Buying used: Ford Fiesta v Kia Rio v Peugeot 208 v VW Polo

Buying used: Ford Fiesta v Kia Rio v Peugeot 208 v VW Polo
Buying used: Ford Fiesta v Kia Rio v Peugeot 208 v VW Polo

Britain’s best-selling new car is the Ford Fiesta. Is it the best used car too?

Ford Fiesta 1.25 82 Zetec 5dr

List price when new: £13095
Price today: £5000
Engine: 1.2-litre petrol
Power: 80bhp
Torque: 84lb ft
0-60mph: 13.1sec
Top speed: 103mph
Fuel economy: 50.4mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 129g/km

The Ford Fiesta has sat at the top of the British sales charts for years. Much to the envy of rival manufacturers, who have all upped their game over the years to take on the Fiesta. But away from the pot plants of the dealer showroom, is the Fiesta still as appealing on the secondhand market?

There’s no shortage of alternatives. The Volkswagen Polo has been a fierce Fiesta rival for generations, and remains a classy, reassuringly solid machine. The stylish Peugeot 208 looks great and sells well, while the impressive Kia Rio has a stonking seven-year warranty as a key draw. Time to do battle and find out if the Fiesta has what it takes.

Driving experience

The Fiesta proves nippy enough in action, although you really have to rev it, as you do with the Kia Rio – and change gear a bit more often. The Peugeot is slower, but it doesn’t feel too lethargic because its three-cylinder engine is so flexible. But it’s the Polo that’s most flexible of all. Its engine pulls better, so it feels stronger.

Volkswagen Polo 1.4 85 Match 5dr

List price when new: £13,365
Price today: £6500
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol
Power: 84bhp
Torque: 97lb ft
0-60mph: 11.8sec
Top speed: 107mph
Fuel economy: 47.9mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 139g/km

Through corners, the Peugeot is a strange mix of sharp steering and floppy responses. It doesn’t gel and the ride is also the least comfortable in town, although it cruises well. The Kia also has a choppy ride, but its tighter body control means it’s better in corners. What a pity it’s so noisy, then.

The Polo is far more refined and It also rides superbly, with great in-town comfort. The suspension is soft, but not uncontrolled, and there’s an impressive lack of vibration. Best overall is the Fiesta though – by a clear margin. Handling is brilliant, steering is pin-sharp, it doesn’t lose its marbles at speed and even the ride is absorbent. Apart from a bit of tyre roar, it’s hard to fault the Fiesta on the road.

Interior

Move inside, and the Peugeot stumbles because of its tiny steering wheel, which won’t suit everyone. It also has a complicated touchscreen infotainment system that seems overburdened with functions: it’s far from straightforward. Meanwhile, the Kia’s seats lack support and its interior visibility isn’t great. Again, the Fiesta and Polo show them how it should be done for driver comfort, although all but the Peugeot generally have simple-to-use dashboards.

Surprisingly, it’s the Peugeot that feels the most well-built, with a sophisticated Audi-style trims and finish. The Polo is plainer, but still classy, leaving the Fiesta and Rio trailing here. We don’t doubt the build quality, but the materials used are below par in both.

Kia Rio 1.25 2 5dr

List price when new: £12,495
Price today: £5500
Engine: 1.2-litre petrol
Power: 83bhp
Torque: 89lb ft
0-60mph: 12.8sec
Top speed: 103mph
Fuel economy: 55.4mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions: 119g/km

All will take four adults in reasonable comfort. The Fiesta is roomiest, the 208 is the tightest, and none is ideal for five. They’re almost level-pegging for boot space, but the Polo offers the most user-friendly practicality in exchange for being the narrowest of the bunch. We were impressed by the size of the door pockets both in it and in the Fiesta; extremely useful in day-to-day driving.

Costs

There’s a benefit of there being so many Fiestas on the road – competitive prices. You can buy one for around 25 per cent less than a similar-age, comparable-spec Polo, which is the most expensive of the lot. The Kia and Peugeot are a bit more expensive than the Ford, but still appreciably cheaper than the VW. And although all will depreciate by a similar amount, you’ll lose more with the Polo because it’s starting from a higher price.

Then there’s the fact it’s the least fuel efficient, with a combined figure of 47.9mpg and annual tax rates of £130. The Peugeot is much more economical, averaging 62.7mpg, resulting in CO2 emissions low enough to give it a £20 per year car tax bill. The Kia averages 55.4mpg and costs £30 a year; the Ford just cracks the 50mpg mark and costs £110 a year.

What about servicing costs? Once again, the Volkswagen is priciest, and the Kia is the cheapest here – and while all have a similar reliability record, the Rio’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty means even the oldest models will still have some of the manufacturer warranty left to run.

Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi Active 5dr

Engine size 1.2-litre petrol
List price when new £12,795
Price today £5500
Power 80bhp
Torque 87lb ft
0-60mph 13.9sec
Top speed 103mph
Fuel economy 62.7mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 104g/km

Verdict

It’s an intriguing battle between these four cars, but it’s the Peugeot that’s first to fall – despite initially being the most appealing because of its stylish looks. It’s not able to back them up on the road, sadly. The Rio doesn’t stand out as much, but is a well-rounded package, and one that deserves particular attention because of its fine warranty. What a pity signs of penny-pinching let it down in terms of ride and refinement.

The Volkswagen and the Ford stand clear of the other two. Both are very accomplished cars. The Polo is comfortable, reassuringly high quality and drives with fine all-round manners. But perhaps this is only to be expected, given how much it costs – both to buy and to run. For many, this will be a stumbling block.

Particularly when the Fiesta offers so much ability for less money. It’s outstanding to drive, comfortable to sit in, refined to drive and spacious even for four adults. It’s Britain’s best-selling new car because of its sheer all-round abilities, and this barely alters on the used market. Factor in great value for money and you have a clear winner: it really is the best used small car you can buy.

Price today is based on a 2012 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

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