Ford Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost 100 Titanium 5dr
List price £16,795
Target price £16,297
Britain's best-selling car is reborn with a posher interior and loads more high-tech gadgets.
Seat Ibiza 1.0 TSI 95 Xcellence
List price £17,310
Target price £15,810
Built on a brand new platform and, in Xcellence trim, comes packed with luxuries.
Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 95 Monte Carlo
List price £16,100
Target price £14,913
The one to beat. The Fabia has been our favourite small car since its launch back in 2014.
Remember 2008? The financial crisis was in full swing, Barack Obama was elected US president and Usain Bolt cleaned up at the Beijing Olympics.
It was also the last time that the Ford Fiesta wasn’t number one in the sales charts. Ford’s small hatchback has positively smashed its rivals ever since, finding its way onto more than a million driveways.
Few would bet against this new version continuing that remarkable run, but success in the sales charts doesn’t guarantee victory in a What Car? group test.
This isn’t a popularity contest; it’s about being the best car on a purely objective level, which is going to be incredibly tough for the Fiesta, given the strength of the competition.
Its main hurdle would appear to be the Skoda Fabia. Our current favourite small car and a former What Car? Car of the Year, it has seen off countless challengers since its launch in 2014 and remains staggeringly good value for money – even in the range-topping Monte Carlo form we have here.
A new 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (replacing the old 1.2) promises better performance and lower running bills, so the Fabia should be stronger than ever. It’s a daunting opponent.
That match-up would be headline-grabbing enough on its own, but throw the all-new Seat Ibiza into the mix and it’s clear that this is the biggest small car battle in a decade.
The Ibiza is built on a brand new platform that will also underpin the next Volkswagen Polo, so it’s not to be taken lightly. And although the Ibiza has a slightly higher list price than its rivals here, a quick look at its list of standard luxuries explains why.
What are they like to drive?
The previous Fiesta was an absolute joy to drive; even at the end of its life it was easily the best-handling car in the class. Has Ford dropped the ball with this new version? Absolutely not.
This is still the most agile small car you can buy, gripping harder than any rival through twists and turns and staying flatter while doing so. The thing is, though, whereas the previous Fiesta stood head and shoulders above its peers, the new Fiesta’s dynamic advantage is surprisingly small.
Yep, the new Ibiza comes jolly close to matching it, with the sort of grown-up and competent driving manners you’d usually expect to find in a car from the class above (Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and so on).
True, the Ibiza isn’t quite as nimble as the Fiesta, but it still holds the road remarkably well and keeps body lean neatly in check through the sort of faster corners that you encounter on a typical B-road. It even nips at the Fiesta’s heels for driving fun.
The Ibiza’s precise steering builds weight consistently when you aim the car where you want it to go, telling you everything you need to know about how well the front tyres are gripping.
When you’re in the mood, you’ll enjoy the Fiesta’s steering even more; it’s just as accurate as the Ibiza’s, but smaller inputs have a bigger impact on direction changes. However, the Fiesta’s steering is a little heavier than we’d like around town and when parking.
We haven’t forgotten that there’s a third car in this test, but the truth is the Fabia is somewhat forgettable to drive in this company. Turn in to a corner and you’ll immediately notice that it leans over more than its rivals, and while its featherlight steering is a bonus for town driving, it doesn’t instil as much confidence as its rivals’ on faster roads.
There’s nothing about the way the Fabia drives that really grates, though, and against most other cars in the class it actually stacks up very well. It’s much the same story when it comes to ride comfort.
The Fiesta and Ibiza trade blows, with the former staying slightly more composed over nasty, sharpedged bumps and potholes, while the latter smoothes over minor imperfections more skilfully and stays more composed on the motorway.
The Fabia has the softest suspension of our trio, something you’d imagine would give it the most comfortable ride. Only it doesn’t, because you can feel the tyres tripping up over bumps that the other two would breeze over, and the Fabia is also the least composed over dips and crests, taking longer to recompose itself.
There’s barely anything in it for outright performance – hardly surprising, given that all three cars weigh about the same and have similarly powerful 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines.
By a fraction, the Ibiza was quickest from 0-60mph and the Fiesta from 30-70mph in our tests, with the Fabia bringing up the rear on both occasions, but the differences aren’t big enough to even notice in the real world.
The Fiesta’s relatively short third and fourth gears make it the most eager to build speed at low speeds, though. The Fiesta also has the smoothest and quietest engine.
The differences are tiny when you’re driving sedately, but accelerate hard and you definitely feel and hear more of a buzz in the Fabia and Ibiza. Despite a fair amount of tyre slap, the Ibiza is the quietest at a steady motorway cruise. There’s less road roar in the Fiesta but lots of wind noise – a problem exacerbated by our test car’s optional panoramic glass roof.
The Fabia is the least peaceful at lower speeds; you can hear its suspension working away noisily along any road that isn’t perfectly smooth and there’s almost as much wind noise as in the Fiesta. You’ll appreciate the Ibiza’s slick gearchange and positive clutch pedal in all situations but particularly when you’re pootling around town; it’s an incredibly easy car to drive smoothly.
The Fiesta’s gearshift and clutch pedal are almost as impressive, and it has the sharpest and most feelsome brake pedal here. The Fabia’s gearshift is superlight, but it’s the least precise and the brake pedal is slightly less reassuring than its rivals.
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