze?), but a more confident set of shapes. The big-mouth, large-eyes front end is particularly good, and the rest is neat and crisp - just as we’ve come to expect. It’s incredibly familiar now - those sales figures have seen to that - but it doesn’t make it any less easy on the eye.

  7. The Polo, on the other hand, looks too sober at first, not helped by the fact that the black pearl-effect paint (itself a £535 option) effectively disguises most of the styling. But stare at it for long enough and you start to appreciate the simplicity and form. Essentially it’s a scaled-down Golf, with those long horizontals through the front grille and lower bumper, and the usual Vee-Dub styling cues, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not a shape that will age or grate in a few months’ time.

  8. Which brings us to the driving. Of course, we’re talking about mid-spec superminis here, not sports cars or limos, so while a bit of finesse and ride quality is required, assessment should not be made on whether or not the car can lift-off oversteer at 110mph or glide across bumps like a hovercraft. If it were, then the Fiesta would win. Honestly, it’s just such a natural little car that there’s nothing in the class that can beat it. It rides nicely, which helps it keep planted through a corner, and there’s more grip than you expect in every situation. It never even really troubles its traction control unless pulling smartly out of a greasy junction on lock. The steering is a bit nerveless in terms of feel, but you really can chuck it about, and although there are only five speeds, you never really notice a lack - and it does the most mpg anyway, so cruising rpm on a motorway obviously doesn’t matter much. It even sounds decently raspy.

  9. The Polo is next best, and does everything the Fiesta does but with slightly less giggly overtones. Surprisingly it comes with an EDL (electronic differential lock) to go with its ASR traction control, and again there’s a surprising amount of fun to be had, even just pottering. It does feel a bit more grown-up than the Fiesta, and feels - unsurprisingly - like a smaller Golf, but the steering is good and the six-speed gearchange precise. In fact, both of these cars are similarly fast and capable, these latest generations layering a decent slab of extra usability onto the supermini formula - you can manage long journeys with ease.

  10. Even more so in the Corsa - which is a surprise. This really is an amazingly quiet engine, and the car feels absolutely rock-solid on the motorway. It’ll pull amiably from low revs, and although it feels a bit flat where the other two give more of a gentle shove from a standstill, it still propels the little Corsa along very happily. The ride compromise is a little jarring on this VX-Line car with slightly sportier suspension, but generally it steers well, changes gear well, and does everything 50 per cent better than any Corsa I’ve ever driven. There’s a feeling that Vauxhall really has invested some time into freshening up its most popular car - even so far as to have UK-specific suspension and steering settings - and, thank goodness, it shows.

  11. Happily, that also translates to the interior. The baby Vauxhall has had a complete overhaul inside and now feels well up to scratch. Most functions are glooped into a central infotainment touchscreen, and it all works well, the dials are clean and tidy and the general demeanour much more upmarket. The seat fabrics will give you a migraine and the windows are a bit small in the back, but you’d be surprised at the amount of space on offer. Especially in the back, actually, as the windowline disguises generous headroom.

  12. The Polo gets the cleanest, most pared-back interior, but, my word, it’s well done. It’s getting a bit boring to say this, but the Golf formula works here, too. A central touchscreen which swipes like a mobile phone, intuitive shortcut buttons, the pedals and seats and dials just so. No, it won’t make your friends drop their shopping in shock and awe, but there’s a gentle sense of satisfaction to… everything. Even the slim steering wheel is a genuine delight. Like the Corsa, it feels like it’s been thought about and that you could happily spend time in here without growing frustrated.

  13. It all makes the Fiesta feel a bit try-hard inside, if we’re being honest. We might be ignoring the Titanium X’s OTT trim, but the super-thick wheel is just plain weird, and the spangly, button-tastic dash doesn’t feel intuitive or easy to use compared with the Corsa’s or especially the Polo’s. The seats also feel sky-high - a common complaint about modern Fords - so you feel very high-centred in the car. In general it’s fine, but the rate of change in this market seems to be going the same way as consumer electronics - you can get left behind very quickly indeed.

  14. Which brings us to the verdict, and it’s a tricky one. The Vauxhall Corsa has come on in leaps and bounds. There really is little to criticise and a lot to like here: a lovely little engine in a car that rides, handles, steers and stops very well indeed. There’s plenty of space, the interior is leagues ahead of where it was, and the quality is generally pleasing. Add to that some seriously aggressive pricing and lease deals - good for us buyers - and I can see why you might be tempted. I’d like to drive a non-VX-Line car, but basically, if you like the old Corsa, then you’ll be blown away by this one.

    The problem Vauxhall has is that the competition is so damnably good. If you’re looking for budget driving fun, then the Fiesta still has it. It just takes all the familiar supermini memes and condenses them - seriously, I think this car might still be amusing with 50bhp. It would make you smile every time you drove it, and that’s not a thing to be taken lightly, even if you are off to buy toilet roll from the local shop or commuting a few miles to work.

    But, like we said, that’s not the only reason you buy a supermini. You buy a car like this because they’re good at real life. Because a supermini is a wieldy, practical, cheap-to-run take on the basic idea of a car. They cover more bases than anything else, slot neatly into lifestyles and budget plans, and deal with the daily grind. And for that, the Polo wins on points. The Corsa might be quieter, the Fiesta more amusing, but when it came down to which car to take home, I naturally went for the Polo, because I could see where it would fit neatly into my life. It’s another Volkswagen competency smackdown, a car that doesn’t have any huge USPs, but also one with virtually no chinks in its armour. And that’s what you need in this class of car - confidence to know that it’s going to do exactly what you want it to, all of the time. So who’s for another round of mini Golf?

What do you think?

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