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Used test: Ford Fiesta ST vs Volkswagen Polo GTI

Buy either of these hot hatches at a couple of years old and you'll save a pretty penny, but which is more fun and better value? We have the answer...

Ford Fiesta ST vs Volkswagen Polo GTI

The Contenders

Ford Fiesta ST-3 Performance Pack 3dr

List price when new £22,345
Price today  £16,500*
Available from 2018-present

The latest Fiesta ST follows in the footsteps of its lively predecessors and is one of our favourite hot hatches.

Volkswagen Polo GTI+

List price when new  £23,020
Price today £16,500*
Available from 2018-present

On paper, the Polo GTI promises much of what the iconic Golf GTI delivers, but in a smaller package.

*Price today is based on a 2018 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

Sometimes it’s true that the best things come in small packages. Consider the Ford Fiesta, a car so accomplished as to make you question whether it's worth spending more on the bigger Focus.

In particular, the Fiesta is great to drive, so it's hardly surprising that the sporty ST version has been one of our favourite hot hatches ever since it was first introduced in 2004. In its first generation, it was a hoot, and in its second it was quite sensational. Since 2018, we’ve had this third-generation car, and it’s still the bee's knees. 

2018 Ford Fiesta ST

You see, it’s not only great to drive, but cheap to buy too, especially used. Here, we’re testing one at two years old, and in terms of bang for buck it looks hard to beat.

But it doesn’t have the field all to itself. Enter, stage right, the Volkswagen Polo GTI, a pocket rocket that seems to offer all that the iconic Golf GTI does, but in a more handily-sized package. And for the same money as the Fiesta you can find cars in range-topping GTI+ trim.

 So which one should you buy? We have the answer...

2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Both cars come with launch control systems designed to ping you off the line cleanly. The Fiesta’s works effectively; once it’s activated, you simply floor the accelerator, release the clutch pedal and you’re off. Being an auto, the Polo’s is instigated by releasing the brake pedal, but the car then bogs down due to abrupt intervention by its traction control.

Despite this, the Polo wins the 0-60mph dash. Having seven gears to the Fiesta’s six keeps its engine boiling at peak power for longer, so it pulls out a 0.4sec lead. That’s halved when accelerating through the gears from 30-70mph, though, and the Fiesta is the more bewitching car.

Even when you’re not ragging it, its accelerator response is crisper and its fruity three-cylinder exhaust burble is more rousing than the Polo’s smooth yet colourless buzz.

Ford Fiesta ST rear

Meanwhile, the Fiesta’s slick, stubby gearlever is a palpable joy to use. The Polo’s seamless shifts are impressive, but even executing them manually, using plastic paddles behind the steering wheel, is comparatively joyless.

The Ford-sponsored fun continues when you get the Fiesta onto a snaking country road, where it’s tauter and more agile than the Polo. Although the Fiesta’s steering feels a little nervous just off the dead-ahead, with forced self-centring and a tendency to follow cambers in the road, its weighting becomes more predictable as you wind on more lock, and it’s far more alert than the Polo’s slower steering.

In addition, while there's some initial body lean in both cars, the Fiesta then finds greater balance, grip and composure than its rival can muster. And STs with the Performance Pack (which was standard on ST-3 trim) feature a limited-slip differential (LSD), which improves traction out of corners.

Volkswagen Polo GTI rear

In an attempt to replicate the Fiesta’s LSD, the Polo uses electronics to limit wheelspin, but this ultimately isn’t as effective. You can squeeze the Fiesta's accelerator earlier and harder than you can the Polo's, with its front tyres seeming to grow talons that dig into the asphalt and drag you out of bends.

However, the Polo is more comfortable. It comes with adaptive dampers as standard from new, and they deliver a pretty soft ride in Comfort mode. The Fiesta’s conventional dampers give a firmer, busier ride that never really abates, even on motorways. Some will find this wearing.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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