Skoda Fabia vs Vauxhall Corsa vs Volkswagen Polo
We're looking for a small car that's good to drive, with big interior space, generous kit and low running costs. Can the new Skoda Fabia or Vauxhall Corsa deliver just that, or is the Volkswagen...
Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90 SE
The more spacious and better-equipped third generation of Skoda’s small car.
Vauxhall Corsa 1.4T SRi 5dr
Vauxhall’s best-seller gets a new interior and a new range of engines.
Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI 90 SE 5dr
Our current favourite small car. Can it remain top dog against such strong new competition?
With a mind-boggling 32 different models to choose from, small car buyers have never had it so good. So, the all-new Skoda Fabia simply has to be brilliant if it hopes to shake up this hugely competitive sector.
To find out if Skoda has been successful in its bid, we’re pitting the new Fabia against the mighty Volkswagen Polo – the current class leader and a car that’s only recently been revised. It should be a tough fight, because the two cars share many of the same nuts and bolts.
Our third contender is the latest Vauxhall Corsa. It lost out to the Polo last month in 1.0-litre turbo guise, but here it gets a second chance as a more powerful (and confusingly much cheaper) 1.4 turbo.
What are they like to drive?
Don’t be fooled by their small engines – all three are just as capable of keeping up with traffic on the motorway and hacking along fast A-roads as they are nipping through town traffic.
Ultimately, though, the Corsa has more power and torque than its rivals’, so pulls harder from low revs and is ultimately the quickest of the three when you put your foot down and accelerate through the gears.
Even so, the Polo and Fabia – which both use the same 1.2-litre turbo engine – aren’t far behind. Both pick up speed eagerly from around 1400rpm, meaning you don’t need to work them hard to make swift progress.
The Polo and Fabia’s engines are also more refined. They aren’t as coarse when revved, and transmit less vibration through into the cabin. These two cars also benefit from having light and precise gearshifts, whereas the Corsa’s isn’t as slick and has a vague-feeling clutch.
Handling is another area where the Corsa falls behind. Its body isn’t as well controlled as its rivals’ through bends, and its front tyres surrender their grip earlier. Meanwhile, the Fabia remains the flattest through corners and its steering feels the most naturally weighted, giving you a good sense of connection with the front wheels. The Polo’s steering equals the Fabia’s for accuracy, but its body isn’t quite as well behaved.
The Corsa isn’t exactly fun, then, but it does have the most comfortable ride. From speed bumps to broken surfaces, the Vauxhall leaves it all outside, although the trade-off is more body bounce along faster, undulating roads.
By contrast, the Skoda and VW struggle to settle over scarred roads in town. Ultimately, the Fabia is the least comfortable in these situations, and its noisy suspension only serves to make matters worse.
The Corsa is the quietest in town, but accelerate up to 70mph speeds and the noise of its engine and the wind whipping around its mirrors disturb the peace. Ultimately, it’s the Polo that’s best at keeping things hushed at a steady 70mph.
What are they like inside?
Tall adults will find plenty of room in the front of all of these cars, but it’s the Fabia that stands out by offering the most leg- and head room.
It’s the same story in the back; tall folk will find their knees pressed against the front seats in all three, but the Fabia offers the most rear legroom and its rear seats are the easiest to get into and out of.
The Skoda’s dominance continues in the boot, where officially it has 45 litres more space than the Corsa and 50 litres more than the Polo. Its boot is roughly the same width and depth as its rivals’, but is quite a bit longer.
It’s possible to split the rear seatbacks 60:40 in all three cars and fold them down to open up more luggage space. However, neither the Fabia nor the Corsa has the option of an adjustable boot floor, so there’s an annoying step to negotiate when sliding in long items. The Polo does get an adjustable boot floor as standard, so there’s no step and no lip to worry about at the entrance.
Drivers get a good view of the road ahead in all three cars; each has tall windows with thin pillars, and a large rear screen. All three offer a wide range of steering wheel adjustment, too, along with height adjustment for the driver’s seat.
However, the quality of the three cabins varies. The Polo leads the way, with dense, soft-touch plastics on its dash and doors and more substantial switchgear. The Fabia and Corsa look the part, but their textured dashboards and door plastics feel harder and more brittle.
What will they cost?
The majority of small cars are bought on PCP finance, and it’s here the Skoda really shines. Based on a 36-month deal, with a £2000 deposit and with a 10,000 annual mileage limit, the Fabia will cost you £179 a month – £12 less than the Polo and £29 less than the Corsa. That’s despite the fact that VW contributes more towards your deposit (£1000 vs £500) than Skoda.
Company car drivers will also favour the Fabia. The Skoda’s attractive list price and competitive CO2 emissions mean it qualifies for lower Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax bills than its rivals. The VW is only marginally more expensive here, but the Corsa’s relatively high CO2 emissions means it’s the priciest company car by a margin.
Meanwhile, the Polo is the cheapest option for cash buyers. Assuming you buy now and sell after three years, it’ll cost you some £420 less than the Corsa This is partly because the VW is available with bigger discounts than the Skoda, but also because it’s predicted to depreciate at a slower rate than both of its rivals.
All of these cars come with alloy wheels, air-conditioning, electric front windows, a DAB radio, Bluetooth, and USB and aux-in connections. The Polo also comes with electric rear windows, although the Corsa is unique in getting automatic headlights and wipers. Only the Fabia misses out on a standard multi-function steering wheel and cruise control, but Skoda (like Volkswagen) offers two ‘free’ paint choices (white and blue), where Vauxhall offers just the one – red.
All three come with a tyre-pressure monitoring system but, disappointingly, the Polo misses out on curtain airbags. The Fabia impresses most with its standard automatic emergency braking system.
It was always going to take a superb small car to beat the Volkswagen Polo, but Skoda has managed it with the all-new Fabia. It was an extremely closely run thing, but ultimately the Skoda proves itself the more rounded car.
Few small cars have such spacious interiors, and the Skoda’s boot stands out as being one of the biggest in the class, too. True, the Fabia might not have the Polo’s upmarket cabin, but it does have the same fantastic infotainment system, which is one of the best fitted to any car in this class. It’s also more fun to drive than its German rival, and comes with more standard safety kit.
The Polo is runner-up, then – but only just. Its classy and soft-touch interior puts those of its rivals to shame, and it shares the Fabia’s punchy engine, so feels every bit as nippy around town. It’s also the quietest on the motorway, and its strong resale values make it the cheapest of the three for private buyers who don’t need to take out finance.
The latest Corsa is a much better car than the one it replaces, but still has to settle for third place. It offers more performance than both of its rivals, and is the most comfortable of the these cars around town, too. It also comes with plenty of standard kit.
In the end, though, its cheaper-feeling cabin and inferior handling count against it, as does the fact that it fails to stack up financially against this competition, no matter how you buy it.
Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90 SE
For Spacious cabin; slick infotainment; sharp handling
Against Cabin quality; low-speed ride; suspension noise
Verdict The best all-round small car on the market
Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI 90 SE 5dr
For Secure handling; interior quality; strongest resale values
Against Slightly busy town ride; no curtain airbags; rear headroom
Verdict Runner-up, but still a superb small car
Vauxhall Corsa 1.4T SRi 5dr
For Strong engine; comfortable ride; attractively priced
Against Real-world economy; highest CO2 emissions; steering
Verdict The Corsa is good, but no class leader
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