Which car is the cheapest to run? Our number crunchers reveal the best-value choice

Running a car hits you where it hurts – in the wallet. The joy of choosing a supermini is that bills will be smaller than for larger models – but which of these runarounds is kindest to your bank balance?

To find out, we added up all of the motoring costs incurred during the first three years of ownership for each car. By including everything – from road tax to servicing and fuel to depreciation – we were able to provide a rating based purely on finances.

Our experts have yet to come up with residual value forecasts for the new C3, and our Exclusive test car was the only range-topper here. But the Citroen promises to be good value, thanks to competitive prices and equipment levels. It was the only machine to feature cruise control as standard and its panoramic Zenith windscreen is unique in the sector. Plus, lesser 69bhp 1.4 HDi models in VTR+ trim cost from £13,800.

Worst of the lot was the Fiesta. We knew the Ford would be expensive – due to a succession of blue oval price rises earlier in the year – and its huge popularity does resale values few favours. As a result, Ford owners can expect to lose a hefty £9,527 after three years and 30,000 miles if they pay list price for a 1.6 TDCi Zetec model.

Just ahead of the Fiesta, by only a few hundred pounds, was the Renault Clio. As with the Ford, it suffers from weak predicted residual values and has a stiff £14,285 price tag.

Maintenance costs for the Clio will also be high. And the brand’s poor showing in our annual Driver Power dealer survey suggests you won’t get great service for the money.

With the Citroen awarded three stars, the two VW Group rivals were left to fight it out for the top honours – and the great-value SEAT proved a match for the Polo.

Not only is the Ibiza very attractively priced, but impressive residual values and affordable running costs make it incredibly appealing. It’s also the cheapest car here to buy, although equipment is good rather than generous. The Polo is an equally appealing prospect, despite the fact that our 74bhp model has less power than the SEAT and costs more to purchase.

That’s because of its excellent residual value of 52.6 per cent and VW’s attractive three-year servicing deal – which is a snip at only £250. The decent fuel economy and low emissions are also par for the course in the sector. If you want stronger pace, you could opt for the costlier 88bhp Polo, which comes in SE-L trim. At £14,910, it is closer on price to the Ford, Renault and Citroen, and this car resists depreciation better, too. Add low running costs, and even the more powerful model would have the financial edge.

Our Polo SE test car was unique in this shoot-out for having ESP stability control fitted as standard. Surprisingly, this is an option on every other model here. The Volkswagen also boasted a full-sized spare wheel. But many buyers will specify an optional leather steering wheel (£165) to replace the Polo’s standard-fit plastic version.

Ratings: VW Polo 4/5 It’s underpowered in this company, but the trade-off is Polo’s low running costs. Even the faster 88bhp SE-L, at £14,910, is competitive.SEAT Ibiza 4/5 Attractive pricing, a strong diesel and decent residual value forecasts set the SEAT apart. Affordable servicing bills trim costs. Citroen c3: 3/5 Without a residual forecast, it’s hard to place C3. Yet it’s sure to be good value. Generous kit on Exclusive includes huge windscreen. Renault: 3/5 Dynamique is the best trim in the Clio, but it comes at a price. Servicing bills are steep and reach-adjustable steering column is extra.Ford Fiesta: 2/5 Although we love the Fiesta, it’s not the cheapest option. A high price and steep depreciation make it an expensive choice.

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