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Used test: Ford Fiesta vs Volkswagen Polo vs Peugeot 208 vs Kia Rio

It might be popular, but is the Ford Fiesta actually Britain's best used small car? We pit it against its rivals to find out

Words By What Car? team

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Ford Fiesta dashboard

What are they like inside?

A comfortable driving position is essential in any car, but the Peugeot 208’s won’t suit everyone. Peugeot has fitted an unusually small steering wheel that you look over – instead of through – to see the instruments. However, if you’re under six feet tall, you may well find the top of the wheel blocks your view of the speedometer.

Things aren’t ideal in the Kia Rio, either. Its driving environment is more conventional than the 208’s, but the seat could do with more lower back support, and people with longer legs may feel that the base is too short. To make matters worse, the Rio has the worst rear visibility of the four, a result of its shallow back window and thick rear pillars.

Only the Ford Fiesta and the Volkswagen Polo allow people of all shapes and sizes to find a comfortable driving position. Both have supportive seats with a wide range of adjustment. What’s more, you fine-tune your backrest angle simply by twisting a knurled wheel, whereas the 208 and Rio have a less accurate system that requires you to pull a lever and shift your weight back and forth.

Most of the controls on the dashboards of these cars are related to their entertainment and air conditioning systems, with the air-con operated by three large rotary dials in the Fiesta, Rio and Polo. This simple arrangement allows you to make quick adjustments without even taking your eyes off the road.

Things are slightly more complicated in the 208, where you adjust the temperature by nudging a rocker switch, and the fan speed and direction of air flow by pressing buttons. However, Peugeot has managed to keep the number of buttons to a minimum, so it’s still pretty easy to find the one you’re looking for.

The problem with having so few buttons is that most of the 208’s entertainment and navigation functions have to be accessed through the central touchscreen. Unfortunately, it’s one of the worst systems we’ve ever come across; there are no shortcut buttons to take you straight to individual menus, and you drag your finger across the screen to perform certain tasks, something that’s hard to do safely or with any accuracy on the move.

Life is much simpler in the Rio and Polo, because they both have conventional buttons and knobs for the entertainment systems that are large, clearly labelled and logically positioned.

The Fiesta also sticks with conventional switchgear, but here it’s more heavily styled and fiddly, so takes longer to get to grips with.

If there’s one area where the 208 does excel, though, it’s perceived quality. Peugeot has used materials that are easy on both the eye and the fingertips throughout the interior. What’s more, the touchscreen that dominates the dashboard features sophisticated graphics, and its chrome-ringed instruments wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi. Praise indeed.

The Polo’s interior is a little dull by comparison, but it still feels classy. There are shrunken copies of the controls and vents in its bigger brother, the Golf, and the upper dashboard is made from soft-touch plastics that are even plusher than the ones in the 208. It’s only when you look at the glovebox lid and a few of the materials lower down that you spot signs of penny-pinching.

In this company, the Fiesta and Rio simply can’t compete. They might be solidly constructed, but the Fiesta’s appeal is undermined by hard, scratchy door panels and clunky air-con controls, while the Rio’s interior has a dour colour scheme and too many shiny plastics.

You wouldn’t expect any of these small cars to be the last word in practicality, but the good news is that all four are capable of carrying four adults.

The Fiesta is particularly accommodating; it’s best or equal best for head and leg room in both the front and the rear. By contrast, the 208 has the tightest quarters, and six-footers will wish there was more head room in the back.

None of these cars is comfortable for three rear seat passengers, although the Rio makes life a little easier on the piggy-in-the-middle than its rivals because it’s the only one without a high central floor tunnel.

As for boots, just 15 litres – about the size of a medium-sized backpack – separates the biggest (Fiesta) and smallest (Polo), and each is a useful, square shape. That said, the VW’s is the narrowest.

There’s also a big lip that you have to haul luggage over – as, indeed, there is in all these cars. However, the Polo is the only car with an adjustable boot floor that lets you flatten this out, and which you can then store smaller items beneath.

As a bonus, the Polo’s rear seat backs fold flat and level with the boot floor, as long as you have it in the higher setting and flip up the seat bases first. By contrast, its rivals’ just drop onto the bases, meaning there’s a step in the extended load area. To make matters worse, the seats in the Fiesta and 208 lie at a steep angle when folded.

Each car has a good-sized glovebox and some handy cubbies for your odds and ends between the front seats, while the Polo and Fiesta also have unusually large door bins that can swallow everything from maps to bottles.

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