Citroën C3 1.4 VTI 95 VTR+
List price when new £13,190
Price today £4000
Available from 2010-2016
The Citroën C3 moved upmarket with this model, but still looks good value on paper
Ford Fiesta 1.25i 82 Edge 5dr
List price when new £13,124
Price today £4000
Available from 2008-2017
Ford’s Fiesta is one of our favourite small cars, and the country’s favourite too
Volkswagen Polo 1.4 SE 5dr
List price when new £12,720
Price today £5500
Available from 2010-present
The Volkswagen Polo is expensive to buy, but feels it, majoring on comfort and quality
Price today is the guide price for a 2010 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
Hands up who fancies a new Ford Fiesta? Chances are, that’ll be many of you – it’s currently Britain’s best-selling new car, and has been pretty immovable from the top of the charts for years.
The new model, arriving early next year, aims to continue that dominance. But if you don’t want to wait until then, or can’t stretch your budget that far, we’ve good news for you: the old-shape Fiesta is still as good as ever, and you can now get hold of early examples for just a few thousand pounds.
Of course, the Fiesta isn’t the only small car you can say that about. The Citroën C3 has always been a great value proposition, and that hasn’t changed, with used prices on a par with the Fiesta’s. It’s also a little less common than the Ford, which might appeal if you’d rather not drive something so ubiquitous.
If you care about image, though, you’ll probably be more tempted by the Volkswagen Polo. It’s been the classiest small car around for years, and we loved the version tested here when it was new. But prices haven’t slipped as much as the other two contenders here, so you’ll have to pay for the privilege – which begs the question of whether the premium the Polo demands is worth it. Time to find out.
What are they like to drive?
These cars need to be easy to drive, and the C3’s engine gets it off to a fine start. It has the same 1.4-litre capacity as the engine in the Polo, but it produces a comparatively Herculean 94bhp. The Polo makes do with 84bhp and the 1.24-litre Fiesta 80bhp, so it’s hardly surprising that the C3 is by far the quickest of our trio.
However, both the Polo and the Fiesta feel pretty sparky at high revs, and they’re flexible enough to dispatch motorway inclines without you having to grab a lower gear to help.
Each car is far more than just a city runabout, then, but the Fiesta is the one you’ll enjoy driving most. Whichever type of road you’re on, it glides over bumps, and there’s loads of grip and little body lean, so you can take corners with absolute confidence. The steering is also a delight – it’s as quick and precise at speed as it is light and easy around town.
The C3 is far less rewarding. It lurches around through bends, the front tyres start to slide surprisingly early and the controls all feel disconcertingly vague. You’ll be far happier on less challenging routes, where it softly sprung suspension is brilliant at taking the sting out of bumps. However, the C3’s nose dives more dramatically than a Premiership footballer whenever you touch the brakes.
The Polo can’t deliver the enjoyment of the Fiesta either. Its steering is a little slow, sudden surface changes send kickback through the wheel, and the body leans over a fair bit. Yet in spite of this, the Polo still handles securely because the way its body leans is progressive and predictable, and there’s plenty of grip. The ride is mostly comfortable, too, and it doesn’t feel as floaty as the C3 over undulating roads.
The Polo is also very quiet on the move. Some wind noise can be heard at speed, but that’s partly because the Polo is otherwise so silent. The C3 is just as impressive, aside from a bit of road noise on coarse surfaces. The Fiesta’s engine is the only thing that stops it matching the Polo – it’s a bit strained when you’re revving it and never fades totally into the background.
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