Superminis are the big earners for car makers, but these days demanding buyers want them to deliver more than just a simple and cost-effective way of getting from A to B.

Not only do they need their car to be practical and easy to drive, they must also have the latest safety technology and entertainment systems. On the road, superminis need to be capable on city streets and they should only cost pennies to run.

One car that has found a winning formula is the Volkswagen Polo. It’s just been updated to add more safety kit and a new line-up of efficient engines. Can these qualities give it an advantage in this hard-fought class? Our current champ is the Ford Fiesta, and its mix of style and entertaining handling is hard to ignore. We test the new entry-level three-cylinder model for the first time. 

Then there’s the Peugeot 208, which delivers a classy cabin and plenty of kit in Style trim. By bringing together petrol versions of all three, we’ll find out which offers the greatest all-round appeal.

• Ford Fiesta review

• Peugeot 208 review 

• Volkswagen Polo review

You can read full individual reviews by clicking the links above, and find out the verdict of this test by scrolling down...

Head-to-head

Design

These three superminis couldn’t look more different. The restrained Polo loses out to its rivals for stylish touches, but then the VW’s classless shape will be attractive to some buyers.

A rakish profile suits the Ford’s sporty character, and the large grille up front is a neat addition. The Peugeot benefits from LED light technology. The tail-lamps in particular add a stylish touch to the rear end.

Safety kit

VW offers advanced kit such as adaptive cruise on the Polo (£500 extra), while post-collision braking is standard across the range. Ford drivers can add Active City Stop, to anticipate low-speed collisions, for £200. There’s no advanced safety equipment on the 208, although all models get a speed limiter.

Fuel economy

The VW and Ford both come with stop-start, and if you do lots of urban driving, the systems will come into their own every time you stop at a set of lights. Peugeot doesn’t offer stop-start in Style trim, but it does feature on EGC auto-equipped versions of the 208 Active and Allure models.

Verdict

1st place: Volkswagen Polo

It’s a close-run thing, but in small-capacity guise, the Polo narrowly edges ahead of the Fiesta in this test. It’s down on power, yet it doesn’t feel much slower than the Ford on the road, while the greater refinement, upmarket feel and grown-up driving manners give the Polo an advantage. Add in a £1,000 lower asking price and reasonable fuel economy, and VW is on to a winner.

2nd place: Ford Fiesta

 

The Fiesta still has a lot going for it, because it’s a fine-handling supermini that has plenty of space for passengers and luggage. However, the quality of the materials in the cabin are a step behind the VW’s, while the 1.0-litre engine feels pretty breathless, despite its power advantage. If you can afford the extra £500 for the EcoBoost version, we’d highly recommend it.

3rd place: Peugeot 208

The 208 Style is attractive, thanks to its long kit list and the upmarket feel of the interior. Its awkward driving position and touchscreen controls take a lot of getting used to, though, and the 208 isn’t much fun to drive, thanks to its soggy suspension and sloppy controls. While it has much to commend it, both the Polo and Fiesta are stronger all-round packages.

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