Petrol prices are on the rise – so large-capacity engines face a bleak future. Diesel and hybrid models are already established alternatives, but the humble petrol motor isn’t finished yet, as this duo proves.
A new generation of small turbos has come to the fore with the promise of lower emissions than ever. Better still, they don’t sacrifice the driving thrills and perky performance associated with petrol engines. The latest arrival in the big-selling supermini sector is the VW Polo. It features an attractive, fresh look with sharp creases, bold lights and an all-new 1.2-litre TSI packing more than 100bhp. With CO2 emissions of only 124g/km, it ticks all the right boxes.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the VW Polo
Up against it is Renault’s Clio 1.2 TCe. Less powerful and less efficient than the VW, it promises sparkling handling to match its smooth, post-facelift looks. Will that prove decisive or will the new kid on the turbo block take the honours?
These cars have a tough brief. They need to provide excellent economy, tidy handling and family car practicality in a stylish, affordable package. Until now, the Polo has flattered to deceive, but the addition of Volkswagen’s new 1.2 TSI engine has transformed it into a genuine force – and it wins here. The brilliant unit combines with good on-road manners and grown-up styling to make it a really polished performer. The Renault is still a great all-rounder, with a spacious cabin, lively handling and generous equipment to go with its traditional on-road comfort. Yet it lacks the pace and class of its German rival. If the Polo commanded a price premium of more than £1,100 over the Clio, it would be difficult to justify. But the VW deserves to take victory on account of its low running costs, strong residual values and great engine.